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The government extended an emergency declaration to another region as firefighters struggle to bring what many describe as the deadliest wildfires in Chile under control.

Record temperatures of more than 40C (104F) are hampering rescuers’ efforts to control the deadly wildfires in Chile, which have so far killed at least 26 people, destroyed 800 homes, and displaced thousands

As of Monday, the devastating fires had consumed 270,000 hectares (667,000 acres), the second-largest area burned after the “fire storm” that hit the South American nation in 2017. According to the state National Forestry Corporation, 275 fires were still active and 69 were currently in combat.

Emergency orders are currently in place in the southern region of Araucania as well as in the Biobio and Nuble regions near the middle of the long Pacific coastline. Here, the government has mobilised the military to support rescue efforts.

The heatwave and strong winds have caused the fires to spread rapidly.

“Weather conditions have made it very difficult to put out [the fires] that are spreading and the emergency is getting worse,” Interior Minister Carolina Toha told reporters at a news conference in the capital Santiago. “We need to reverse that curve,” she added.

She also suggested that climate change is to blame for the deadly fires. 

“Chile is one of the countries with the highest vulnerability to climate change, and this isn’t theory but rather practical experience,” she said. “The thermometer has reached points that we have never known until now.”

Climate change is undoubtedly the biggest trigger of extreme lightning storms. Warmer and longer summers heat up the land surface. This, coupled with an increase in carbon emissions, causes stronger updrafts that are more likely to produce more powerful and frequent lightning. A 2014 study estimates a 12% increase in the frequency of lightning strikes with every one degree Celsius increase in temperature. 

Chile is also battling with a 13-year-long drought that has exacerbated the country’s water supplies. Water availability has dropped down to 10%-37% over the past 30 years, and it is estimated to plummet further in the next few decades as the effects of climate change worsen, with water availability in northern and central Chile expected to be halved by 2060. 

You might also like: Chile Water Crisis: 13 Years and Counting

The US Treasury has broadened the definition of SUVs, allowing more vehicles to classify for the EV tax credit.

More crossover SUVs will qualify for the EV tax credit, the Treasury Department announced on Friday following lobbying by automakers. The Biden administration has broadened the definition of sport-utility vehicles, effectively allowing more SUVs to qualify for the $7,500 consumer tax credit. The adjustment is retroactive to January 1, meaning that even those who already bought a vehicle this year can claim the credit. 

Under the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), the $369 billion climate bill approved in August, only SUVs priced up to $80,000 and cars, sedans, and wagons up to $55,000 qualified for the EV tax credits. The IRA also introduced stricter rules concerning EV batteries – most of which are produced with minerals, components, and battery cells imported from China. More precisely, the law stipulates that at least half of all car batteries must come from the US, Mexico, or Canada by 2024, rising to 100% by 2028.

Automakers including Tesla, GM, and Ford welcomed the government’s decision. John Bonzella, president of Washington-based trade group Alliance for Automotive Innovation, told Bloomberg that the move is a “very good decision that clears up some EV tax credit confusion and instantly helps customers shopping today (and tomorrow) for an electric crossover or SUV.” 

Despite recent challenges and rising production costs as a result of increasing raw material prices, battery-powered vehicles are taking over the automobile market. Compared to 2020, sales of new EVs more than doubled in 2021 with an increase of 51.8%. Revenue in the EV market is projected to reach $61.18 billion in 2023.

Last year, New York and California announced a ban on fossil fuel car sales by 2023 in a bid to cut transportation-related emissions and increase EV adoption. The transportation sector accounts for the greatest share of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the state. In 2018, this was equal to approximately 47% of all GHG emissions, or 175.9 million metric tons of CO2. Despite ranking quite favourably at the national level, in 2020, New York and California together account for 18% of the 103.8 million registered passenger vehicles in the US. 

You might also like: Why Electric Cars Are Better for the Environment

A new report suggests that the global “top 1%” generates more emissions than the bottom half of the world’s population. Experts revealed that a country’s emissions gap between the rich and the poor is now more significant than the differences in emissions between countries.

The top 10% of the world’s population, the so-called “polluting elite”, are responsible for almost half of the annual carbon emissions, a renewed confirmation of the tight link between wealth and climate change vulnerability, a new UN-backed report has found. 

It also suggests that reducing carbon consumption at the top level can free up the carbon budget required to eradicate poverty below the US$5.50/day poverty line, meaning the poorest in the world would be able to increase their greenhouse gas emissions needed to reach prosperity.

According to the authors of the Climate Inequality Report 2023, who investigated the origin of greenhouse gas emissions around the world, “carbon inequalities within countries now appear to be greater than carbon inequalities between countries,” making up nearly two-thirds of the total, a “complete reversal” as opposed to 1990. 

Global inequality of individual emissions: between vs. within-country inequality, 1990- 2019; Climate Inequality Report

Global inequality of individual emissions: between vs. within-country inequality, 1990- 2019. Image: Climate Inequality Report

Accelerating global warming, the study suggests, is to blame on a tiny fraction of the world population. The report, led by economists from the Paris-based World Inequality Lab, was co-directed by the Thomas Piketty, who following the 2008 financial crisis helped shape the idea of the “1%”, term that refers to a group of wealthy people whose high-carbon lifestyles fuel the climate crisis.

The report provides further evidence of the growing emissions gap between rich and poor, suggesting that the global top 1% of emitters generate more emissions than the poorest 50%, whose carbon footprint is neglectable. According to a 2022 analysis, it would take 26 years for someone in the lower-income tier to generate the same amount of carbon dioxide as the richest do in a year.

You might also like: World On Track To Warm Above 2C As Greenhouse Gases Surge, UN Report Warns

Poverty is also closely related to climate change vulnerability. Low-income countries are notoriously more vulnerable to extreme weather events and other consequences of global warming such as droughts, one of the biggest threats to food securityThe report suggests that “low-income regions are facing agricultural productivity losses of 30% and more due to climate change.”

Having adequate access to food is one of the most basic and important human rights and yet, hundreds of millions of people suffer from starvation, with approximately 25,000 succumbing to hunger every day. An estimated 854 million people are also undernourished. The climate crisis is changing weather patterns and increasing the chances of extreme events such as hurricanes, floods, and droughts. It is also responsible for changing and polluting entire ecosystems, compromising biodiversity and destroying harvests. All these events have a huge impact on food production, as they significantly limit the quality, availability, and accessibility of resources, and compromise the stability of food systems around the world.

You might also like: 3 Biggest Threats to Global Food Security

Exxon set a historic high for the Western oil industry, taking home about $6.3 million per hour last year as oil prices surged amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

ExxonMobil reaped a record US$55.7 billion in profit last year, bringing home about $6.3 million per hour, the oil giant said on Tuesday. The total was more than double 2021’s figure and far exceeded the prior record of $45.2 billion set in 2008, making it the most profitable year ever for any American and European fossil fuel company.

Exxon chairman and CEO Darren Woods credited “a favourable market” for the stellar annual profits – a combination of record-high gasoline prices and increased home-heating costs since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and recovery activity after the pandemic – but also praised the company for taking advantage of the undersupplied, post-Covid19 market.

“While our results clearly benefited from a favourable market, the counter-cyclical investments we made before and during the pandemic provided the energy and products people needed as economies began recovering and supplies became tight. We leaned in when others leaned out,” Exxon boss said.

While Woods celebrated the figure, the White House called it “outrageous” in a statement released on Tuesday.

The latest earnings reports make clear that oil companies have everything they need, including record profits and thousands of unused but approved permits, to increase production, but they’re instead choosing to plow those profits into padding the pockets of executives and shareholders while House Republicans manufacture excuse after excuse to shield them from any accountability,” said White House’s spokesman Abdullah Hasan.

Besides Exxon, other energy companies also posted record earnings. Last week, Chevron Corp. announced profits of $35.5 billion for 2022, more than double those of 2021, driven up by a record annual cash flow from oil operations of $49.6 billion. 

Exxon, Chevron, and other oil giants BP, Shell, and TotalEnergies are poised to record a combined $190 billion in profits for 2022. Together, the companies are responsible for more than 10% of global carbon emissions since 1965. 

A 2021 research examining their clean energy transition activity found that, despite a marked increase in climate action and pledges on decarbonisation as well as the use of keywords such as “climate”, “low-carbon’”, and “transition” between 2009 and 2020, there is no real evidence of a transition towards clean energy business models.

“The companies are pledging a transition to clean energy and setting targets more than they are making concrete actions”, the researchers write in the study. On the contrary, evidence points that companies are increasing rather than decreasing oil exploration. Moreover, while none of the companies directly releases data on their clean energy investments, according to the Carbon Disclosure Project, ExxonMobil has reportedly only spent 0.2% of its annual capital expenditure on clean energy, whereas BP dedicated 2.3%. 

You might also like: Accusations of Greenwashing Against Oil Companies are Well-Founded- Study

Four people were killed and thousands of homes and businesses were damaged in last week’s Auckland floods. Speaking to reporters, newly-elected PM Chris Hipkins and Auckland’s Mayor attributed the events to climate change.

Climate change is “real” and “with us,” the newly-appointed New Zealand PM Chris Hipkins told local outlet 1News on Tuesday in the wake of last week’s devastating Auckland floods. 

Four people have died and thousands of homes and businesses were damaged after heavy rain on Friday resulted in flash floods in the country’s largest city. Weather watchers confirmed it was the wettest day on record, with 249mm of rainfall in just 24 hours. The previous 24-hour record of rainfall was 162mm, dating back to 1985, according to MetService.

Flash floods, as the name suggests, are the result of a sudden and rapid rise of water levels in low-lying areas. They typically occur when rainfall in urban environments falls faster than the ground can absorb. These weather events are incredibly dangerous and can often lead to fatalities due to their destructive power and incredible speed. 

Flooding has been made more likely by climate change, according to a 2021 study. In the case of Western Europe, downpours in the region, which caused the flash floods that killed nearly 200 people, are now 3-19% heavier due to human-caused warming. For countries that are already prone to rainy seasons, particularly in Asia, climate models predict climate change will lead to more intense flooding and prolong existing monsoon seasons. In New Zealand, about one-third of the population lives in areas prone to flooding, according to government figures.

“We are going to have to deal with more of these extreme weather events in the near future; we need to be prepared for that and we need to do everything we can to combat the challenges of climate change,” said Hipkins, warning Aucklanders to brace for more heavy rainfall. 

Heavy rain warnings were in place for Auckland, Coromandel Peninsula, and Northland from Tuesday to Wednesday, with the latter forecast to be hit the worst by a combination of rain, thunderstorms, and strong winds.

Friday’s downpour was something that “non of us had ever seen before or even imagined,” Auckland’s mayor Wayne Brown told reporters, adding that he “agrees” with the Prime Minister in attributing the dramatic events to climate change.

Despite having a small share of global GHG emissions, New Zealand’s per capita gross emissions are high. The country has set several domestic and international greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets in recent years. In October, former PM Jacinda Ardern proposed the world’s first agricultural emissions reduction plan to put the country on track to meet its 2030 methane emissions reduction target, requiring farmers to pay a regulated price for the greenhouse gases emitted by their agricultural activities and livestock.

You might also like: New Zealand Proposes ‘World-First’ Tax on Farmers for GHG Emissions

Illegal mining in Yanomami in northern Brazil has caused a humanitarian crisis of hunger and disease among the indigenous population.

After meeting with ministers on Monday, president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva announced a crackdown on supplies to illegal miners in the Yanomami territory in the hope to break a network of gold laundering.

Among the president’s orders are the halt of flights and river transport that provide supplies to the 20,000 wildcat miners operating in the area, nutritional and health assistance to the Indigenous community as well as the protection of health teams working in the villages. “All of these actions must be taken as soon as possible to stop the killing and help Yanomami families,” the government said in a statement. 

In Yanomami, illegal mining activities have contaminated water rivers on which people rely for water and food, resulting in child malnutrition and an outbreak of malaria. A report published in December revealed that Yanomami children have been dying from malnutrition at a rate 191 times greater than the country’s average. The presence of illegal miners has also resulted in an escalation in sexual violence and organised crime in the area in recent years.

yanomami tribes; yanomami indigenous people brazil; illegal mining in yanomami

The Yanomami reserve, the country’s largest indigenous territory and home to some 30,000 Indigenous people, is one of Brazil’s three worst-affected Indigenous territories by illegal mining. Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Last week, Brazil’s government declared a public medical emergency in the Yanomami community as illegal mining activities keep devastating land and contaminating river waters with mercury. The Yanomami reserve, the country’s largest indigenous territory and home to some 30,000 people, is one of Brazil’s three worst-affected Indigenous territories by illegal mining.

Gold mining projects have increased across the wider Amazon region in recent years, owing to the steady growth of the global gold market. An investigation by the Hutukara Yanomami Association published in April 2022 found that illegal mining in the reserve had nearly tripled over the past three years during Jair Bolsonaro’s presidency, destroying 3,272 hectares (8,085 acres) and directly affecting some 15,000 Indigenous inhabitants. 

Mining projects occur deep in the forests and degrade crucial habitats, posing significant risks of water contamination from toxic leaks and soil erosion. Studies have also found that gold mining has detrimental impacts on the health of the forest and limits their regrowth, where forest trees are discovered to have a lower capacity to accumulate carbon. The Guiana Shield, one of the most affected areas with gold mining activities accounting for as much as 90% of total deforestation, holds roughly 20 billion tonnes of above-ground carbon.

In an interview with Reuters on Monday, president of the Brazilian Mining Association (IBRAM) Raul Jungmann said that more than half of the 100 tonnes of gold produced in the country each year are illegally mined and called on the government to “take steps” to break this network.

Featured image by Carsten ten Brink/Flickr

You might also like: Amazon Rainforest: The Legal Battlefield for Land Ownership and Land Use Rights

The Amazon rainforest, one of the world’s most biologically diverse ecosystems and home to about three million species of plants and animals, is degrading much faster than previously thought, a new study has found. Amazon forest degradation is attributed mainly to human activities and climate change-driven droughts.

Ongoing land conversion and anthropogenic climate change may be responsible for the degradation of more than a third of the Amazon forest, twice as much as previous estimates, a new study has found. 

Wildfires, land conversion, logging, and droughts have weakened up to 2.5 million sq km of the rainforest, an area 10 times the size of the UK, leaving it more vulnerable to “megafires” and compromising biodiversity and carbon storage. 

According to the study, published in the scientific journal Science on Thursday, at this rate, Amazon forest degradation is on track to reach a tipping point, a critical threshold beyond which changes within the system would be irreversible. A study published in early 2022 had already suggested that the rainforest is close like never before to reaching a point of no return and thus losing its ability to recover from human-driven destruction.

According to the study, human activities and water shortages brought on by ongoing droughts have compromised the ability of up to 38% of the Amazon to regulate the climate, provide a liveable habitat to its rich biodiversity, and even sustain itself as a viable ecosystem.

The Amazon is the world’s largest rainforest – spanning 6.9 million sq km (2.72 million sq mi) and covering around 40% of the South American continent. Making up half of the planet’s remaining tropical forests, the forest is also one of the most biologically diverse ecosystems, home to about three million species of plants and animals and one million Indigenous people.

Like any other forest, the Amazon is a natural carbon sink and provides one of the greatest services for the planet: absorbing and storing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Yet, as a result of persistent deforestation and a sharp increase in wildfires, the forest has been converted into a source of carbon and is found to emit a greater amount of carbon dioxide than it is absorbing. 

You might also like: 10 Amazon Rainforest Deforestation Facts to Know About

Wildfires produce three times more carbon than the forests can absorb, thus creating a negative loop. A 2021 study revealed that the Amazon emitted about a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, equal to the annual emissions released in Japan, the world’s fifth-biggest polluter.

Over the past 50 years, 17% of the total forest has been completely cleared. In September, deforestation in the Amazon hit yet another record high, with a total coverage loss equivalent to 1,455 sq km (563 sq mi). And over the course of last year, an area 12 times the size of New York City was cleared, according to a report by the non-profit institute research Imazon.

The situation significantly deteriorated under the administration of Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro, who famously encourages logging and mining activities, causing deforestation rates to reach a 15-year high. Despite the results of October’s presidential elections raising hope for the future of the Amazon, countless animals remain on the brink of extinction, and crucial ecosystem services are already irreversibly compromised. 

You might also like: ​​Amazon Rainforest: The Legal Battlefield for Land Ownership and Land Use Rights

Speaking on the third day of the World Economic Forum 2023 in Davos, Guterres accused fossil fuel companies of following a business model that is ‘inconsistent with human survival’ and called for world leaders to collaborate on efforts to keep the 1.5C limit of global warming alive. 

In a speech centred around the dangers of greenwashing and unsustainable business models, UN Secretary-General António Guterres urged leaders at the World Economic Forum 2023 to develop “credible” and “transparent” plans to accelerate the green transition and achieve net zero by the end of the year.

Despite claiming to be working towards carbon neutrality, many companies’ net zero commitments are “dubious” and “murky”. This “leaves the door wide open to greenwashing” and can “mislead consumers, investors and regulators with false narratives,” Guterres told Davos delegates on Wednesday.

Greenwashing is when a company or organisation spends more time and money on marketing itself as being sustainable than minimising its environmental impact. It is deceitful advertising to gain favour with consumers who support businesses that care about bettering the planet. 

You might also like: 10 Companies Called Out For Greenwashing

Guterres also launched a strong attack on the worlds leading fossil fuel companies, accusing them of following a “business model that is inconsistent with human survival” and urging them to step up progress in the fight to contain global average temperature rise to 1.5C. 

Some 2,500 global leaders and delegates from several sectors, including major energy firms such as BP, Chevron, and Saudi Aramco, have gathered in Davos on Monday to discuss the bold collective action needed to address urgent global challenges arising from an increasingly fraught geopolitical landscape. 

In his speech, the UN chief also referred to a report released by the UN last October, which suggested the world is already on track to exceed the 2C temperature rise mark by 2030. Another study by the UN weather agency revealed that the atmospheric concentration of all three greenhouse gases – carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide – hit new record levels in 2021. The year-on-year jump in methane emissions, the potent, heat-trapping gas considered the second-largest contributor to global warming, was the highest since records began in 1983. 

“We are flirting with climate disaster,” said Guterres. “The consequences […] would be devastating” and for many, a rise above 2C would even mean “a death sentence.” 

The World Economic Forum 2023 begins as a massive heatwave, which scientists blame on anthropogenic climate change, is bringing abnormally high temperatures to Europe. This year’s unprecedented snow shortage has already forced popular ski resorts in Switzerland and elsewhere to shut down. It is the first time that the Swiss town and its mountainsides are not covered in snow, an event that climate advocates hope serves as a “reality check” for the world’s elite. 

Featured image by World Economic Forum

You might also like: Global Leaders and Climate Activists Gather in Snowless Davos Ahead of World Economic Forum 2023

The return of El Niño will result in unprecedented heatwaves, making this year even hotter than 2022. Experts have also warned that the climate phenomenon associated with warm air is likely to push global average temperatures well above the 1.5C threshold.

El Niño, a climate phenomenon related to the warming of sea surface temperatures in the central-east equatorial Pacific, is set to return in 2023, bringing “off the chart” temperatures and resulting in unprecedented heatwaves, scientists have warned.

Speaking with The Guardian, experts said its comeback is also making it “very likely” global average temperatures will exceed 1.5C of warming, beyond which even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heatwaves, and result in food and water insecurity and poverty for millions of people worldwide. In a report published late last year, the UN warned that the world is already on track to warm well above 2C

El Niño and La Niña are opposite phases of the El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO), a temperature variation between the ocean and the atmosphere over the east-central Tropical Pacific. The first is a warm phase while the latter is the cold phase. They typically occur once every few years, lasting nine to 12 months but sometimes even years. Their frequency is quite irregular, and the warm phase happens more frequently than their counterpart.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the presence of El Niño or its opposite “sufficiently modifies the general flow of the atmosphere to affect normal weather conditions in many parts of the world.” During an El Niño event, the east-to-west trade winds die, keeping warmer than the normal air in the eastern and central parts of the tropical Pacific.

El Nino's impacts

El Niño’s impact on rain patterns. Source: concernusa.org.

Unprecedented heatwaves driven by a major El Niño event made 2016 the hottest year on record. Now, experts warn that 2023 temperatures will surpass the ones recorded last year, which global datasets ranked as history’s fifth hottest year.  

“We know that under climate change, the impacts of El Niño events are going to get stronger, and you have to add that to the effects of climate change itself, which is growing all the time,” Professor Adam Scaife, the head of a long-range prediction at the UK Met Office told the Guardian. “You put those two things together, and we are likely to see unprecedented heatwaves during the next [event].”

Despite typically affecting the central-east equatorial Pacific, Professor Andy Turned at the University of Reading warned that the impacts of El Niño this year could even spread “as far as the northern hemisphere mid-latitudes, with a likelihood of wetter conditions in Spain from summer onwards and drier conditions on the eastern seaboard of the US in the following winter and spring.

You might also like: The Impacts of a Changing Climate on the El Niño-Southern Oscillation

The single-use plastic ban includes tableware, balloon sticks, and certain types of polystyrene cups and food containers and will come into effect in October to allow businesses to prepare, the Environment Secretary announced on Saturday. 

A ‘far-reaching’ single-use plastic ban is set to be introduced in England this October, the Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey announced on Saturday. 

The ban, proposed in August 2021, will affect single-use plastic tableware, including plates, trays, bowls, cutlery, balloon sticks, and certain types of polystyrene cups and food containers. However, it will not apply to plates, trays, and bowls used as packaging in shelf-ready pre-packaged food items. Products such as straws, stirrers, and cotton bans, were already banned in the country.

Similar single-use plastic bans are already in place in Scotland and Wales. The European Union, which has already banned most single-use plastic items from the market, recently unveiled new rules to cut packaging waste and a plan to expand deposit return systems for plastic bottles and cans. 10 European countries have so far implemented deposit refund schemes, with return rates ranging between 82% in Estonia and 97% to 98.4% in Norway and Germany.

You might also like: 8 Shocking Plastic Pollution Statistics to Know About

Plastic has become ubiquitous in our daily lives thanks to its convenience and low prices. But it comes with a cost. Our mistreatment and mismanagement of the material have made it one of the biggest environmental problems of our lifetime. Our reckless plastic use and consumption have driven the world to generate approximately 300 million tonnes of plastic waste each year to keep up with demand, 60% of which ends up in our natural environment or landfills. Of these, more than 8 million tonnes end up in ocean waters and if this trend continues, scientists warn that there will be more plastic than fish in the ocean as soon as 2030.

According to government figures, England uses 2.7 billion single-use cutlery, mostly made of plastic, and about 721 million single-use plates per year, only 10% of which are recycled. 

“We all know the absolutely devastating impacts that plastic can have on our environment and wildlife’” said Coffey in a statement following the announcement. “We have listened to the public and these new single-use plastics bans will continue our vital work to protect the environment for future generations.”

A government poll found that over 95% of those surveyed were in favour of the single-use plastic ban.

Richard Swannell, CEO of UK-based, climate action NGO WRAP, said he is “in full support of this announcement by Defra, which marks important progress in the wholesale removal of problematic and unnecessary plastics that can end up as plastic pollution.” 

“We’re delighted to see these efforts being backed up by regulation, which will accelerate efforts to keep plastic out of the environment.”

You might also like: Solution for Plastic Pollution: 6 Policies and Innovations Tackling Plastics

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