The majority of Americans (excluding the millions of children who were unable to vote) went to the polls last November to elect a new administration and today our new Executive Branch’s political verdict on climate is in. And it is not good news.
The Biden administration has just released the United States’ Nationally Determined Contributions (“NDCs”), defining the level of damaging carbon emissions the U.S. will permit. These newly released NDCs are cloaked in “green” language, but they are actually dangerous and deceptive. Here is what they really mean:
This energy and climate policy will allow more than half of current U.S. climate pollution to continue unabated, placing us on a trajectory that will add even more heating to an already overheated planet. We are already at 1.2 degrees Celsius of global heating above preindustrial levels and experiencing catastrophic ice melt, and deadly super storms, wildfires, hurricanes, drought, and disease. And this latest policy allows heating to continue above 1.5°C, to dangerous tipping points. We need our government to eliminate the majority of emissions by 2030, not continue to allow them.
We Are Already at 1.2°C. It’s Already Dangerous. We Need Lower Targets, Not Higher Targets.
Ignoring the pleas of youth, these senior politicians have chosen to allow and accept an even hotter planet than today for our children. A lot hotter. Scientists across the world, including the International Panel on Climate Change, say that going even to 1.5°C average global warming is unsafe! And every climate scientist we have ever spoken to says that allowing these higher levels of global heating are not safe for our children and will cause even more catastrophic climate disruption.
Calibrating U.S. energy and climate policy to 50-75% more heating than where we are today isn’t a step in the right direction, it is a step in the wrong direction. These NDCs do not align with what climate scientists tell us is necessary to prevent more dangerous global heating and to begin rectifying the harms already bestowed on our youth: Setting emissions standards on the path of reducing CO2 concentrations in our atmosphere to below 350 ppm, which limits global warming to 1°C. We need to reduce global warming, not increase it!
Ironically, this unsafe U.S. energy and climate policy was announced at today’s Earth Day Summit, when all eyes were on the United States and this new administration as they unveiled these unsafe statements of “commitment” to our planet. We need to see clearly through the deception and greenwashing. Our nation and our leaders can and must do better if we are to ensure our children a safe future. And Our Children’s Trust will secure that better path forward in court as we vindicate children’s constitutional rights in the face of climate danger.
Legislators Compromise and Change. Only Court Orders Enforce and Endure.
The unsafe NDCs announced by the U.S. federal government today point out once again that a constitutional energy and climate policy – supported by science and resulting in systemic change – will not be realized by elected officials in the political branches of government alone. Those executive and legislative branches of government negotiate and compromise with powerful moneyed interests at the expense of the fundamental rights of our youth.
Science Cannot Be Negotiated or Compromised.
But science and the rights of our children should never be subject to negotiation or compromise. This is why we are enforcing the constitutional right to a safe climate in the judicial branch. Only in the courts can children’s constitutional rights to their very freedom, to life, liberty and property, all of which are violated by these unsafe climate NDC’s and related government action, be protected now and into the future, regardless of the political orientation of any present or future presidential administration or legislature.
We Are Our Children’s Last Line of Defense.
Our Children’s Trust will continue our tireless representation of youth around the globe, and here in the U.S., until we secure constitutional, legally-binding mandates that lead governments to enact safe energy and climate policies based on science, rather than committing to dangerous political compromises like the new U.S. NDCs.
- Juliana v. U.S. will either proceed to trial in the U.S. District Court, or to the U.S. Supreme Court. Oral argument will be scheduled in June before Judge Aiken. We continue to prepare for the Supreme Court. Stay tuned for more details!
- State and global domestic courts are considering our youth clients’ claims in Alaska, Washington, Montana, and Florida, as well as in Canada, Mexico, India, Uganda, and Pakistan.
- We are also developing new legal actions on behalf of youth impacted by the climate crisis in several new state and global jurisdictions.
Now is the Time to Protect Our Children.
For eleven years, with your support, Our Children’s Trust has overcome unprecedented governmental obfuscation in our cases. As the world’s only law firm championing the legal rights of our children to a safe climate, we have trailblazed consequential victories on behalf of children that have established new bedrock constitutional climate jurisprudence. And now, with our government setting completely unsafe NDCs that allow more dangerous heating, we are at a critical confluence.
April 22, 2021
WASHINGTON- Today, President Biden unveiled a revised Nationally Determined Contribution (NDC), committing the United States to a 50-52% reduction below 2005 levels by 2030. Earlier this month, environmental, environmental justice, and international development groups released the “Fair Shares Nationally Determined Contribution” (“Fair Shares NDC”) for the U.S., laying out the measures the United States should commit to carrying out to do its “fair share” of the global effort to limit global temperature rise to 1.5°C, based on its status as the world’s wealthiest country and largest historical carbon polluter.
A “fair share” of the global effort would require the U.S. to:
- reduce emissions by the equivalent of 195% from 2005 levels by 2030, achieved through cutting domestic emissions by 70% and providing international finance to enable the equivalent of an additional 125% reduction in developing countries.
- contribute at least $800 billion in international climate finance between 2021-2030, equally split among finance for mitigation, adaptation, and the loss and damage caused by irreversible climate change ($267 billion each) as a good faith down payment toward the U.S. fair share of international climate finance.
Representatives Adriano Espaillat, Jamaal Bowman, and 25 other Members of Congress also wrote to President Biden this week calling for a Fair Shares NDC.
Dipti Bhatnagar, International Program Coordinator for Climate Justice and Energy with Friends of the Earth International, from Mozambique, said:
“The U.S. climate target unveiled today is magnitudes below the United States’ fair share of climate action, both in terms of actual greenhouse gas reductions and providing finance and other assistance for communities in the Global South as they reel from a climate crisis they did not create. Droughts are destroying crops, cyclones are leveling homes, and whole nations are literally disappearing. This climate goal is neither driven by justice and equity nor by science, and that is not acceptable. The United States must accept and address its high level of responsibility for the climate crisis and encouragement of high-carbon lifestyles the world over, for which planet and peoples are severely paying the price.”
Niranjali Amerasinghe, Executive Director of ActionAid USA, said:
“There is much ado about President Biden’s target of 50-52% emissions reductions by 2030. But we know this is not enough, and meanwhile we are still waiting for a long-term commitment on the equally important issue of international climate finance. The United States has an obligation to provide finance and other forms of support to enable emissions cuts in poorer countries, and to ensure that frontline communities in those countries can survive the climate impacts that are already happening. No U.S. climate policy is complete without a strong climate finance commitment, and leaving it out means leaving behind hundreds of millions of people around the world who had little or no role in causing the climate crisis.”
Bridget Burns, Director of the Women’s Environment & Development Organization (WEDO), said:
“For many years, the U.S. has failed to prioritize the needs of frontline communities impacted by climate change and recognize the global imperative to limit warming to 1.5 °C. Today’s NDC takes a small step forward in raising ambition in recognition of this critical moment, but does not put us on a trajectory aligned with 1.5 °C. The climate action we need to preserve the possibility for a just and healthy planet must advance this ambition with greater domestic emissions reductions; center human rights, environmental justice, and gender equality; and provide substantial funding to developing countries as is our responsibility as the world’s largest contributor to the climate crisis. We hope the Biden administration will build from today’s announcement to create more space to listen to the voices and solutions of those at the frontlines of the climate crisis, advance climate-compatible policies to unlock real funding for climate finance, and craft a more transformative vision for change.
Karen Orenstein, Climate and Energy Program Director at Friends of the Earth U.S., said:
“President Biden’s commitment may seem ambitious for Washington, but it is sharply inadequate and deeply unjust for the billions living in the Global South. It stands in stark contrast to his expressed commitment to center environmental justice in his approach to government. Biden must go back to the drawing board and present a Nationally Determined Contribution in which the U.S. does its fair share to keep the world on a path to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius.”
Aisha Dukule, firstname.lastname@example.org
Climate Groups Warn Reported Biden Plan to Cut Emissions in Half by 2030 ‘Not Good Enough’
“Science and justice demand that we reduce emissions by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 on the road to zero emissions by mid-century.”
People hold signs calling for U.S. President Joe Biden to support a Green New Deal and end his support of pipelines and the fossil fuel industry in St. Paul on January 29, 2021. (Photo: Tim Evans/NurPhoto via Getty Images)
The Biden administration is reportedly planning to pledge to cut U.S. greenhouse gas emissions by at least 50% from 2005 levels by the end of this decade, but climate justice advocates say that much more ambitious goals and policies are needed if the U.S. president wants to act in accordance with what the scientific community says is necessary.
Having rejoined the Paris agreement earlier this year, President Joe Biden is expected to formally announce a new domestic emissions reduction target for 2030 during an international climate summit with 40 world leaders hosted by the White House on Thursday.
“There can be no meaningful climate action if world leaders don’t make a decisive move to keep all fossil fuels in the ground.”
—Agnes Hall, 350.org
Representatives from the world’s major economies—including 17 countries that together are responsible for 80% of total global emissions—will meet virtually on Earth Day to discuss plans for limiting the rise in global temperatures to 1.5°C by the end of the century.
Although Biden has not yet officially unveiled a national emissions reduction goal, two unnamed individuals with knowledge of the matter on Tuesday told the Washington Post that the administration is “considering a target range” that could exceed 50% “at the higher end.”
“A pledge to cut emissions 50% by 2030 simply isn’t big enough to meet the massive scale of the climate emergency,” said Jean Su, energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity, in response to the reporting. “Solving the climate crisis requires applying both science and equity. On both counts, the U.S.—the largest historic polluter and one of the wealthiest nations—must do its fair share and cut domestic emissions by at least 70% by 2030.”
“Combating the climate emergency at home also requires transforming our economy by moving immediately to end the fossil fuel era and create a renewable and anti-racist energy system that advances justice first,” Su added.
Mitch Jones, policy director at Food & Water Watch, agrees that Biden’s approach to confronting the climate crisis “is not good enough.”
“While these White House goals are being lauded as aggressive, they are inadequate,” Jones said Wednesday in a statement. “As the world’s historical largest emitter of climate pollution, we have a duty to do much more, and to act with greater urgency.”
“These goals—based on comparisons to exceptionally high 2005 emission levels—will be meaningless without policies that explicitly reduce our reliance on fossil fuels,” Jones continued. “Biden can make real headway on that front by fulfilling his campaign pledge to end fossil fuel extraction on public lands. He must also halt all new fossil fuel projects, which are polluting frontline communities and driving up emissions, and should join the push to ban fracking everywhere.”
In a statement, Sunrise Movement political director Evan Weber said that “the science is clear—if the U.S. does not achieve much, much more by the end of this decade, it will be a death sentence for our generation and the billions of people at the frontlines of the climate crisis in the U.S. and abroad.”
Referring to a landmark 2018 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Weber noted that “in order to have even a 50% shot of staying under 1.5°C of warming to avoid the worst of the climate crisis, we must halve global emissions by 2030.”
“If the U.S.—the country with the most historical responsibility and greatest economic capacity—only halves our own emissions by then, we are doomed,” he added. “We must do much more, as quickly as we can. A new report (pdf) outlines that in order to truly meet our global historic responsibility, we’d have to reduce global emissions by the equivalent of 195% of 2005 U.S. levels.”
Greenpeace also said the Biden administration’s reported plan to limit the country’s emissions reduction goal to 50% by 2030 would be woefully inadequate and inconsistent with what climate scientists say is absolutely necessary.
“To be a true climate leader, Biden has to show his commitment to addressing today’s interlocking public health, racial inequity, and climate crises,” said Janet Redman, climate campaign director for Greenpeace USA. “That means slashing U.S. carbon pollution by beginning the transition away from fossil fuels now, while ensuring no worker or community is left behind.”
“Our survival depends on real climate action—voluntary net-zero targets and offsets are just delaying tactics.”
—Jennifer Morgan, Greenpeace
“Science and justice demand that we reduce emissions by 70% from 2005 levels by 2030 on the road to zero emissions by mid-century,” she explained in a Wednesday statement. “The White House can get this done by removing government subsidies to fossil fuel companies, investing in an equitable and sustainable economic recovery, and stopping fishy carbon offset deals like the one Biden is considering with Brazil right now.”
Stressing the importance of stopping deforestation and restoring biodiverse ecosystems in addition to quickly phasing out fossil fuels, Greenpeace International’s executive director Jennifer Morgan said that “our survival depends on real climate action—voluntary net-zero targets and offsets are just delaying tactics.”
Agnes Hall, global campaigns director at 350.org, said “there can be no meaningful climate action if world leaders don’t make a decisive move to keep all fossil fuels in the ground,” and that necessitates bold leadership from the U.S. president that goes “beyond promises” and includes concrete actions to put a halt to polluting projects, end subsidies for climate-destroying industries, and urgently fund the renewable energy transition.
“The Biden Summit is a critical meeting of world leaders ahead of COP26 this November,” Hall said Wednesday. “Talk of ‘net-zero’ won’t cut it: we demand more from our world leaders than false promises, false solutions, and empty negotiations.”
“The task now is to hold politicians to their lofty words,” Hall added. “To do that the global climate movement needs to keep up the pressure on our governments at home as well as on the international stage to take urgent action now to reduce carbon emissions and ensure a just recovery by creating a sustainable, fossil-free world.”
Looking ahead to Thursday’s meeting and emphasizing that international cooperation is essential to averting climate catastrophe, Greenpeace’s Morgan said that “history has to be made at Biden’s Earth Day Summit.”
“The world’s richest countries must do more than just halve their emissions by 2030, having profited from extractive and polluting industries leading to the climate crisis,” she added. “It’s time for the wealthiest nations to repair the damage and show solidarity with vulnerable countries.”
Sunrise agreed. Alluding to the Green New Deal resolution—reintroduced this week by Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), along with several related bills, including the Civilian Climate Corps for Jobs and Justice Act—Weber implored Biden to deliver “a groundbreaking jobs and infrastructure package to put people to work decarbonizing every sector of our economy, including electricity, transportation, buildings, manufacturing, and agriculture, in the next decade.”
But “this economic mobilization cannot stop at our borders,” Weber added. He called on Biden to direct “international finance to support a just and accelerated transition to renewable energy abroad.”
April 19, 2021 by Common Dreams
Earth Abuse and the Next Pandemic
Escaping ecological catastrophe and reducing the frequency of pandemics that might be lurking in the decades ahead is well within our capability, but it will require assiduous respect for ecological limits and great restraint in our interactions with nature.
by Stan Cox
The horrific wildfires that were ignited across Southeast Asia for land-clearing in 1997-98, combined with a regional drought, killed off many fruit-bearing trees in the forests of Malaysia. Fleeing the dead forests, fruit bats found sustenance in domestic orchards, bringing with them the Nipah virus. (Photo: by Mohd RASFAN / AFP)
Humanity’s transgression of ecological limits has caused widespread damage, including a climate emergency, catastrophic loss of biodiversity, and extensive degradation of soils around the world. Earth abuse is also at the root of the Covid-19 pandemic and the grim likelihood that new pathogens will continue to emerge from other animal species to infect humans.
Cultivation, deforestation, mining, livestock raising, and other activities degrade and destroy wildlife habitat, leaving animals no choice but to move closer to humans, potentially bringing pathogens along with them. Suburban sprawl and tourism (especially “eco-tourism”) also bring humans and wildlife closer together. Hunting involves the most intimate contact with wild animals; indeed, the prevailing hypothesis is that the hunting of horseshoe bats probably kicked off the chain of events that led to the current coronavirus pandemic.
Humans have lived with domestic animals for millennia, and our bodies may have learned how to deal with the pathogens passed back and forth. But when ecosystems are disturbed or encroached upon, novel zoonotic viruses can move from wildlife into domestic animals and from there into humans. There is strong circumstantial evidence that the 1918-19 influenza pandemic, which killed more than 675,000 Americans and as many as 50 million worldwide, began with the flu virus jumping from swine into humans in Haskell County, Kansas, moving on to what is now Fort Riley with new army recruits, and from there reaching the battlefields of World War 1.
The horrific wildfires that were ignited across Southeast Asia for land-clearing in 1997-98, combined with a regional drought, killed off many fruit-bearing trees in the forests of Malaysia. Fleeing the dead forests, fruit bats found sustenance in domestic orchards, bringing with them the Nipah virus. Swine being raised within the orchards became infected through the bats’ virus-laden droppings and passed the virus on to the people who handled them. Nipah brings high mortality among both hogs and human population, killing approximately 50 percent of the people it infects.
We saw during the past year that once the new coronavirus gained a foothold in our species, the modern human propensity for long-distance travel quickly turned local outbreaks into a pandemic. Air conditioning, another technology with severe climate effects, was also implicated in Covid-19 outbreaks. Summertime, a season in which respiratory viruses typically wane, instead saw dramatic infection peaks throughout the Sun Belt as people escaped the heat and gathered in tightly enclosed, air-conditioned spaces.
Vacation cruises, which should have been banned decades ago given their exploitation of workers and heavy effect on the oceans and atmosphere, hosted some of the worst early outbreaks. The industrial meat industry, despoiler of soils and water, prolific emitter of greenhouse gases, also turned out to be an efficient viral incubator.
In some cases, greenhouse warming itself creates conditions for spread of zoonotic infection. In East and North Africa, for example, droughts have become more frequent and intense thanks to climate change. Many pastoralists have responded by replacing their cattle herds with camels, which, famously, can survive for long stretches of time without access to water. As a result, much larger numbers of camels are now in close contact with humans in the region. Worryingly, the coronavirus that causes Middle East respiratory syndrome is circulating in dromedary camel populations in several countries in the region.
MERS originated in bats, has become endemic in camels, and then over the past decade has repeatedly made the jump from camels into humans. It does not spread as readily from person to person as the Covid-19 virus, but it is orders of magnitude more deadly. Of approximately 2,500 people who have been infected by the MERS virus since 2012, one-third have died. As droughts worsen, farmers and herders take their camels on increasingly long journeys in search of forage. Trips often extend for days, and, without fuel for fire building, the herders often must sleep close to the camels for warmth. For want of fire and water, they also may sustain themselves by drinking the camels’ milk raw. All of this increases the risk of virus transmission.
We may wriggle out from under the Covid-19 pandemic by year’s end, but we won’t be in the clear. It is likely that we will continue to encounter novel coronaviruses. Never before the year 2000 were coronaviruses known to emerge from bats into human populations and cause highly lethal disease in humans. In the two decades since, however, there have been three such events, involving SARS-CoV-1, which caused the 2002-2004 “severe acute respiratory syndrome” (SARS) pandemic; MERS-CoV, which causes MERS; and SARS-CoV-2, the cause of Covid-19.
In a 2020 article in the journal Cell, David Morens and Anthony Fauci—yes, that Dr. Fauci—wrote that as we continue disrupting the ecosphere, pathogens are finding their way into human populations with increasing frequency: “The COVID-19 pandemic is yet another reminder, added to the rapidly growing archive of historical reminders, that in a human-dominated world, in which our human activities represent aggressive, damaging, and unbalanced interactions with nature, we will increasingly provoke new disease emergences. We remain at risk for the foreseeable future. COVID-19 is among the most vivid wake-up calls in over a century. It should force us to begin to think in earnest and collectively about living in more thoughtful and creative harmony with nature, even as we plan for nature’s inevitable, and always unexpected, surprises.”
Our encroachment on the ecosphere has opened a Pandora’s box. In addition to the viruses causing SARS, MERS, and Covid-19, some of the other bat coronaviruses studied so far have all the necessary pathogenic tools for attacking humans, and they have been shown to infect and sicken laboratory mice. According to a paper authored by a national group of ten researchers in the field, there are “enormous groups of bat coronaviruses distributed globally,” and many, like SARS-CoV-2, are “functionally preadapted” to infecting humans. That preadaptation may be related to similarities among bats, minks, cats, humans, and some other mammalian species in our lung-cell membranes’ susceptibility to entry by this group of viruses.
There’s more. Since 2017, another coronavirus—emerging, like the Covid-19 and SARS viruses, from horseshoe bats—has been triggering deadly outbreaks among piglets in China. In the laboratory, the new bug appears to have the genetic potential to infect human airway and intestinal cells. Three different coronaviruses that cause severe disease in cattle, horses, and swine are closely related to another virus that has long been causing the common cold in humans. These livestock viruses may acquire, through genetic exchange, the ability to infect us.
Scientists are becoming increasingly concerned about the propensity of different coronavirus strains to engage in recombination, that is, to swap blocks of genetic code with one another. Reportedly, the code for shaping the “spike” protein that allows the virus to enter host cells is especially prone to recombination, raising concerns that code for versions of the spike that can serve as “keys” for opening human cells to infection could pass from human pathogens like the Covid-19 or common-cold viruses into livestock viruses. The latter might thereby acquire the ability to infect the people who work around them. In researchers’ words, “[C]oronaviruses can change rapidly, drastically, and unpredictably via recombination with both known and unknown lineages.”
The ten scientists who warned that coronaviruses are functionally preadapted to the human body further stressed that their data “reaffirm what has long been obvious: that future coronavirus transmissions into humans are not only possible, but likely. Scientists knew this years ago and raised appropriate alarm. Our prolonged deafness now exacts a tragic price.”
What’s good for the ecosphere is good for human health, and we are not helpless victims. Escaping ecological catastrophe and reducing the frequency of pandemics that might be lurking in the decades ahead is well within our capability, but it will require assiduous respect for ecological limits and great restraint in our interactions with nature.
This article was originally published by The Land Institute’s Land Report.