Equilibrium & Sustainability

Equilibrium/Sustainability — Presented by Delta — The one person happy to miss COP26

Today is Tuesday. Welcome to Equilibrium, a newsletter that tracks the growing global battle over the future of sustainability. Subscribe here: digital-stage.thehill.com/newsletter-signup

Pandemic-related restrictions and exorbitant travel costs have barred delegations from some of the world’s most vulnerable nations from getting a coveted ticket to the ongoing United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow. 

But one individual is relieved that he doesn’t have to attend — after chaperoning his daughter to such events around the world for the past three years: Greta Thunberg’s dad.

The Wall Street Journal reports that since Greta Thunberg, the global face of youth climate activism, turned 18 in January, her dad, Svante Thunberg, is enjoying the chance to avoid such ventures as a multi-week sailboat trip across the Atlantic — or even a train ride from Sweden to Glasgow,.

“Hell no,” he told the Journal, when asked if he would attend COP26. “I am certainly not going.”

While Svante Thunberg has seen his life change due to his daughter’s influence — he’s abandoned flying, turned vegan and drives an electric car — he said he also has a job and “other things to do.”

Unlike the senior Thunberg, today we will be visiting COP26 (virtually), starting with an international pledge made at the summit that aims to end deforestation by 2030 — a promise we’ve heard before. Then we’ll hear from world leaders why the climate and water crises must be tackled together. 

For Equilibrium, we are Saul Elbein and Sharon Udasin. Please send tips or comments to Saul at selbein@digital-stage.thehill.com or Sharon at sudasin@digital-stage.thehill.com. Follow us on Twitter: @saul_elbein and @sharonudasin

Let’s get to it.

 

Countries reaffirm need to curb deforestation 

One hundred countries, including those administering the world’s largest forests — and those responsible for the most rapid deforestation — signed a deal at COP26 pledging to halt and begin to reverse deforestation by 2030.

But without additional hard goals — it’s a statement of principle, not of binding commitment — the pledge risks falling into the same disuse as the New York Declaration on which it was built.

First steps: U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the deal Monday, committing “to end humanity’s long history as nature’s conqueror, and instead become its custodian,” according to The Associated Press.

Is it unprecedented? It certainly has an unprecedented number of signatories, including countries like Brazil, China, Indonesia, Congo and the U.S. —  representing 85 percent of the world’s forests, the AP reported, citing the U.K. government.

Among other things, the agreement releases nearly $19 billion in funding, while recognizing the importance of Indigenous land rights — and investment in their communities — to forest protection, as well as the need for “transformative action” in making both production and consumption more sustainable, according to the text of the pledge.

A legacy of failure: But the top-line deal of ending deforestation by 2030 is one that has been reached — and breached — before, wrote Luciana Tellez Chavez of Human Rights Watch.

In 2014, an alliance of 40 countries, along with corporations, nongovernmental organizations and Indigenous communities, signed the New York Declaration on Forests (NYDF), which sought a 50 percent reduction in deforestation by 2020 and a full halt — just like Monday’s deal — by 2030.

As of 2019, an internal audit by NYDF found that “there is little evidence that its goals are on track.”

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A LONG ROAD TO HALTING DEFORESTATION

What happened, and can it be fixed now? The prime driver behind global deforestation is agriculture: particularly a few commodities like palm oil, soy, cattle and paper pulp, according to Reuters. 

More than 30 financial institutions representing more than $8.7 trillion in assets committed to make their “best efforts” to cut deforestation for those commodities, Reuters reported. 

But this is an uphill battle: Particularly in Brazil and Indonesia, home to two of the largest remaining tropical forests, as well as some of the most industry-heavy deforestation.

In Indonesia, palm oil plantations and pulp and paper production have led to the loss or degradation of 89 percent of the dense tropical rainforests that once covered most of the islands of Borneo and Sumatra, according to a Reuters graphic report.

On Sumatra, “the fight is lost,” Rainforest Foundation Norway researcher Anders Krogh told Reuters.

The situation in Brazil is even worse, as Brazil’s embattled president has thrown his support behind the rural agribusiness and mining interests that are prime drivers of deforestation.

Though President Jair Bolsonaro signed on to President Biden’s plan earlier this year pledging to end illegal deforestation by 2030, his government has backed a broad expansion of what would constitute “legal” deforestation, according to The Guardian.

“Nowadays Brazil has an anti-environmental policy. They are paralysing everything,” Suely Vaz, a former head of IBAMA, Brazil’s forest regulator, told The Guardian.

The pendulum may be swinging back, though: Brazilian agribusinesses are facing the prospect that their country’s dismal environmental reputation will cut into business — and Brazil’s farmers have learned a hard lesson this last year about the importance of the Amazon in bringing rain, The Guardian reported.

One bright spot: The addition of China to the deal means that a country whose consumption leads to 25 percent of deforestation will be at the table, Tellez Chavez noted on Human Rights Watch.

Last words: For all her reservations, Tellez Chavez told the AP that the deal contains “quite a lot of positive elements.”

 

Officials call for combined approach to dual crises

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The climate and water crises “cannot be resolved independently of each other,” as extreme weather conditions eliminate glaciers, cause some rivers to run dry and transform streets into rivers, Hungarian President János Áder said at COP26 on Tuesday, as covered by The Hill.

“There is a consensus among scientists that 80 percent of all impacts of the climate crisis can be felt through water,” Áder said.

Integrated water and climate agenda: The Hungarian president was addressing a panel focused on “committing to an integrated global water and climate agenda.” Áder and other participants in the session are members of the Water and Climate Coalition, a joint initiative of the World Meteorological Organization secretary-general and the U.N. water chair.

Adverse weather events and changes to the hydrological cycle, according to Áder, have become a threat to the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established by the U.N. in 2015 as an “urgent call for action by all countries.” 

“If we are unable to resolve the water crisis situation, then the implementation of almost all of the SDGs will be difficult, or even impossible,” Áder said.

Harnessing data, finance: To help resolve that crisis, the Water and Climate Coalition aims to harness the funds, innovation and data necessary to take concrete action and change the world’s approach to the water and climate nexus, according to the Hungarian president.

Áder listed five key objectives for the Coalition:

  1. Create an integrated water and climate database that is accessible to all by 2025
  2. Build a hydrological observation system to measure water reduction levels in soil by 2030
  3. Change financing approaches to account for environmental and social ramifications
  4. Study the effects of melting glaciers
  5. Solve the problem that 90 percent of the world’s population lives in countries with shared waters — and that in 60 percent of these areas, there is no existing agreement on shared use.

“It doesn’t need too much imagination to see how much conflict this can potentially lead to, especially in the future, when we’re seeing adverse weather phenomenon,” Áder said.

‘TIME IS THE MOST SCARCE, NON-RENEWABLE RESOURCE’

Glacial mass depleting: Glacial melting is particularly critical, as these ice chunks have experienced a negative mass balance for the 33rd consecutive year, and that trend is only poised to continue, according to World Meteorological Organization secretary-general, Petteri Taalas. Two major glaciers, in Greenland and Antarctica, are significantly contributing to sea-level rise, he added. 

In Tajikistan, more than 14,000 glaciers have completely melted, and in the past few decades, the total volume of glaciers in Tajikistan have decreased by almost one-third, according to Tajik President Emomali Rahmon.

“Water and climate are inextricably linked as climate change affects our lives and our economy mainly through water resources,” said Rahmon, who is also a leader of the Water and Climate Coalition. “Our glaciers are melting rapidly.”

Using data to mitigate risk: For Mari Pangestu, managing director of development policy and partnerships at the World Bank Group, one of the key objectives is scaling up support for building hydrological databases, which she said are a critical tool for reducing both economic and human costs. 

“Water is not only at the heart of climate change adaptation, it’s also crucial for mitigation,” Pangestu said, noting that “water is the great connector.” 

Greenhouse gas emissions, she continued, can be reduced by smart water and sanitation management, which can particularly help mitigate risk in fragile and low-income countries.

“You can’t manage what you don’t measure,” Pangestu said, calling upon countries to start collecting data now. 

Last words: “Time is the most scarce, non-renewable resource,” Pangestu added.

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Tuesdays in Trouble

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Manchin ruffles feathers, Californian town waits for water, Maine moose at the mercy of ticks. 

As Biden goes abroad, Manchin threatens his legacy back home

  • As President Biden touted U.S. sustainability commitments at COP26 in Glasgow, Sen. Joe Manchin  (D-W. Va.) threw a wrench into the Democrats’ climate and social policy agenda back home, The Hill reported.
  • Manchin accused progressives of holding a $1 trillion infrastructure bill “hostage,” and said he wouldn’t vote for the bill without “thoroughly understanding the impact it will have on our national debt,” according to The Hill.
  • Manchin also echoed Republican talking points about the danger of “hurting American families suffering from historic inflation,” which angered his colleagues, The Hill reported.
  • But Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) argued that the legislation “is paid for in its entirety” and that “it will not have an impact on inflation,” adding that with regards to fiscal responsibility, “the reconciliation bill is the right thing.”

San Joaquin Valley town suffers first from no water, then from contaminated water

  • The sole functioning well in the San Joaquin Valley farm town of Teviston, California, went dry during a scalding summer, forcing workers to bathe in buckets of water after laboring in the region’s vineyards and almond orchards, according to Reuters.
  • But even after the well was repaired, Teviston residents continued receiving bottled drinking water. The water that flows through their taps has for years — and probably decades — been contaminated with the carcinogen 1,2,3-Trichloropropane (TCP), a remnant of long-term pesticide use, Reuters reported.
  • Teviston won a $3 million settlement in June from pesticide firms Dow Chemical Company and Shell Oil Company, and distributors will be funding a water treatment plant. Dow declined Reuters’s request for comment, but has previously said there was “no merit” to allegations in similar regional lawsuits.
  • While residents await the treatment plant, TCP levels remain unsafe in Teviston, a community that has long suffered from marginalization — first Black workers laboring at white-owned cotton farms and now immigrant Mexican workers, Reuters reported.

Killing moose to save their population from ticks

  • Maine’s wildlife managers are trying out a controversial plan to safeguard the state’s moose population: killing more of them, according to The Wall Street Journal.
  • Rising winter temperatures due to climate change have led to a surge in ticks — so many that some moose are dying a grisly death of blood loss from thousands of suckers, the Journal reported.
  • So the state has increased moose hunting permits by nearly a third, hoping to drop moose populations enough that the ticks’ numbers crash too.
  • “Our hope with this hunt is that it will mean we have much healthier moose going forward,” Nick Fortin, from Fish and Wildlife Service in neighboring Vermont, told the Journal.

 

Please visit The Hill’s sustainability section online for the web version of this newsletter and more stories. We’ll see you on Wednesday. 

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File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
File - A Chevrolet Bolt is displayed at the Philadelphia Auto Show, Jan. 27, 2023, in Philadelphia. Electric vehicles are far less reliable than gasoline-powered cars, trucks and SUVs, mainly because most automakers are still learning how to build a completely new power system, according to this year's auto reliability survey by Consumer Reports.(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

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In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)
In this photo released by the Governor of Sevastopol, Mikhail Razvozhayev telegram channel, a rescuer gestures as he helps people during an evacuation after storm and flooding in Sevastopol, Crimea, Monday, Nov. 27, 2023. A storm in the Black Sea took down power grids and left almost half a million people without power after it flooded roads, ripped up trees and damaged buildings in Crimea, Russian state news agency Tass said. (Governor of Sevastopol Mikhail Razvozhayev's telegram channel via AP)

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