Tuxedos and climate change normally aren’t things that make it into the same sentence but they did this week, thanks to Leonardo DiCaprio when he took out an Oscar. He put climate change front and centre of his acceptance speech. The news was reported and shared around the world - over and over and over. Not since Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth a decade ago have we seen Hollywood engage so prominently with climate change.
“Climate change is real, it is happening right now, it is the most urgent threat facing our entire species, and we need to work collectively together and stop procrastinating,” he declared. The actor’s actions generated significant interest about climate change, prompting a look by the Guardian about his passion for the issue. “Leonardo DiCaprio was a climate champion long before the actor wrapped himself in an animal carcass, vomited up raw bison liver, and risked hypothermia for his Oscar-winning role in Revenant,” the Guardian reported. “Over the last few years, DiCaprio has steadily donated his celebrity - and at least $30m in funding according to his foundation - to help advance the United Nations climate negotiations, protect coral reefs and tigers, and spread public awareness about the dangers of climate change. The actor has become a fixture at events focused on global challenges since 2014,” the Guardian reported.
New Scientist reports China is surging ahead in switching to renewables and away from coal in what its officials say will allow it to surpass its carbon emissions targets. “The country’s solar and wind energy capacity soared last year by 74 and 34 per cent respectively compared with 2014, according to figures issued by China’s National Bureau of Statistics yesterday. Meanwhile, its consumption of coal – the dirtiest of the fossil fuels – dropped by 3.7 per cent, with imports down by a substantial 30 per cent. The figures back up claims last month in Hong Kong by Xie Zhenhua, China’s lead negotiator at at the UN climate talks in Paris last December, that the country will “far surpass” its 2020 target to reduce carbon emissions per unit of national wealth (GDP) by 40 to 45 per cent from 2005 levels.” That’s the end of the good news. Now the bad news.
Australia’s big four banks are continuing to finance fossil fuel projects despite embracing a 2C or better global warming target, according to figures from financial activists Market Forces. The Guardian reports the Commonwealth, Westpac, ANZ and National Australia Bank signed off on loans totalling $5.5bn to coal, oil, gas and liquefied natural gas projects in 2015, a figure that is higher than three of the preceding eight years. “Among the deals were eight loans for coal projects signed in Australia in 2015, with a total value of $4bn, including for struggling Whitehaven Coal, operator of the controversial Maules Creek mine. All of the projects had some financing from the big four banks, with their contributions totalling $995m,” the Guardian reported.
Renew Economy reports new government data has confirmed what has been widely suspected – the nation’s top polluters are actually increasing emissions, and will likely continue to do so despite Australia’s recent pledge to join the ambitious climate agreement sealed in Paris. “The National Greenhouse and Energy Report released late on Friday reveals the nation’s top 10 polluters – and AGL again takes top spot, this time reinforcing its position with the multi-billion dollar purchase of large coal fired generators in NSW. The data, and an analysis from the Australian Conservation Foundation, confirm that in the same year that Australia signed up to the historic Paris climate deal – an agreement to actively pursue efforts to limit global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels – the nation’s carbon pollution levels increased, as the country’s electricity generation sector became even more reliant on coal power.”
Australia is underprepared to deal with the escalating problem of extreme "killer" heatwaves and a "whole of society approach" is needed to deal with the problem, a Climate Council report says. The ABC reported on the release saying there were more than 370 deaths during the heatwave of 2009 and climate forecasts indicate there will be longer, hotter and more intense heatwaves in future, according to The Silent Killer: Climate change and the impact of extreme heat. The number of record hot days in Australia has doubled in the past 50 years. Heatwaves have killed more Australians than any other natural hazard and have caused more deaths since 1890 than bushfires, cyclones, earthquakes, floods and severe storms combined, the report said. The heat places "a dramatic demand" on public facilities such as hospitals and the system is so stretched there is no capacity to increase services. In the 2009 heatwave, emergency callouts jumped by 46 per cent and there was a tripling of cardiac arrests, the ABC reported.
The Guardian reports the cost of natural disasters in Australia is 50% more than previously estimated– $9bn in 2015 – and is set to increase to $33bn by 2050 even ignoring the effect of climate change, according to two reports commissioned by the Australian Business Roundtable for Disaster Resilience and Safer Communities. The studies included the first analysis of the economic costs of social impacts of natural disasters, and concluded they cost the economy more than tangible impacts like damage to property.
A land-clearing surge in Queensland is set to create additional carbon dioxide emissions in just three years that are equivalent to those the federal government claims it is avoiding by paying other farmers over $670m to stop cutting down trees, according to a new analysis, reported on by the Guardian. “The Queensland land clearing along with weakening land clearing laws in several other states are threatening Australia’s chances of meeting the climate change targets it pledged in Paris last year and raising questions about the coalition’s “Direct Action” climate policy. A new study of Australian tree-clearing by environmental services company CO2 Australia – obtained by Guardian Australia – has quantified the recent blow-out in greenhouse emissions from the weakened laws, after a decade in which declining tree clearing played a key role in Australia meeting its climate change commitments,” the Guardian reported.
The Guardian says climate scientists have bad news for governments, energy companies, motorists, passengers and citizens everywhere in the world: to contain global warming to the limits agreed by 195 nations in Paris last December, they will have to cut fossil fuel combustion at an even faster rate than anybody had predicted. “Joeri Rogelj, research scholar at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis in Austria, and European and Canadian colleagues propose in Nature Climate Change that all previous estimates of the quantities of carbon dioxide that can be released into the atmosphere before the thermometer rises to potentially catastrophic levels are too generous. Instead of a range of permissible emissions estimates that ranged up to 2,390 bn tons from 2015 onwards, the very most humans could release would be 1,240 bn tons.”
Finally, we hear much about droughts in California and Australia but they’re also happening elsewhere - and severely. The worst drought in more than a century cut South African farming output and hurt manufacturing, curbing growth in the continent’s second-largest economy to an annualized 0.6 percent in the fourth quarter. Bloomberg reports the economy’s rebound from a recession in 2009 has struggled to gain traction as commodity prices slumped and growth in South Africa’s biggest export market, China, slowed. South Africa’s outlook has deteriorated since last year because of the drought, prompting Finance Minister Pravin Gordhan last week to reduce his growth forecast for 2016 by almost half to 0.9 percent. Agriculture contracted an annualized 14 percent in the final three months of last year and “we can see the pass-through to manufacturing,” Statistician General Pali Lehohla told reporters on Tuesday in Pretoria, the capital. The decline is “a big number. The drought has an impact both in terms of employment and industrial output,” he said.
As is clear this week, 24 hours of good news is quickly diminished by a week of generally bad news, right around the world and from so many angles.
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This Week in Climate Change (formally The Week That Was), a weekly review of climate change politics, policy, innovation and science from Climate Reality Leader Andrew Woodward. @climatecomm