Threats to planet now far worse: 15K experts
Heat on ‘climate chancellor’
MIAMI, Nov 14, (Agencies): Twenty-five years after global scientists issued a “warning to humanity” about dangers to the environment, a new update released Monday says most of the planet’s problems are getting “far worse.”
More than 15,000 global scientists from 184 countries signed on to the letter, called the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice,” published in the journal BioScience.
The initial version, released in 1992 by the Union of Concerned Scientists, was signed by 1,700 experts.
Since then, nearly all major threats to the environment have grown more dire, particularly the booming world population, which has added two billion people since 1992, a 35 percent increase, according to the update. Other key threats are global warming and the evermounting carbon emissions driven by fossil fuel use, as well as unsustainable farming practices, deforestation, lack of fresh water, loss of marine life and growing ocean dead zones.
“Humanity is now being given a second notice, as illustrated by these alarming trends,” said the letter.
“We are jeopardizing our future by not reining in our intense but geographically and demographically uneven material consumption and by not perceiving continued rapid population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and even societal threats,” it added.
Scientists noted it is “especially troubling” that the world continues on a path toward “potentially catastrophic climate change due to rising greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.”
Animals are suffering as a result of human activities, and are disappearing at an unprecedented pace.
“We have unleashed a mass extinction event, the sixth in roughly 540 million years, wherein many current life forms could be annihilated or at least committed to extinction by the end of this century,” it said.
Only one problem has seen considerable improvements in a quarter century – the closing of the ozone hole – thanks to a steep reduction in the use of aerosol sprays and pollutants that led to ozone depletion.
This “rapid global decline in ozone-depleting substances shows that we can make positive change when we act decisively.”
The letter outlines 13 steps that must be taken, including making contraception more widely available and “estimating a scientifically defensible, sustainable human population size for the long term while rallying nations and leaders to support that vital goal.”
Other steps include promoting plant-based diets and renewable energy while phasing out subsidies for fossil fuels. Wealth inequality must be remedied and “prices, taxation, and incentive systems (must) take into account the real costs which consumption patterns impose on our environment.”
In nature, protected reserves should be established “for a significant proportion of the world,” and the crisis of wildlife trafficking and illegal poaching halted.
“To prevent widespread misery and catastrophic biodiversity loss, humanity must practice a more environmentally sustainable alternative to business as usual,” said the letter.
“This prescription was well articulated by the world’s leading scientists 25 years ago, but in most respects, we have not heeded their warning.
“Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out.”
Angela Merkel has been dubbed the “climate chancellor” but she now faces the real risk of Germany, a green energy pioneer, missing its emissions reduction target on her watch.
Battles over dirty coal plants and the combustion engine have dogged her efforts to forge an unlikely three-way governing alliance with the Greens and probusiness Free Democrats (FDP).
They are also flashpoint issues as Germany and Fiji co-host UN climate talks in Bonn, which Merkel will address during a visit on Wednesday with French President Emmanuel Macron.
Critics charge that Merkel, a trained physicist who has often championed climate action on the world stage, tends to cave in to business and political interests when it matters.
Merkel has opposed stricter EU emissions limits for cars, fought planned diesel bans in cities suffering toxic air pollution and shelved a plan to get one million electric vehicles onto German roads by 2020.
Weekly newspaper Die Zeit harshly compared Merkel’s policies to that of climate change-denying US President Donald Trump, adding that “at least Trump is honest about it”.
Merkel, at a G7 summit she hosted in 2015, wrested a crucial if lofty promise from the world’s leading economies – to “decarbonise” by the end of the century.
On Saturday she said that Germany and other advanced economies must make sure “things change” in order to slow the trend of melting ice caps, rising seas and worsening storms, floods and droughts.
“The urgency, as we can tell from the natural disasters, is great,” she warned in her weekly video podcast, stressing that an overheating planet was a key driver of migrant flows.
But she also made clear that Germany must protect its “industrial core” and that “if steelworks, aluminium plants and copper smelters all leave our country and move somewhere with weaker environmental regulations, then we won’t have gained anything for the global climate”.
Missing from that list were coal-fired power plants, Germany’s current environmental hot-button issue that has sparked mass rallies.
Germany has in the past two decades raised the share of wind, solar and other clean renewables to one third of its electricity needs, while mothballing nuclear plants.
But coal, cheap and abundant, still makes up 40 percent, and Germany’s carbon emissions have not fallen for the past eight years.
Germany has promised to cut its greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent by 2020 from 1990 levels. But it is now on track for only a 32 percent reduction.
Missing the closest target would raise big questions about Germany’s far more ambitious goals of slashing emissions by 55 percent by 2030 — and by up to 95 percent by mid-century.
The Greens, in the lead-up to September elections, had promised to immediately shutter Germany’s 20 most polluting coal plants, and to phase out coal and fossil fuel-powered cars by 2030.