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Pangolin scales have been removed from a 2020 listing of ingredients approved for use in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM). The move has been applauded by animal protection groups, who say that it will help curb trade of the pangolin, the most trafficked animal in the world. 

Reported by China’s Health Times newspaper, the news comes after the country’s State Forestry and Grassland Administration (SFGA) raised the protected status of pangolins to the highest level earlier this month with immediate effect.

Zhou Jinfeng, secretary general of the China Biodiversity Conservation and Green Development Foundation, says, “I am very encouraged. Our continuous efforts for several years have not been in vain. But we still have a long way to go. We need to be vigilant about so-called ‘captive breeding’ and medicinal research because some wrong findings could lead to the wrong policy decisions.”

You might also like: Study Projects 30% More Forest Cover if Wood Biomass is Managed Right

The trade of all eight species of pangolin are protected under international law and three of the four of these species are native to Asia, which are included on the red list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature as endangered species, including the functionally extinct Chinese pangolin.  

In February, the China’s National People’s Congress enforced a ban on the consumption of meat from wild animals, although clarification as to what wildlife will still be allowed for use in TCM and the fur and leather industries is expected once China finalises the revisions to its wildlife protection law. 

Although the SFGA currently permits TCM pharmaceutical companies to use parts from previous stockpiles or so called, poorly regulated ‘farmed’ wildlife, this practice is shown to enable the trafficking of animals. 

Up to 200 000 pangolins are consumed each year in Asia for their scales and meat. More than 130 tons of scales and live and dead animals were seized in cross-border trafficking busts in 2019, which is estimated to represent up to 400 000 animals

Pangolin meat is eaten by China’s elite in the hope of reaping health or sexual benefits, even though early TCM texts warn against eating the animals.

Since 2015, more than 14 000 whole pangolins have been seized at border crossings in Asia, with 95% of those in shipments of 21 animals or more. 99% of all whole pangolin seizures have occurred in Asia, with 24% of those at China’s borders, followed by Vietnam and India. Most whole pangolins are trafficked from Laos, Thailand and India. 

Amanda Shaver, a wildlife crime analyst with C4ADS, says, “There has been a significant drop in reporting on pangolin seizures since December 2019. This is most likely due to the increased media focus and coverage on COVID-19, but our databases have not recorded a single seizure of whole pangolin in Asia in 2020.”

Regarding seizures of pangolin scales, in the past five years, 32% have been at mainland China’s border, although Hong Kong accounted for 17%. C4ADS says that the top sources for scales are Nigeria (25%), Malaysia (17%) and Indonesia (12%). 

Featured image by: A. J. T. Johnsingh, WWF-India and NCF 

A study shows that within 50 years, a billion people will either be displaced or forced to live in insufferable heat for every 1°C rise in global temperature, illustrating that the human cost of the climate crisis will be far worse than previously believed. 

The paper, which examines how the climate crisis will affect human habitats, warns that under worst-case scenarios of increasing emissions, areas where a third of the global population currently live will be as hot as the hottest parts of the Sahara desert within 50 years.

Even in the most optimistic outlook, a rise in global temperature will cause 1.2 billion people to fall outside the comfortable ‘climate niche’ where humans have lived for at least 6 000 years.

Tim Lenton, one of the researchers in the study, says, “The numbers are flabbergasting. I literally did a double take when I first saw them. I’ve previously studied climate tipping points, which are usually considered apocalyptic. But this hit home harder. This puts the threat in very human terms.”

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The majority of humans have always lived in regions where the average annual temperatures are around 6°C to 28°C, ideal for human health and food production. However, this range is shifting and shrinking as a result of anthropogenic climate change, which is dropping more and more people into what the paper describes as ‘near unliveable’ extremes.

The researchers say that they are shocked at how sensitive humanity is, because we are concentrated on land- which is warming faster than the oceans- and because most future population growth will be in already hot regions of Asia and Africa. Because of these demographic factors, the average human will experience a temperature increase of 7.5°C when global temperatures reach 3°C warming.

At this temperature, about a third of the world’s population would live in average temperatures of 29°C, conditions that are rare outside of the most scorched part of the Sahara, but with global heating of 3°C, this is expected to be the norm for 1.2 billion people in India, 485 million people in Nigeria and more than 100 million in each of Pakistan, Indonesia and Sudan. This would create hundreds of millions more climate refugees and pose challenges to food production systems. In fact, David Wallas- Wells, the author of “The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming,” says that even at 2.5°C warming, the world would enter a global food deficit- needing more calories than the planet can produce, mostly thanks to drought.

Professor Marten Scheffer, one of the lead authors of the study, says, ““We did not expect humans to be so sensitive. We think of ourselves as very adaptable because we use clothes, heating and air conditioning. But, in fact, the vast majority of people live- and have always lived- inside a climate niche that is now moving as never before. There will be more change in the next 50 years than in the past 6 000 years.”

The authors hope that their findings spur policymakers to accelerate emission cuts and work together to cope with migration.

In late 2018, the UN World Meteorological Organization warned that global temperatures are on course for a 3-5°C rise this century, far overshooting the Paris Agreement target of limiting this increase to 2°C or less by 2100.

According to estimates from over 70 peer-reviewed studies, Carbon Brief paints a grim picture of the world under 2°C, 3°C and 4°C temperature rise this century:

At two degrees, the melting of ice sheets will pass a tipping point of collapse, triggering flooding in dozens of the world’s major cities and resulting in a global sea-level rise of 56cm. It is estimated that that global GDP will be cut by 13%. 400 million more people will suffer from water scarcity and heat waves in the northern latitudes will kill thousands each summer; this will be worse along the equator. In India, there would be 32 times as many extreme heat waves, each lasting five times as long and exposing 93 times more people. This is our best-case scenario.

At three degrees, southern Europe will be in permanent drought. The average drought in Central America would last 19 months, in the Caribbean, 21 and in northern Africa, 60 months- five years. Those areas burned annually by wildfires would double in the Mediterranean and sextuple in the US. Cities from Miami Beach to Jakarta will be submerged by sea-level rise and damages from river flooding will grow 30-fold in Bangladesh, 20-fold in India and up to 60-fold in the UK. This level of warming is better than we’d do if all of the nations of the world honoured their Paris commitments- which only a handful are.

At four degrees, there would be eight million cases of dengue fever each year in Latin America alone. Global grain yields would fall by as much as 50%, producing annual or close-to-annual food crises. The global economy would fall more than 30% than without climate change, and we would see at least half again as much conflict and warfare as we do today.

While great strides have been made in terms of the plummeting costs of renewable energy and the increasing global divestment from coal, carbon emissions are still growing. It is important to decrease emissions to level and then bend the curve.

One way of doing this is through a carbon tax. However, a tax needs to be far higher than any of those currently in use or being considered; The IPCC has proposed raising the cost of a tonne of carbon possibly as high as US$5 000 by 2030; they suggest this may have to increase by US$27 000 by 2100. Today, the average price of carbon across 42 major economies is US$8 per tonne.

These numbers would shock even those most optimistic; if estimates are correct, then by the end of the century, a rise in global temperature will displace up to 5 billion people, nearly two-thirds of the current global population.

Featured image by: Oxfam East Africa

Across Africa, increased motor vehicle use, industrial growth and dust storms coupled with wood-fired cooking stoves is resulting in air pollution that is choking the continent’s inhabitants.

While air pollution in India, China, and other emerging economies has become a major area of concern for scientists and policymakers, it has gained little traction in Africa where it is taking a serious toll on the economy and human health. Toxic air has been causing more premature deaths than unsafe water or childhood malnutrition on the continent while significantly contributing to the climate crisis.

Air Pollution in Africa: Facts

A report by UNICEF notes that deaths from outdoor air pollution in Africa have increased by 57% in less than three decades, from 164,000 in 1990 to 258,000 in 2017, resulting in a GDP loss of over $215bn annually. The pollution has also cut short the lives of children by 24 months.

A recent study from NASA states that pollution from industrial sources and motor vehicles cause high mortality rates in Nigeria and South Africa while emissions from burning biomass and poor air quality due to dust storms increase the number of premature deaths in West and Central Africa.

“Africa holds the world’s largest source of desert dust emissions and produces approximately a third of the Earth’s biomass burning aerosol particles,” the study says. “Sub‐Saharan biomass burning is driven by agricultural practices, such as burning fields and bushes in the post-harvest season for fertilisation, land management, and pest control.”

Causes of Air Pollution in Africa

Analysis of satellite imagery by Greenpeace reveals that the world’s deadliest air pollution spot on the planet is in South Africa, with its eastern province Mpumalanga being the largest single area infected by deadly nitrogen dioxide. The province is home to a dozen coal-fired power stations, processing plants, and factories, which release the gas into the atmosphere.  

Emissions such as sulfur dioxide, particulate matter, and mercury have been causing more than  2,000 deaths from respiratory disease, strokes, and heart attacks in many places in South Africa, including Johannesburg.

You might also like: Air Pollution: The Silent Killer

Africa’s most populous country — Nigeria — suffers from air pollution worse than any other country on the continent. The World Health Organisation (WHO) lists four cities of Nigeria among the world’s worst-ranked cities for air quality. Onitsha — one of the country’s economic hubs — tops the list of worst-ranked cities globally with a record of 30 times more particulate matter (PM2.5) concentration in the air than the WHO’s recommended levels.

A world air quality report from Greenpeace ranks Nigeria as the 10th most polluted country in the world, with an estimated average PM2.5 concentration of 44.8 micrograms per cubic meter air (μg/m3). More than 64,000 people died from household air pollution in the country in 2017, mainly from the burning of solid fuels such as charcoal and wood for cooking in open fires and leaky stoves.

Senegal is also struggling with highly toxic air. Its capital Dakar scored an average PM2.5 level of 30 μg/m3 and a PM10 level of 146 μg/m3; that is seven times higher than WHO recommended threshold. During the dry season, dust-storm from the Sahara — harmattan — and pollution from industry and motor vehicles coalesce in a hovering toxic cloud.

Kenya’s predicament mirrors that of its neighbours, with particle concentrations that are twice the WHO health safety standards. Over 18,000 premature deaths in the country have been linked to air pollution, while respiratory diseases climbed to be Kenya’s number one killer, surpassing malaria.

The true scale of the problem is likely to be underestimated, as only seven of Africa’s 54 countries have installed functioning real-time air pollution monitors to collect the data. Population growth and rapid urbanisation are expected to further worsen conditions. With an additional 1.3 billion people set to occupy the continent by 2050, industrial, agricultural, and anthropogenic activities are likely to lower air quality. Costs associated with pollution might explode if bold policy changes are not urgently initiated by African nations.

The leaders of African nations need to resist the temptation of fossil fuel corporations seeking to exploit a country’s resources or enter their market. As urbanisation and industrialisation ramps up across Africa, policies must be put in place that prioritise renewable energy and use green technologies in urban construction. As the number of companies researching and developing such innovations continues to grow, the cost of engaging such companies and implementing new technologies falls. Policymakers should focus on partnerships and agreements with other countries to build sustainably. An international agreement that holds governments accountable for their country’s emission rates, while also involving the support of transnational agencies such as environmental NGOs and UN development agencies, can be a strong framework for industrialising African nations to follow. 

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