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EXPLAINER: What are the key climate themes at Davos?

EXPLAINER: What are the key climate themes at Davos?

While the COVID-19 pandemic and Russia’s war in Ukraine will be focuses of the World Economic Forum’s gathering of business and government leaders, so too will climate change. It’s captured the world’s attention in unignorable and devastating ways.

The acceleration of rising temperatures, the ferocity and costliness of major weather events, and the impact, particularly on people in developing countries, have pushed the issue from one of science to something that touches every aspect of life, including (or, perhaps especially) business and economics.

Of the roughly 270 panels Monday through Thursday, one-third are about climate change or its direct effects. U.S. climate envoy John Kerry, Ugandan climate activist Vanessa Nakate and Alok Sharma, president of last year’s international climate conference COP26, are among the climate leaders expected in the Swiss resort town of Davos.

At the forum’s first in-person gathering in two years, the climate panels are as varied as the issue. They range from combating “eco-anxiety” to helping debt-ridden countries finance a renewable transition. Here’s a look at some broader themes that are likely to emerge:


Workers set the stage prior to the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, Sunday, May 22, 2022. (Gian Ehrenzeller/Keystone via AP)

Several panels will wrestle with an approach to investing that considers the environment and other key factors. Known by the acronym ESG, it’s become a force, with trillions of dollars invested in companies that meet certain criteria.

When it comes to climate change, ESG can be important. For individual investors all the way up to firms and government agencies that analyze how companies operate, disclosures and public declarations are paramount. They can be the basis of evaluating a company’s emissions, environmental impact and financial risks tied to climate change.

They are also controversial and raise questions: Should certain declarations be mandatory? Should they be standardized and regulated, and by whom? Or has the ESG movement already gone too far, ultimately hindering investment and doing little to rein in greenhouse gas emissions?

Viewpoints sometimes fall along political lines. In the U.S., many Republicans call them “woke,” while many on the left, particularly environmentalists and campaigners, argue that ramping up reporting and transparency could lead to real change.

Many managers of some of the world’s largest mutual funds have argued ESG is essential to evaluate risk. Just last week, Tesla CEO Elon Musk said the approach had “been weaponized by phony social justice warriors.”


People walk in front of the congress center where the World Economic Forum take will place, on the eve of the event in Davos, Switzerland, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2022. The annual meeting of the World Economic Forum is taking place in Davos from May. 22 until May. 26, 2020. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)

The world’s top climate scientists have warned that significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions this decade is necessary to minimize warming and avoid the most devastating effects to the planet. That will require major changes in how business is done, from the way products are produced to how they are transported.

Several panels will look at areas where businesses have successfully transitioned much of their energy portfolio to renewables, the role of finance and government to incentivize or mandate changes, and strategies to keep businesses accountable. Despite heightened consciousness and pledges by businesses, emissions are going up worldwide.

“Moving climate debate from ambition to delivery” is a title of one panel that sums up the enormous challenge.

Sessions will look at sectors, like decarbonizing shipping and aviation, renewable transition plans and the challenges of achieving them in countries like China and India. There will be discussion of strategies to ensure major shifts are inclusive and consider people in historically marginalized countries, which are feeling some of the most intense effects of climate change.

An important current through all the discussions will be identifying what “net zero” is — and isn’t — when looking at pledges from companies and countries. Moving away from fossil fuels like coal and oil to renewables like solar and wind can reduce emissions and get a company closer to goals of taking an equal amount of emissions out of the atmosphere as it puts in.

But a transition to renewables often makes up only a small part of company plans. Many rely on balancing their carbon footprint by investing in forest restoration or other projects. While better than nothing, experts note that depending on carbon offsets doesn’t represent a shift in business practices.

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Middelgruden Offshore Wind Farm in Denmark. Image credit: UN.


They would serve as a hub for offshore wind farms along the coast.


50 countries now generate more than 10% of power from wind and solar sources.


Russia’s war in Ukraine will loom large at the conference. When it comes to climate change, the conflict raises two central questions: How should countries respond to energy shocks from reducing or being cut off from Russian oil and gas? And will the war hasten the transition to renewable energies or help fossil fuel companies maintain the status quo?

Since the war began, there has been no shortage of businesses, environmentalists and political leaders trying to influence the answers to those questions, which will carry over to Davos.

“Energy Security and the European Green Deal” is one panel where participants are expected to argue that the way forward is away from fossil fuels. But European countries, some of which are heavily reliant on Russia for energy, also are scrambling to find other sources of natural gas and oil to meet short-term needs.

While no sessions explicitly make the case for a doubling down on reliance on fossil fuels or expanding extraction or exploration, if the last few months are any guide, those points of view will certainly be present.


Peter Prengaman via Associated Press

Heinz tomato ketchup will soon come in paper bottles to help the environment

Heinz tomato ketchup will soon come in paper bottles to help the environment

Whether it’s accompanying chips or slathered on a burger, ketchup is our trusted companion as BBQ season approaches.

But it seems the popular condiment might have a new look very soon.

That’s because Heinz plans to roll out completely renewable paper bottles, to help the environment.

The new bottles will be made with wood pulp and will be available alongside the current glass and plastic options.

And the good news is that these paper bottles will not affect the taste of the ketchup.

The new containers will be made in partnership with Pulpex – which also created a paper bottle for whisky brand Jonnie Walker – and are part of Heinz’s long-term plan to make all of its packaging recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025.

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Scientists created biodegradable food packaging that will eliminate harmful bacteria build-up in foods


Recently, scientists at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in the US have developed bacteria-killing biodegradable food packaging that addresses two major concerns of the food industry today – food waste and eco-friendliness.

The traditional Starbucks disposable cup.


“Our cup is ubiquitous, and we love that,” said Michael Kobori, Starbucks chief sustainability officer. “But it is also this ubiquitous symbol of a throwaway society.”

It’s worth pointing out that Heinz already uses 30% recycled plastic and recyclable caps – and the company aim to have zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.

Kraft Heinz CEO, Miguel Patricio, said: ‘Packaging waste is an industry-wide challenge that we must all do our part to address.

‘That is why we are committed to taking steps to explore sustainable packaging solutions across our brands at Kraft Heinz, offering consumers more choices.

‘This new HEINZ bottle is one example of how we are applying creativity and innovation to explore new ways to provide consumers with the products they know and love while also thinking sustainably.’


Lizzie Thomson at Metro

Lake Michigan, Lake Huron lost 20 trillion gallons of water over last 2 years

Lake Michigan, Lake Huron lost 20 trillion gallons of water over last 2 years

The Great Lakes have been receding from record high water levels over the past few years. The amount of water that has left the Great Lakes is staggering.

Each Great Lake peaked in a different year, and each of the Great Lakes’ water levels have fallen from there.

Lake Superior peaked 14 inches higher than the current water level. The record high on Lake Superior was in 2019. In three years, Lake Superior has lost 7.7 trillion gallons of water.

Lake Michigan and Lake Huron act as one lake because of the large area of free-flowing water at the Straits of Mackinac. Lakes Michigan and Huron are 8 inches lower than this time last year and a full 25 inches from the record high water level in 2020. So in just two years, Lakes Michigan and Huron hold 20 trillion less gallons of water. Bear in mind the globe uses approximately 10 trillion gallons of water in one year. Now you know why the Great Lakes are called the world’s largest freshwater system. The Great Lakes could literally produce enough water yearly for the entire world.

2022 – North Beach park in Ferrysburg on Thursday, April 28, 2022. Lake Michigan and Huron are at the lowest water levels since 2017. (Cory Morse | MLive.com)

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Figure showing the average sea surface salinity of the world' s seas and oceans during the period 2011-2018. Credit: ICM-CSIC.


Researchers at the Institut de Ciències del Mar (ICM-CSIC) in Barcelona have found that global warming is accelerating the water cycle, which could have significant consequences on the global climate system, according to an article published recently in the journal Scientific Reports.

Streams and rivers cut through the Greenland ice sheet, pouring water into the Arctic Ocean. (Image credit: NASA Goddard Space Flight Center)


The Arctic is warming faster than anywhere else on the planet, and the toll on Greenland‘s massive ice sheet is becoming achingly clear.

Lake Erie is only one inch lower than this time last year, but 17 inches off its record high water level in 2020. This lowering of the water level represents 2.89 trillion gallons of water.

Lake Ontario has been the Great Lake with the most ups and downs in recent years. Lake Ontario went through its record high water mark in 2017. Since then, its level is lower by 24 inches. Lake Ontario is now 3.12 trillion gallons less water than back in the record high year of 2017.

In all, this adds up to the entire Great Lakes system having lost 33.7 trillion gallons over the past few years.


Mark Torregrossa at MLive

Germany, Denmark, Netherlands and Belgium sign €135 billion offshore wind pact

Germany, Denmark, Netherlands and Belgium sign €135 billion offshore wind pact

Heads of government from the North Sea countries met in the Danish town of Esbjerg on Wednesday (18 May) to sign a cooperation agreement on offshore wind development and green hydrogen. They will target at least 65 GW by 2030 and 150 GW by 2050.

In a joint declaration, the North Sea countries state their intention of becoming the “Green Power Plant of Europe”.

The North Sea’s reliable winds, shallow waters, and proximity to industrial centres that are big consumers of electricity, makes it a perfect fit for the installation of offshore wind farms.

“Today’s agreement by the energy ministers is an important milestone in cross-border cooperation. It is the basis for the first real European power plants that also generate electricity from renewable energies,” explained Germany’s Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck.

“Together with our partner countries, we can expand offshore wind energy in the North Sea region even faster and more efficiently and tap new potential for green hydrogen,” he said, adding that this would “further reduce our dependence on gas imports.”

The agreement aims for a tenfold increase in offshore wind power capacity in the region, with total investments from the private sector expected to reach €135 billion. In the end, this figure could be even higher, as the European Commission estimated a total of €800 billion in offshore energy investment was necessary to reach the EU’s 2050 target.

“Using the wind, using the North Sea has a long tradition in our countries,” stated Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who is former mayor of Hamburg, a North Sea shipping hub.

Offshore wind no longer rely on subsidies and are getting “cheaper and cheaper,” he added, saying that now is the “time for industrialisation”.

The ability to build these projects without public support makes them particularly attractive to policymakers. “I’m so happy that some of these wind farms are now being developed without public money being involved,” highlighted Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister.

“We are writing European history!” tweeted Brian Vad Mathiesen, a renewable energy researcher at Denmark’s Aalborg University. The agreement, he added, will provide power for more than 200 million households.

At the same time, the four countries want to intensify cooperation in the production of “green” hydrogen from renewable electricity, with plans to expand related infrastructure in the region.

Green hydrogen, a rare premium commodity, is highly coveted by steelmakers looking to produce carbon-neutral steel. “There is a real boom in demand for green hydrogen in industry,” said Habeck’s economy and climate ministry on Tuesday (17 May). 

The North Sea wind farms should play a major role in supplying sufficient hydrogen, policymakers says.

“By harvesting the abundant offshore wind resources of the North Sea, we can also pave the way for the hydrogen economy. Offshore wind power frequently generates more electricity than is needed,” wrote Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson and Danish Energy Minister Dan Jørgensen in an op-ed for EURACTIV.

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America's billion-dollar Crescent Dunes spans acres of Nevada desertGetty


New capacity for generating electricity from solar, wind and other renewables increased to a record level worldwide in 2021 and will grow further this year as governments increasingly seek to take advantage of renewables’ energy security and climate benefits, according to the International Energy Agency.

Middelgruden Offshore Wind Farm in Denmark. Image credit: UN.


They would serve as a hub for offshore wind farms along the coast.

Speeding up the renewable rollout

The four countries also highlighted the importance of “speeding up” permitting procedures at EU level, in line with the European Commission’s ‘REPowerEU’ plan presented yesterday.

To accelerate deployment, the EU executive wants to make permitting procedures simpler, with new wind and solar projects being declared a matter of “overriding public interest”, and ‘go-to’ areas introduced at the national level in zones with low environmental risk.

With Germany, Denmark, the Netherlands and Belgium throwing their weight behind faster permitting, the North Sea looks like an ideal candidate to become the EU’s first “go-to” zone for renewables.

“Nowadays we have permitting times between six and nine years,” explained Commission President Ursula von der Leyen during the meeting in Esbjerg. In “go-to” areas, those would be shortened to one year.

“This would be one here, in Denmark” and it would be “of utmost importance to the industry,” she added.


Nikolaus J. Kurmayer via Euractiv

Pollution is still responsible for around 1 in every 6 deaths worldwide, say scientists

Pollution is still responsible for around 1 in every 6 deaths worldwide, say scientists

Around 9 million people a year are dying from worsening air pollution and toxic lead poisoning, according to scientists.

The staggering death count has continued since 2015, despite modest progress in some countries, a new study finds.

In fact, the data on global mortality and pollution levels indicates a 7 per cent increase in these avoidable deaths from 2015 to 2019, driven by expanding industries, fossil fuels and urbanisation.

“We’re sitting in the stew pot and slowly burning,” said Richard Fuller, study co-author and head of the global nonprofit Pure Earth. But unlike climate change, malaria, or HIV, “we haven’t given [environmental pollution] much focus.”

An earlier version of the work published in 2017 also estimated the death toll from pollution at roughly 9 million per year — or about one of every six deaths worldwide — and the cost to the global economy at up to $4.6 trillion (€4.4 trillion) per year.

That puts pollution on par with smoking in terms of global deaths. COVID-19, by comparison, has killed about 6.7 million people globally since the pandemic began.

For their most recent study, published in the online journal Lancet Planetary Health, the authors analysed 2019 data from the Global Burden of Disease, an ongoing study by the University of Washington that assesses overall pollution exposure and calculates mortality risk.

The new analysis looks more specifically at the causes of pollution – separating traditional contaminants such as indoor smoke or sewage from more modern pollutants, like industrial air pollution and toxic chemicals

African countries are the most impacted by polluted indoor air and water

A man sells plantain chips near a bus with smoke seen from its exhaust at a bus park in Abuja, Nigeria.Afolabi Sotunde/REUTERS

Deaths from traditional pollutants are declining globally, but they remain a major problem in African nations.

Tainted water, soil and dirty indoor air put Chad, the Central African Republic and Niger as the three countries with the most pollution-related deaths, according to data adjusted for population.

State programmes to cut indoor air pollution and improvements in sanitation have helped to curb death tolls in some places. In Ethiopia and Nigeria, these efforts caused related deaths to drop by two-thirds between 2000 and 2019.

Meanwhile, the Indian government in 2016 began offering to replace wood-burning stoves with gas stove connections.

What are the new pollutants to watch out for?

Deaths caused by exposure to modern pollutants are “just skyrocketing”, says co-author Rachael Kupka, executive director of the New York-based Global Alliance on Health and Pollution.

Fossil fuel emissions, heavy metals, agrochemicals and other pollutants have risen by 66 per cent since 2000.

When it comes to outdoor air pollution, some major capital cities have seen some success, including in Bangkok, China, and Mexico City, the authors said.

But in smaller cities, pollution levels continue to climb.

Residents fill water containers and wash clothes from municipal water pipes alongside a polluted water channel at a slum in Kolkata, India.RUPAK DE CHOWDHURI/REUTERS

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A garbage collector gathering recyclable plastic at the Ban Tarn landfill site in the Thai province of Chiang Mai.


The United Nations approved a landmark agreement to create the world’s first-ever global plastic pollution treaty on Wednesday, describing it as the most significant environmental deal since the 2015 Paris climate accord.


Air pollution significantly reduces pollination by confusing butterflies and bees, lessening their ability to sniff out crops and wildflowers

Bulgaria has the highest number of pollution-related deaths in Europe

The study offered a list of the 10 countries most affected by pollution-related deaths, based on their findings on mortality adjusted for population. One European country made the list.

In full, they are:

  • 10. Burkina Faso
  • 9. Bulgaria
  • 8. Lesotho
  • 7. North Korea
  • 6. South Africa
  • 5. Somalia
  • 4. Solomon Islands
  • 3. Niger
  • 2. Central African Republic
  • 1. Chad


Lottie Limb at euronews.green

World’s oceans at most acidic level in 26,000 years, climate report warns

World’s oceans at most acidic level in 26,000 years, climate report warns

The world’s oceans grew to their warmest and most acidic levels on record last year, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) said on Wednesday, as United Nations officials warned that war in Ukraine threatened global climate commitments.

Oceans saw the most striking extremes as the WMO detailed a range of turmoil wrought by climate change in its annual “State of the Global Climate” report. It said melting ice sheets had helped push sea levels to new heights in 2021.

“Our climate is changing before our eyes. The heat trapped by human-induced greenhouse gases will warm the planet for many generations to come,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas in a statement.

The report follows the latest U.N. climate assessment, which warned that humanity must drastically cut its greenhouse gas emissions or face increasingly catastrophic changes to the world’s climate. read more

Taalas told reporters there was scant airtime for climate challenges as other crises, such as the COVID-19 pandemic and war in Ukraine, grabbed headlines.

Selwin Hart, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres’s special adviser on climate action, criticised countries reneging on climate commitments due to the conflict, which has pushed up energy prices and prompted European nations to seek to replace Russia as an energy supplier.

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“We are … seeing many choices being made by many major economies which, quite frankly, have the potential to lock in a high-carbon, high-polluting future and will place our climate goals at risk,” Hart told reporters.

On Tuesday, global equity index giant MSCI warned that the world faces a dangerous increase in greenhouse gases if Russian gas is replaced with coal. read more

The WMO report said levels of climate-warming carbon dioxide and methane in the atmosphere in 2021 surpassed previous records.

Globally, the average temperature last year was 1.11 degrees Celsius above the preindustrial average – as the world edges closer to the 1.5C threshold beyond which the effects of warming are expected to become drastic. read more

“It is just a matter of time before we see another warmest year on record,” Taalas said.

Oceans bear much of the brunt of the warming and emissions. The bodies of water absorb around 90% of the Earth’s accumulated heat and 23% of the carbon dioxide emissions from human activity.

The ocean has warmed markedly faster in the last 20 years, hitting a new high in 2021, and is expected to become even warmer, the report said. That change would likely take centuries or millennia to reverse, it noted.

The ocean is also now its most acidic in at least 26,000 years as it absorbs and reacts with more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Sea level has risen 4.5 cm (1.8 inches) in the last decade, with the annual increase from 2013 to 2021 more than double what it was from 1993 to 2002.

The WMO also listed individual extreme heatwaves, wildfires, floods and other climate-linked disasters around the world, noting reports of more than $100 billion in damages.


Jake Spring at Reuters

Earth’s Atmospheric CO2 Hasn’t Been This High In Millions of Years

Earth’s Atmospheric CO2 Hasn’t Been This High In Millions of Years

“Either we drive the fossil fuel industry into extinction—or the human race.”

Climate scientists and concerned citizens are sounding the alarm as daily, weekly, and monthly records for atmospheric carbon dioxide levels continue to be shattered while the fossil fuel-powered capitalist economic system responsible for skyrocketing greenhouse gas pollution plows ahead.

New data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) shows that the weekly average CO² concentration at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii reached 421.13 parts per million (ppm) from May 8 to May 14—the highest in recorded history and up from 418.34 ppm one year ago and 397.38 ppm one decade ago.

“We simply do not know a planet like this,” meteorologist Eric Holthaus said Monday. “We are in a climate emergency.”

According to NOAA, the daily average CO² concentration at Mauna Loa hit 422.04 ppm on May 14, just slightly below the agency’s all-time record of 422.06 ppm observed on April 26. Researchers from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography at UC San Diego, meanwhile, measured 421.68 ppm of CO² at Mauna Loa on May 13, which they consider the daily record as of Monday.

Those record-breaking daily and weekly measurements came after the monthly average CO² concentration at Mauna Loa surpassed 420 ppm for the first time in human history, with NOAA observing 420.23 ppm in April compared with Scripps at 420.02 ppm.

Pieter Tans, a senior scientist at NOAA, recently told Axios that “it is likely May will be higher still.”

“The window to act on climate change is closing,” American Clean Power warned recently on social media. “Accelerating the transition to clean energy will help reduce emissions and secure a healthier future for all.”

Twenty years ago, the highest monthly average CO² concentration was 375.93 ppm, according to NOAA. In 1958, the first year scientists began collecting data at Mauna Loa, it was 317.51 ppm.

Climate scientist James Hansen, who alerted congressional lawmakers to the life-threatening dangers of the climate crisis in 1988, has long called for reducing atmospheric CO² to below 350 ppm, and there is now a scientific consensus that the livability of the planet decreases beyond such a concentration.

Nevertheless, the annual rate of increase in CO² levels over the past six decades is now roughly 100 times faster than earlier increases that occurred naturally thousands of years ago.

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“These are large emissions, and we see quite a lot of them on the global scale, much more than we had expected.”

Fog on the western slope of the Andes mountains in Ecuador. Climate change has intensified the water cycle – the movement of water on Earth – by about twice as much as models had predicted, research shows. Photograph: Rosanne Tackaberry/Alamy


Rising temperatures pushing much more freshwater towards poles than climate models previously estimated

“The world effectively has made no serious progress compared to what is required,” Tans said earlier this month. “We really need to focus on decreasing emissions and we haven’t had much success globally because the rate of increase of CO² remains as high as it has been in the last decade.”

“CO² has a longevity of hundreds to thousands of years,” he noted, “so we are really making a very long-term climate commitment.”

Speaking with the Financial Times recently, Tans added that “we are going in the wrong direction, at maximum speed.”

California-based activist Joe Sanberg put it even more bluntly last week.

“It’s shocking that we’re staring down the barrel of the greatest existential crisis humanity has ever faced and we still haven’t passed a Green New Deal,” Sanberg tweeted. “Time is running out. Either we drive the fossil fuel industry into extinction—or the human race.”


Kenny Stancil at Common Dreams

Heavy rain boosts Ivory Coast cocoa mid-crop, but raises fears of mould

Heavy rain boosts Ivory Coast cocoa mid-crop, but raises fears of mould

Heavy rain in most of Ivory Coast’s cocoa-growing regions last week will spur growth of the April-to-September mid-crop but could cause mouldy beans, farmers said on Monday.

Ivory Coast, the world’s top cocoa producer, is in its rainy season which runs from April to mid-November.

Farmers across the country said the mid-crop harvest was picking up, with lots of beans leaving plantations.

However, heavy rain and overcast weather in the western region of Soubre, at the heart of the cocoa belt, and in the southern region of Agboville are making it difficult to properly dry the beans, farmers said.

“Drying time is becoming very long. There is a risk of having mouldy beans in our deliveries in the coming weeks,” said Jean Bouadou, who farms near Soubre, where 67.8 millimetres (mm) of rain fell last week, 35.3 mm above the five-year average.

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A ladybug on a flower. - Copyright Getty images/ oluolu3


The number of flying insects has declined by nearly 60 per cent in less than 20 years, an alarming new survey has found.

Scientists created biodegradable food packaging that will eliminate harmful bacteria build-up in foods


Recently, scientists at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore and the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in the US have developed bacteria-killing biodegradable food packaging that addresses two major concerns of the food industry today – food waste and eco-friendliness.

In the eastern region of Abengourou and the southern region of Divo, where rains were also well above the average, farmers said growing conditions were excellent and they expected a plentiful mid-crop harvest.

In the centre-western region of Daloa, where rains were above average, and in the central regions of Bongouanou and Yamoussoukro, where rains were below average, farmers said trees looked good, with many large ripening pods.

“If it continues to rain, the mid-crop will not end abruptly,” said Moustapha Sanon, who farms near Daloa, where 28.4 mm of rain fell last week, 5.4 mm above the average.

Average temperatures ranged from 27 to 30.5 degrees Celsius last week.


Loucoumane Coulibaly via Reuters

The wildfires burning in the Southwest are bad but ‘not unprecedented’

The wildfires burning in the Southwest are bad but ‘not unprecedented’

In New Mexico, the massive Calf Canyon-Hermits Peaks Fire is now officially the state’s largest recorded wildfire in modern history, eclipsing the 297,845 acre Whitewater-Baldy Fire Complex of 2012. On Monday morning fire officials listed Calf Canyon-Hermits peak at 298,060 acres.

Fanned by erratic and unpredictable winds and growing by more than 90,000 acres in the past week, Calf Canyon-Hermits Peak fire has already burned more acres than burned last year in all of New Mexico.

Spring is historically a busy time for wildfires in the Southwest, before the summer monsoons arrive around the Fourth of July, if they do. But this year, as in recent ones, large fires began igniting in the region at least a month early due to an extended drought made worse by human-caused climate change.

Scientists say much of the West is experiencing its driest conditions in 1,200 years

The Calf-Canyon-Hermits Peak Fire has already burned more acres than burned in the entire year last year in New Mexico.
Eric Westervelt/NPR

In fact, scientists now say much of the West is experiencing its driest conditions in 1,200 years.

“From a fire perspective, the dice are now loaded for another big fire year in 2022,” says Park Williams, an associate professor in geography at UCLA. “It’s likely that 2022 is going to go down as another year that reminds us that fire is inevitable.”

Williams is studying the fallout of the current 23-year megadrought in the western U.S. by examining volumes of tree rings and other data from remote forests around the region. Scientists now know that extraordinary droughts like this one were quite common in the West historically. It’s thought that much of the 20th century was actually an anomaly because it was relatively wet.

That time coincided with an explosion of development into wild ecosystems dependent on periodic fires, and also a still-standing U.S. government policy to stamp out nearly every new wildfire ignition.

“We did a great job for a 100 years stopping fires. But despite our best efforts, we are losing control of the fire regime in the West,” Williams says. “There are too many trees and it’s too warm and things are drying out and we’re getting a lot of fire.”

Fire scientists predict a long, expensive, destructive and smoky summer

Fire scientists predict another long, expensive, destructive and smoky summer. There’s little to no indication that things will improve in the coming years either. But experts caution about calling this current crisis – where upwards of 10 million or more acres is burning in the lower 48 states every year – unprecedented. In fact, look back toward the beginning half of the 20th century even, and total acres burned tended to be much higher.

“There are more people in the path of these fires, and that can make them more destructive. But look back towards the past and [you] see the size and ferocity of fires that have taken place just within the last century,” says Lincoln Bramwell, the chief historian for the U.S. Forest Service.

The spring wildfire season in the Southwest is starting earlier as a result of extended drought made worse by human-caused climate change.
Eric Westervelt/NPR

Lately in the scientific community and the news media, the term megafire has emerged as way to describe blazes like Calf Canyon-Hermits Peak or the deadly 2018 Camp Fire that destroyed most of Paradise, California. But historians like Bramwell bristle a bit at this because it suggests they’re unprecedented when they’re really not: I1871, for instance, the Peshtigo Fire roared through the Wisconsin forest killing some 1,200 people. In 1910, a complex of wildfires dubbed the Great Burn burned three million acres in one summer from southeast British Columbia to western Montana.

Before the U.S. government got so good at wildfire suppression, Bramwell says, it was typical to see twenty to thirty million acres of forests burn in the West.

“Culturally we have a hard time wrapping our heads around that because we’ve kind of expected that this doesn’t happen,” he says. “And if it does happen, there are a lot of resources that will come out and try to save the day.”

The game changer, however, is climate change, which will likely make these modern fires much worse. Previous mega droughts like these did not occur at a time when the atmosphere was being warmed by human activity. Hotter, longer summers brought on by climate changes have lengthened fire season by 30 to 45 days across much of the west. So there’s a good deal of uncertainty about what the future will bring. But most fire managers on the ground are bracing for the worst and trying to manage the public’s expectations, as a result.

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Wildfires are becoming more frequent and severe and scientists warn that this could hinder the recovery of the ozone layer.


As many as 3,600 giant sequoias perished in the flames of the twin wildfires that ignited during a lightning storm in early September

Firefighters can’t be expected to stop wildfires amid this unusually warm, dry and windy spring

The Calf-Canyon-Hermits Peak Fire is threatening the town of Las Vegas, New Mexico.
Eric Westervelt/NPR

In Boulder, Colo., which has already seen a number of close calls amid this unusually warm, dry and windy spring, the city’s wildland fire chief, Brian Oliver, says firefighters can’t be expected to stop wildfires.

“I equate that to trying to fight a hurricane,” he says. “We don’t mobilize a force to go turn around a hurricane, we get everybody out of the way and then we try to come back in and clean up after.”

And the times that a wildfire is caught and put out early on, that just leaves more fuels on the ground for the next inevitable ignition. UCLA drought expert Park Williams says the country’s legacy and success of putting out fires has now backed us into a corner as the western drought persists.

“Unfortunately, we’re finding that a lot of these places that we have now sunk a lot of resources into protecting and invested a lot of human capital into living in, those places are becoming very unsafe to live in because of the rapidly accelerating fire risk,” Williams says.


Kirk Siegler at NPR

Insect decline could massively increase food bills, warn scientists

Insect decline could massively increase food bills, warn scientists

The number of flying insects has declined by nearly 60 per cent in less than 20 years, an alarming new survey has found.

The huge drop threatens our entire ecosystem, scientists behind the study have warned – but we can still turn things around.

What do the survey results show?

Using data uploaded by members of the public through the Bugs Matter app, scientists from conservation trust Buglife counted the number of bug ‘splats’ on car number plates across the UK.

The researchers compared results from nearly 5,000 journeys in the summer of 2021 with a similar study from 2004.

The findings were extremely troubling.

In England, the number of squashed bugs declined by 65 per cent. Welsh data showed a 55 per cent decline, while Scotland recorded a decline of 28 per cent.

The results reveal “huge losses,” warns Buglife Director of communications and fundraising Paul Hetherington.

“It’s likely that things will get worse rather than better without us doing potentially quite a lot of work to intervene,” he adds.

Habitat destruction, pesticide use, and climate change have all contributed to the stark decline.

Why do insect declines matter?

Flying bugs are critical for biodiversity.

Insects are food for animals such as birds, bats, reptiles, and fish. They also perform vital roles such as pollination of crops and wildflowers and nutrient recycling. Beetles, wasps, and dragonfly families also act as predators for smaller insects helping with pest control.

If they die out, the entire ecosystem – and food production system – would suffer.

“We tend to take [insects] for granted, they’re in the background and we don’t notice them, but they are absolutely crucial to life as we know it,” Hetherington says.

“If we lost pollinators in the UK alone, you’d be putting £2 billion ( € 2.37 billion) on your food bill.

“We’re worried about inflation now, imagine how bad inflation would be then.

“[If we lose] dung beetles, another quarter of a billion pounds on our food bills every year.”

The environmental effects would also be catastrophic.

If we lost pollinators in the UK alone, you’d be putting £2 billion on your food bill.

Paul Hetherington 
Buglife Director of communications and fundraising

If insect declines aren’t halted, eight out of ten wildflower species in the UK could disappear.

The majority of songbirds would die out, with just four or five species able to survive without healthy insect-populations.

What can we do to reverse these declines?

The survey makes for sobering reading, but it’s not too late to save flying bugs.

“On the positive side, because [insects] have relatively short life spans, you can turn things around in a fairly short space of time,” Hetherington says.

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“If we do the right things, in the right places, we can make a difference.”

Governments have a large role to play too, and can limit habitat loss and reduce mass pesticide usage.

But individuals can play their part too. Letting grass grow long and sowing wildflowers in gardens are crucial to helping increase insect populations. 

“If you plant a group of herbs, and you let them flower, you’ve created the equivalent of a motorway service station, where pollinators can drop off, fill themselves up, and be able to make the distance to the next really good piece of habitat,” he says.

He also encouraged people to download the Buglife app and start recording bug-splats.

“The more people taking part in the survey, the better the data will be, and the more we will be able to pinpoint what’s going on at a much smaller level.”


Charlotte Elton at euronews.green