Her parents, both university lecturers, didn’t approve, but she was determined to try to make a difference — all the more challenging in China, where people trying to make a difference often evoke suspicion. Or worse.
A growing number of Australians are experiencing devastating health problems arising from climate change. Could a coordinated national health strategy help?
For many Australians who have grown up in our “sunburnt country”, last week’s nation-wide heatwave may have felt like business as usual. It’s almost summer, after all.
But if you dig into the statistics, the picture that emerges is deeply alarming, especially when considered in light of last year’s devastating bushfires: We’ve just experienced Australia’s warmest November on record.
The hottest year on record was 2019, and 2020 continues to track in the same direction. Back-to-back days of 40 degrees-plus in Sydney last week occurred for only the second time in 162 years.
But it’s not just the environment that’s suffering. Growing numbers of Australians are experiencing health probMedical Journal of Australia/Lancet Countdown on health and climate changelems, and even an increased risk of death, as a result of a rapidly changing climate.
The this week argued urgent action is needed to prevent human health being further affected.
The health impact of climate change has already led to a 53.7 per cent global increase in heat-related mortality between 2010 and 2018, mainly affecting Japan, China, central Europe and northern India.
In Australia, in the same timeframe we’ve seen a 22 per cent increase in the annual average number of days of population exposure to bushfires, which killed 41 people last summer and exposed “much of Australia’s population to hazardous air quality for a prolonged period of time”.
Exposure to mosquito-born diseases including malaria and dengue fever has also increased along with the threat from zoonotic disease, graphically demonstrated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Food security took a hit, too, implying associated malnutrition.
So what is being done to improve the health outcomes of Australians in the face of accelerating climate change? And which foreign nations should Australia be looking to as leaders?
Who is responsible?
Australia’s federal system makes healthcare a state responsibility — we have seen this play out during the coronavirus pandemic.
Because of this state-based approach, not all states and territories are on the same page when it comes to strategies linking health and climate.
Western Australia is preparing to release the results of its Climate Health WA Inquiry, which will emphasise connections between climate change and physical and mental health, vulnerability and resilience. Victoria and Queensland have similar documents.
But there are growing calls for Australia to develop a national plan of action that considers the widening impact of global warming on health as a problem in its own right, not tied to progress on climate change policy.
“I think a national approach is absolutely essential, particularly when we get to the emergency management of these things,” says Andrew Gissing, a risk and resilience expert from Risk Frontiers.
Gissing argues the importance of a national approach is obvious in areas like warning systems for extreme heat, which can’t be coordinated effectively with a state-by-state approach. Heatwave warning systems is an area the Bureau of Meteorology is working on.
Richard Yin, a Perth GP and member of Doctors for the Environment, has been arguing for a national health and climate change plan for years.
Australia does not have such a strategy, he says, and according to the MJA/Lancet report, only about 50 of 100 countries in the survey do, with less than 4 per cent of those that are in place considered effective.
“Australia needs to prepare for climate change impacts on health and that means actually mapping what’s going on and being able to predict what’s going on,” Yin says. “There’s a complexity to the task and a number of indicators that we’re going to need to try to track.”
Yin says that because he’s in Perth, his patients seem to be avoiding the worst health affects of climate change. But he is seeing more patients coming to him with what he describes as “eco-anxiety”.
Yin’s colleagues working in regional WA are regularly treating patients for heat-related health conditions, he adds, and in some cases people have had to move because of the impact of smoke from bushfires.
“The health impacts from smoke can be can be horrific,” Yin says, noting some people with asthma or lung disease have been in and out of hospital emergency departments until deciding to leave the place they’re living, “because it’s life threatening”.
Georgia Behrens, Chair of the Australian Medical Students’ Association’s global health committee, agrees COVID-19 has proven how effectively Australia can manage national health emergencies by using a coordinated approach.
“With a shared set of goals and principles we can work consistently across the country,” she says. “[The pandemic] has given us some early indications of a way that model could potentially work to tackle this shared health emergency.”
Which countries are doing it best?
But Yin struggles to single out one country he feels has achieved the right approach to this problem. He notes the UK has made progress, but he believes its strategy “doesn’t really capture all of the issues and the planning was very general”.
And even if another country did show leadership, he says, it wouldn’t necessarily act as a blueprint for Australia because climate is so regionally specific. One area may be prone to extreme heat, but another faces flooding. Mosquito-borne diseases may be escalating in one place, while bushfire smoke affects another.
The country endured its hottest spring and November on record.
Australia has experienced its warmest spring on record, hitting a mean temperature of 24.53°C (76.15°F), which was 2.03°C above the long-term average. The season began with record warm daily maximum and minimum temperatures in early September and finished with an intense heat wave at the end of November. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BOM) declared November 2020 the warmest November on record.
The map above shows air temperatures across Australia for November 30, 2020. The map was derived from the Goddard Earth Observing System (GEOS) model and depicts air temperatures at 2 meters (about 6.5 feet) above the ground. The darkest red areas are where the model shows temperatures surpassing 40°C (104°F). The GEOS model, like all weather and climate models, uses mathematical equations that represent physical processes (such as precipitation and cloud processes) to calculate what the atmosphere will do. Actual measurements of physical properties, like temperature, moisture, and winds, are routinely folded into the model to keep the simulation as close to observed reality as possible.
Temperatures were warm throughout November and then broke records during an intense heat wave from November 28-30. At least 20 ground stations across New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria, and Queensland recorded their hottest November days in three decades. Thargomindah Airport in Queensland broke November records hitting 46°C (114°F) on November 30. Temperatures in the town of Andamooka, South Australia, reached an all-time high for the spring at 48°C (118°F) on November 28. Temperatures in Smithville hit 46.9°C (116°F) on November 28, which was the highest spring temperature ever recorded in New South Wales. Sydney also experienced back-to-back days with temperatures above 40°C (104°F)—only the second time that has happened in the city in November in 162 years.
The BOM reported that the heat wave was a result of warm air getting pushed from the middle of the continent into southeastern and eastern Australia as frontal systems combined with a heat trough over central Australia. Several locations also experienced record-breaking warm nighttime temperatures, which exacerbated the heat wave. The nighttime heat prevented areas from cooling off and bringing the average temperature down; this also made it easier for temperatures to climb the next day. Average nighttime temperatures in New South Wales were 1.99°C (3.58°F) above the state mean minimum temperature—the warmest since 1914.
Spring rainfall was also about 8 percent below average for the country as a whole, although the anomalies varied through the season. For instance, October was wetter-than-normal due to La Niña strengthening in the tropical Pacific Ocean. According to the BOM, La Niña typically brings cooler, cloudier, and wetter than average conditions for the country. During November, the La Niña conditions temporarily weakened in the region. The BOM expects the pattern to strengthen again and bring cooler temperatures and more rainfall for the summer.
MELBOURNE (Reuters) – The health of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the world’s most extensive and spectacular coral reef ecosystem, is in a critical state and deteriorating as climate change warms up the waters in which it lies, an international conservation group said.
The World Heritage-listed site off Australia’s northeastern coast has lost more than half its coral in the past three decades.
Coral-bleaching in 2016, 2017 and 2020 has further damaged it health and affected its animal, bird and marine population, the International Union for Conservation of Nature said in a report.
Such bleaching occurs when hotter water destroys the algae which the coral feeds on, causing it to turn white.
The union moved the reef’s status to critical and deteriorating on its watchlist.
Some activities which threaten it, like fishing and coastal development, can be tackled by the management authorities, the union said.
“Other pressures cannot be addressed at the site level, such as climate change, which is recognized as the greatest threat,” it said.
Progress towards safeguarding the reef under a long-term sustainability plan through to 2050 has been slow and it has not been possible to stop its deterioration, it said.
The turtle populations – including loggerhead, hawksbill and northern green – as well as the scalloped hammerhead shark, many seabird populations and possibly some dolphin species are declining.
Efforts to safeguard the reef are rising, however. HSBC and the Queensland government said in October they would buy “Reef Credits”, a tradable unit that quantifies and values the work undertaken to improve water quality flowing onto the reef.
Similar to the carbon offset market which incentivises the reduction of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, the scheme pays landholders for improved water quality.
(Reporting by Melanie Burton; Editing by Angus MacSwan)
A host of countries have recently announced major commitments to significantly cut their carbon emissions, promising to reach “net zero” in the coming years.
The term is becoming a global rallying cry, frequently cited as a necessary step to successfully beat back climate change, and the devastation it is causing. |
What is net zero and why is it important?
Put simply, net zero means we are not adding new emissions to the atmosphere. Emissions will continue, but will be balanced by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere.
Practically every country has joined the Paris Agreement on climate change, which calls for keeping the global temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial era levels. If we continue to pump out the emissions that cause climate change, however, temperatures will continue to rise well beyond 1.5, to levels that threaten the lives and livelihoods of people everywhere.
This is why a growing number of countries are making commitments to achieve carbon neutrality, or “net zero” emissions within the next few decades. It’s a big task, requiring ambitious actions starting right now.
Net zero by 2050 is the goal. But countries also need to demonstrate how they will get there. Efforts to reach net-zero must be complemented with adaptation and resilience measures, and the mobilization of climate financing for developing countries.
So how can the world move toward net zero?
The good news is that the technology exists to reach net zero – and it is affordable.
A key element is powering economies with clean energy, replacing polluting coal – and gas and oil-fired power stations – with renewable energy sources, such as wind or solar farms. This would dramatically reduce carbon emissions. Plus, renewable energy is now not only cleaner, but often cheaper than fossil fuels.
A wholesale switch to electric transport, powered by renewable energy, would also play a huge role in lowering emissions, with the added bonus of slashing air pollution in the world’s major cities. Electric vehicles are rapidly becoming cheaper and more efficient, and many countries, including those committed to net zero, have proposed plans to phase out the sale of fossil-fuel powered cars.
Other harmful emissions come from agriculture (livestock produce significant levels of methane, a greenhouse gas). These could be reduced drastically if we eat less meat and more plant-based foods. Here again, the signs are promising, such as the rising popularity of “plant-based meats” now being sold in major international fast-food chains.
What will happen to remaining emissions?
Reducing emissions is extremely important. To get to net zero, we also need to find ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere. Here again, solutions are at hand. The most important have existed in nature for thousands of years.
— Read on news.un.org/en/story/2020/12/1078612
Global pressure on wages from COVID-19 will not stop with the arrival of a vaccine, the head of the International Labour Organization (ILO) warned on Wednesday, coinciding with a major report showing how the pandemic had slowed or reversed a trend of rising wages across the world, hitting women workers and the low-paid hardest. |
This year is on track to be one of the three hottest on record, completing a run of six years that were all hotter than any year ever measured before, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Wednesday.
The relentless rise of carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere – a phenomenon that has continued despite a travel lull during the pandemic – will fuel temperature rise for decades to come.
“The average global temperature in 2020 is set to be about 1.2 °C above the pre-industrial (1850-1900) level. There is at least a one in five chance of it temporarily exceeding 1.5 °C by 2024”, WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a statement.
The 1.5 degree threshold represents a milestone the world is trying not to reach: the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, backed by almost every country on earth, calls for keeping the global temperature to 1.5°C above pre-industrial era levels.
To slow temperature rises, the world needs radical action. Countries must decrease production of fossil fuels by 6 per cent per year between 2020 and 2030 if the world is to avert “catastrophic” global temperature rise, according to the UN-backed Production Gap Reportreleased on Wednesday.
Climate records have fallen like dominos in the past decade, so notching up merely the third hottest year on record may seem to suggest some respite. But that would be a false conclusion, because 2020’s heat rose in a year when the world was experiencing a La Niña weather pattern, which normally means lower temperatures.
“Record warm years have usually coincided with a strong El Niño event, as was the case in 2016. We are now experiencing a La Niña, which has a cooling effect on global temperatures, but has not been sufficient to put a brake on this year’s heat. Despite the current La Niña conditions, this year has already shown near record heat comparable to the previous record of 2016,” said Prof. Taalas.
“We saw new extreme temperatures on land, sea and especially in the Arctic. Wildfires consumed vast areas in Australia, Siberia, the US West Coast and South America, sending plumes of smoke circumnavigating the globe”, he added.
“We saw a record number of hurricanes in the Atlantic, including unprecedented back-to-back category 4 hurricanes in Central America in November. Flooding in parts of Africa and South East Asia led to massive population displacement and undermined food security for millions.”
The 2020 temperature report is provisional until a final report is published in March 2021, the WMO said.
— Read on news.un.org/en/story/2020/12/1079042
Caught in the Crossfire – George Monbiot
By Phil Taylor
New Zealand has declared a climate change emergency and committed to a carbon-neutral government by 2025, in what the prime minister Jacinda Ardern called “one of the greatest challenges of our time”.
A motion tabled in parliament on Wednesday recognised “the devastating impact that volatile and extreme weather will have on New Zealand and the wellbeing of New Zealanders, on our primary industries, water availability, and public health through flooding, sea level rise, and wildfire”.
Thoughts and Prayers aren’t climate solutions!
Thirty-two other nations have formally acknowledged the global crisis by declaring a climate emergency.
The motion acknowledged the “alarming trend in species decline and global biodiversity” including the decline in New Zealand’s indigenous biodiversity.
The declaration of a climate emergency was supported by the Green Party and Māori Party and opposed by the National and Act parties.
Speaking in parliament after its introduction, Ardern said the country must “act with urgency”.
Meanwhile Australian parliament shamefully ignores the Climate Crisis
“This declaration is an acknowledgement of the next generation. An acknowledgement of the burden that they will carry if we do not get this right and do not take action now,” she said.
“It is up to us to make sure we demonstrate a plan for action, and a reason for hope.”
Ardern said the government sector will be required to buy only electric or hybrid vehicles, the fleet will be reduced over time by 20% and all 200 coal-fired boilers used in the public service’s buildings will be phased out.
We know what to do. We just need the political will!
The motion also calls for recognition of the “significant progress on meeting the challenge” by the country through signing the Paris Agreement and passing the Zero Carbon Act 2019, which commits New Zealand to reducing emissions.
That legislation – which sets up a Climate Change Commission tasked with putting the country on a path to net zero emissions by 2050 – made New Zealand one of few countries to have a zero-emissions goal enshrined in law.
But experts says the country is well behind on changes needed. The lack of action was “embarrassing” and had become “untenable”, University of Canterbury political science professor Bronwyn Hayward said last week. “The irony is, even under [President] Trump, the US is going to have made better per-capita reductions than we have.”
Writing in The Conversation, Robert McLachlan, a professor of applied mathematics at Massey University, said New Zealand was yet to make emissions reductions. Of 43 industrialised countries, New Zealand is among 12 that have seen net emissions increase between 1990 and 2018.
This is despite strong statements from the prime minister, such as this when the Zero Carbon Act was passed in November last year: “[New Zealand is] on the right side of history. I absolutely believe and continue to stand by the statement that climate change is the biggest challenge of our time.”
Wednesday’s declaration also said the government will “demonstrate what is possible to other sectors of the economy by reducing the government’s own emissions and becoming a carbon-neutral government by 2025”.
But opposition parties have described the move as a publicity stunt, with the National Party leader, Judith Collins, calling it “virtue signalling”.
“We think it’s all very well to declare an emergency but there’s no proper plan in place as to how to deal with it,” Collins told Radio New Zealand.
As an example, she pointed to the government’s fleet of more than 15,000 vehicles, of which only about 10% are electric.
New Zealand contributes just 0.17% of global emissions but that is high for its size, placing it 17th out of 32 OECD countries. Its net emissions have risen by 60% in the past two decades.
The nation’s biggest source of CO2 emissions is road transport but most greenhouse gases stem from agriculture.
New Zealand’s pledges have been seen internationally as less than required and the second-term Labour government is yet to introduce carbon-cutting policies that would put the country on track to meet its emission targets.
Global update: Paris Agreement Turning Point | Climate Action Tracker
The recent wave of net zero targets has put the Paris Agreement’s 1.5°C within striking distance.
The Climate Action Tracker (CAT) has calculated that global warming by 2100 could be as low as 2.1°C as a result of all the net zero pledges announced as of November 2020.
Included in our new modelling is the announcement by China in September 2020 that it intends to reach carbon neutrality before 2060, which reduces the CAT end of century warming estimate by 0.2 to 0.3°C alone.
Assuming carbon neutrality in the USA by 2050, as proposed by President-Elect Biden, would reduce warming by another 0.1°C. South Africa, Japan, South Korea and Canada have also recently announced net-zero targets. In total, 127 countries responsible for around 63% of emissions are considering or have adopted net zero targets.
Net zero targets are not enough, governments must adopt stronger 2030 targets
While 2050 net zero targets are commendable, governments must now adopt stronger 2030 targets (nationally determined contributions or NDCs) to deliver on their net zero goals, and close the remaining emissions gap to 1.5°C.
Thoughts and prayers not enough, we need real climate action.
The end of 2020 deadline to submit new and updated NDCs is fast approaching. These strengthened NDCs are critical to ensuring governments can meet their mid-century net zero targets. Governments must also develop detailed implementation plans to support these targets.
However, there remains little positive movement by governments to improve their 2030 NDC targets since Paris in 2015.
As of November 2020, no large emitter had submitted a substantially updated NDC since the adoption of the Paris Agreement.
Moreover, governments’ current policies put them on a warming trajectory of 0.8°C higher than our optimistic net zero target assessment.
Paris is driving action
It is clear the Paris Agreement is driving climate action. On the eve of its five-year anniversary, a survey of past Climate Action Tracker assessments shows that the temperature estimates for end-of-century warming have been falling for both the targets and real-world emissions projections.