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UN: Nations Must Triple Action to Avoid Disastrous Climate Change

Climate
UN: Nations Must Triple Action to Avoid Disastrous Climate Change

The United Nations issued a wake-up call to world leaders on Tuesday for urgent climate action.

Despite national pledges to curb planet-warming emissions, the current pace of government action is "insufficient" to limit global warming to well below 2 C this century, much less the more ambitious 1.5 C target, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) determined in its 2018 Emissions Gap Report.


In fact, the yearly assessment found that after a three-year decline, global greenhouse gas emissions actually increased to "historic levels" of 53.5 billion tonnes in 2017, with no signs of peaking.

"Increased emissions and lagging action means the gap figure for this year's report is larger than ever," the report said.

Overall, nations must raise their climate action by three times in order to meet the 2 C threshold set by the 2015 Paris agreement, and by five times in order to meet the 1.5 C warming target.

"If the emissions gap is not closed by 2030, it is extremely unlikely that the 2 C temperature goal can still be reached," the UNEP said.

A world that's two degrees warmer could unleash devastating sea level rise, coral reef die-offs, extreme weather and push hundreds of millions of people into climate risk and poverty.

The annual report comes a few days before the crucial UN climate talks in Katowice, Poland or COP24, where representatives from roughly 200 countries will hammer out a "rulebook" on how to implement Paris accord.

What's more, the all-important summit will be held just months after the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a dire report that warned that the world has a narrow 12-year window to drastically reduce emissions.

"If the IPCC report represented a global fire alarm, this report is the arson investigation," UNEP Deputy Executive Director Joyce Msuya said in a press release for the current report. "The science is clear; for all the ambitious climate action we've seen – governments need to move faster and with greater urgency. We're feeding this fire while the means to extinguish it are within reach."

The report said that emissions in 2030 would have to around 25 percent and 55 percent lower than last year to put the world on track to limit global warming to 2 C and 1.5 C respectively.

"Coming just days before the next round of climate talks, this report makes clear that current emission cuts pledged by governments are nowhere near ambitious enough to meet the temperature goal of the Paris agreement," Manuel Pulgar-Vidal, leader of World Wide Fund For Nature's Climate & Energy Practice, said in a press release. "This was already known but, coming off the back of the findings of the IPCC special report last month, it should help to focus minds in Poland next week."

Fortunately, closing this emissions gap is possible. The report highlights the promise of "non-state actors" such as city, state and regional governments; companies; investors; higher education institutions and civil society organizations. These institutions could cut emissions by estimated 19 gigatonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030, which would be enough to close the 2°C gap.

Greenpeace International executive director Jennifer Morgan urged world leaders to follow this lead.

"What are governments waiting for?" Morgan said in a press release. "Non-state actors are already taking action. Corporate leadership on renewable power is swiftly emerging. An increasing number of cities are imposing bans on oil-fueled vehicles and regional governments are committing to the phase out of coal power. Investors and banks are also increasingly turning their backs on fossil fuels. This is the future, this is the hope of our generation."

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Just in time for Halloween, scientists at Cornell University have published some frightening research, especially if you're an insect!

The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.

"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."

The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.

They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.

They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.

But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.

"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.

What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.

It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.

To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.

First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.

Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.

University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.

"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."

Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.

Hoy agreed.

"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.

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