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Indigenous leaders call for help to stop oil drilling in the Amazon River

Indigenous leaders are calling for help to stop oil companies drilling in the headwaters of the Amazon river in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, warning that encroaching on their homelands would destroy a bulwark against climate change.

In video shared with Reuters on International Day for Biological Diversity on Friday, communities in Peru and Ecuador said pressure to exploit their territory would intensify as governments seek to reboot economies reeling from the virus.

“We have taken care of the rainforest all our lives and now we invite everyone to share in our vision,” Domingo Peas, a leader from Ecuador’s Achuar nation, told Reuters Television. “We need to find a new route, post-oil, for economic development, for the well-being of all humanity, not just indigenous people.”

The Achuar are among 20 indigenous nationalities representing almost 500,000 people living in a swathe of rainforest straddling the Peru-Ecuador border, often referred to as the Amazon Sacred Headwaters.

Existing and proposed oil and gas blocks cover 280,000 square miles in the region, an area larger than Texas, according to a report published in December by international advocacy groups including Amazon Watch and Stand.earth.

Oil is currently being extracted from 7 per cent of these blocks. Ecuador and Peru have plans to exploit at least an additional 40 per cent, including in forests teeming with wildlife, such as Ecuador’s Yasuní National Park, the groups say.

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Home to jaguars, pink river dolphins, anacondas, howler monkeys and thousands of other species, the region, in many areas barely touched by the modern world, is seen as integral to the wider health of the Amazon, the world’s largest rainforest.

“Caring for the forests of the Amazon, is caring for your life and future generations,” said Rosa Cerda, vice president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon.

Although communities in Ecuador and Peru have had some success in using lawsuits to block new exploration, past oil and mining projects suggest that carving new roads through trackless landscapes can trigger rapid deforestation. Leaks from pipelines pollute rivers used for drinking water, harming people and wildlife.

A new path?

While industrialized countries are facing calls to adopt climate-friendly “green recoveries” from virus-induced economic slowdowns, indigenous peoples are waging a parallel campaign to persuade Ecuador and Peru to pursue more holistic models.

Nevertheless, communities fear that the pain inflicted by the pandemic may encourage politicians to pursue a massive expansion of the oil industry through state-owned companies that dominate the sector in Ecuador and Peru.

“This is a fundamental danger,” said Tuntiak Katan, the vice coordinator of the Amazon Basin Indigenous Organization, and a member of Ecuador’s Shuar people. “The economic recovery has to be in line with ecological principles.”

The governments of Peru and Ecuador declined to comment.

Belen Paez, executive director of the Fundacion Pachamama advocacy group, urged governments to heed the advice of indigenous leaders, academics and former government officials working to map out a “Green New Deal” for the Amazon.

“Government leaders in Ecuador and Peru and the world must seize this chance and work in partnership with indigenous nationalities to protect this amazing region,” Paez said.

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Coronavirus forces postponement of crucial UN climate summit

The COP26 negotiations were scheduled to take place in the British city of Glasgow in November.

This year’s United Nations global climate summit is being postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic, host country the United Kingdom has said.

The most important climate summit since Paris 2015, also called COP26, was scheduled to take place in the British city of Glasgow in November. It will now be held in 2021.

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British Business Minister Alok Sharma, who was also due to preside over the COP26 talks, said with countries struggling to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, governments needed more time to prepare.

“We will continue working tirelessly with our partners to deliver the ambition needed to tackle the climate crisis,” Sharma said. “And I look forward to agreeing to a new date for the conference.”

Some 30,000 people, including 200 world leaders, were due to attend the 10-day conference.

While the coronavirus crisis has thrown the climate talks into uncertainty, some see the delay as an advantage with the US presidential elections set for November.

UN negotiators say the postponement will allow them to assess whether they will have support in the White House after US President Donald Trump pulled out of the 2015 Paris agreement in 2017 and rolled back Obama-era environmental policies.

If the Democrats win – with either Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders as the next president – it would mean a return to negotiations for the US, the world’s second-largest emitter of greenhouse gases after China.

While there was broad support for the postponement of the negotiations because of the devastating effects of coronavirus, many questioned the decision.

Alden Meyer of the US-based Union of Concerned Scientists said events can be postponed, but climate change will not pause even for a pandemic of epic proportions.

“The response to the COVID-19 pandemic is showing that the nations of the world can come together to tackle global challenges and that the policy landscape can shift quickly when there is sufficient political will,” Meyer said.

“This should give us hope as we move forward in the fight to tackle the global crisis of climate change.”

‘Urgent action’

Greenpeace International Director Jennifer Morgan said leaders should now double down on efforts to ensure a green and just way forward.

“Going back to business as usual is completely unacceptable. This pandemic shows there are huge lessons to be learned about the importance of listening to science and the need for urgent collective global action,” Morgan said.

The COP26 talks this year were expected to deliver new global targets for protecting biodiversity, but that event scheduled in China will also be delayed now.

Many experts suggest COVID-19 has a direct link with environmental degradation, deforestation and illegal wildlife trade, bringing wild animals into close contact with humans and increasing the likelihood of pandemics such as COVID-19.

They also believe that climate change will make poorer communities more vulnerable to such outbreaks.

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2020 could be the warmest year on record

Last month was Earth’s second-warmest March and third-warmest month on record.

The US’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) and NASA confirmed that March 2020 was the planet’s second-warmest March since records began in 1880.

The warmest March ever was in 2016.

The most notable March 2020 temperatures were across much of Asia, the eastern half of the United States, and southern South America where temperatures were 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above average, the agencies reported on Monday.

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Some ocean temperatures were also notable, including parts of the tropical Atlantic Ocean, central Indian Ocean, and areas of the northern and southwestern Pacific Ocean.

On average, these ocean temperatures were 1.5C (2.7F) above average or higher. 

Averaged as a whole, the global land and ocean surface temperature for March 2020 was 1.16C (2.09F) above the 20th century average of 12.7C (54.9F).

Only March 2016 was warmer at 1.31C (2.36F). However, 2016 also saw a near-record strong El Nino event.

Global temperature records are more likely to be set during El Nino events because of the extra heat the tropical Pacific Ocean produces in the atmosphere.

Right now, there is no El Nino to boost temperatures, so it makes March 2020 all the more notable.

January through March this year ranks as the second-warmest such period on record; 2016 was the warmest ever.

According to NCEI’s annual temperature outlook, 2020 has more than a 70 percent chance of being the warmest year on record. 

As things stand right now, 2020 has a 99.94 percent chance of ranking among the five warmest years ever recorded.

If so, this would mean the past seven years are the seven warmest on record.

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Healthy, clean oceans still a possibility — but it might take 30 years, say scientists

Rebounding sea life, from humpback whales to elephant seals and green turtles, point to some good news: the world’s oceans are on their way to fully healing.

New scientific research, published on April 1 in the Nature journal, shows the Australian, American and Japanese coasts are seeing a re-emergence of aquatic life despite overfishing, pollution and coastal destruction.

“Recovery rates across studies suggest that substantial recovery of the abundance, structure and function of marine life could be achieved by 2050, if major pressures — including climate change — are mitigated,” the introduction to the study says.

“Rebuilding marine life represents a doable grand challenge for humanity, an ethical obligation and a smart economic objective to achieve a sustainable future.”

The study’s authors say the aim should be growing habitats and species and restoring ocean-floor ecosystems.

Successful conservation efforts, the report points out, are finally seeing positive effects.

But to have “an ocean renaissance” by 2050, work still needs to be done to ensure conservation efforts continue to move forward, Carlos Duarte of the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia said in the report.

“Overfishing and climate change are tightening their grip, but there is hope in the science of restoration,” Callum Roberts, a University of York professor who worked on the study, told the Guardian.

“One of the overarching messages of the review is, if you stop killing sea life and protect it, then it does come back. We can turn the oceans around and we know it makes sense economically, for human well-being and, of course, for the environment.”

The measures needed, from sustainable fishing controls to protecting large portions of ocean, will cost billions of dollars a year, but the benefits would be even greater, Duarte points out.

The review shows evidence that some habitats in Florida and the Philippines are fully recovering thanks to global fishing becoming more sustainable worldwide.

Humpback whales on the Australian coast, migrating from Antarctica, have grown from a few hundred in 1968 to more than 40,000 now.

Meanwhile, Canadian sea otter populations have risen from dozens in 1980 to thousands now.

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Satellite data lays scale of methane leaks bare, exposing climate risks

PARIS (AFP) – Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, is leaking from industry sites at rates equivalent to the annual carbon emissions of France and Germany combined, a new analysis using satellite data showed on Tuesday (March 31).

Using imaging data gathered by the European Space Agency’s Sentinel-5P monitoring mission, the study shows more than 100 “high-volume emission events” worldwide from gas storage and transmission facilities.

These events alone emitted around 20 million tonnes of methane – the short-term equivalent to releasing 1.8 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution.

“The good news is most of these are man-made and can easily be addressed through action by individual companies, governments and regulators,” said Antoine Rostand, CEO of Kayrros, an asset observation platform that conducted the analysis.

While methane only stays in the atmosphere a fraction of the time that CO2 does, over a period of decades it is dozens of times more potent as a greenhouse gas.

Overall, greenhouse gas emissions from energy have risen globally nearly every year in the past decade, despite the 2015 Paris climate deal mandating their reduction.

The United Nations says that manmade emissions must decline 7.6 per cent annually by 2030 to limit global warming to 1.5 deg C above pre-industrial levels – the more ambitious cap laid out in the Paris deal.

Claus Zehner, Sentinel-5P mission manager at ESA, said satellite monitoring of methane leaks could help industry “support the reduction of global emissions and slow down climate change”.

The Kayrros analysis has not been reviewed by scientists but has been shared with the European Commission.

Commenting on the project, Gunnar Luderer and Nico Bauer, climate economists at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, said that it might over-estimate the warming impact of methane leaks.

“Still, however, the annual leakage of 20 Mt of methane from 100 point sources mostly in the energy industry is an astonishing loss that is worth further validation,” they told Agence France-Presse.

They said that the leaks alone were worth nearly two thirds of all natural gas use in France every year, with an industry impact of roughly four billion euros (S$6.3 billion).

“Economists would expect that such leakage would be avoided for pure cost reasons,” said Luderer and Bauer.

“In any case, regulatory intervention could lead to lower emissions with economic benefit.”

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