Can concerted global action mitigate climate change’s worst impacts?

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Immediate global action on climate change could reduce impending large-scale climate migration by up to 80 percent, the World Bank has said, amid warnings over the future stability of North Africa. (AFP)
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Immediate global action on climate change could reduce impending large-scale climate migration by up to 80 percent, the World Bank has said, amid warnings over the future stability of North Africa. (AFP)
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Immediate global action on climate change could reduce impending large-scale climate migration by up to 80 percent, the World Bank has said, amid warnings over the future stability of North Africa. (AFP)
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Immediate global action on climate change could reduce impending large-scale climate migration by up to 80 percent, the World Bank has said, amid warnings over the future stability of North Africa. (AFP)
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Updated 21 September 2021

Can concerted global action mitigate climate change’s worst impacts?

  • Experts warn rich and poor countries alike will experience mass internal migration as a result of climate change
  • World Bank report predicts global warming-linked disasters will displace millions of people by 2050

LONDON: World leaders will gather on Monday at the UN’s New York headquarters for a closed-door session on climate change hosted by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. 

Johnson, who is scheduled to host world leaders in Glasgow in November for the COP26 climate summit, is expected to press delegates to pledge to reduce carbon emissions, with a particular emphasis on ending the use of coal.

It is hoped that world leaders will be free to speak frankly during the closed-door session rather than simply trotting out feel-good bromides or reverting to established positions. 

Johnson is likely to find a ready ear. Last week, Abdulla Shahid, the new president of the UN General Assembly and Maldives foreign minister, told Arab News that climate change will be among the most critical issues of his presidency.




The Maldives’ Abdulla Shahid is making climate change a critical part of his UN General Assembly presidency. (AFP)

And so it should be. The Maldives, an island nation in the heart of the Indian Ocean, is the lowest-lying country in the world, with an average elevation of just 1.5 meters. Rising sea levels caused by global warming pose an immediate existential threat to its future.

The focus on mitigating the effects of climate change cannot come soon enough for the hundreds of millions of people that the World Bank believes will be displaced as a result of global warming. 

A bombshell World Bank report published earlier this month predicted that without decisive action some 216 million people will be displaced by climate change by 2050 — more than 20 times as many people as were displaced by the Syrian civil war.

In a worst-case scenario, the World Bank’s Groundswell II report said that North Africa alone could lose more than 19 million people to climate migration — more than the entire population of Tunisia.

These people, the World Bank said, will be uprooted from their homes by a combination of rising sea levels, declining freshwater access and other issues, which threaten to undo decades of progress on poverty reduction, child mortality, development and education.

North African states, in particular, rely heavily on their agricultural industries to fuel economic growth and to feed their rapidly growing populations. Climate change threatens to devastate these industries, forcing millions from their homes.

Despite the doom and gloom of the report, Ferzina Banaji, communications lead for climate change at the World Bank, told Arab News: “There is a window of opportunity to act now but it is shrinking rapidly.

“Immediate and concerted action to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions and support green, inclusive and resilient development could reduce the scale of internal climate migration by as much as 80 percent from as much as 216 million people to 44 million people across the six regions covered in the report,” Banaji said.

“In North Africa, where water stress will amplify already scarce water resources, it is critical to step up action on these fronts, building on the already strong efforts of the countries in the region.”

The diversification of livelihoods in the North African region away from agriculture could also improve its resilience to climate change. Although the World Bank report did not directly cover the Middle East, Banaji said that the “region already faces climate change impacts, particularly extreme heat and water stress, which are both expected to worsen in the coming decades.”

Even in a best-case scenario, tens of millions of people globally will undoubtedly be uprooted by climate change by 2050. And the future for these displaced people — disproportionately vulnerable and from lower and middle-income countries — is bleak.

Troels Hedegaard, an associate professor studying migration at Denmark’s Aalborg University, told Arab News that his research indicates that people look even less kindly on climate migrants than they do on those fleeing war and persecution.

“My research indicates that populations in Northern Europe view climate migrants less favorably compared to migrants fleeing because of personal persecution or civil war,” Hedegaard said. 

“They are, however, more welcome than migrants leaving because of economic reasons. I believe this is because this category of migrants is generally unknown to most people in Northern Europe.”

INNUMBERS

216 million - Estimated number of internal climate migrants worldwide by 2050.

19 million - Predicted number of North African internal climate migrants by mid-century.

80 percent - Possible reduction in scale of climate migration if action is taken to reduce emissions. (Source: World Bank)

(Source: World Bank)

In Northern Europe, one of the world’s most climate-resilient regions, Hedegaard cautioned that despite the relative safety, “it would be very difficult to gather public support behind granting climate migrants residency or any other kind of permanent stay.”

This difference in attitude, he said, could be related to long-standing global norms derived from supranational bodies, such as the UN, which have defined what it means to be a refugee — or not — for decades, and this could result in institutional barriers to external migration.

“Even though the terms climate refugees or environmental refugees are sometimes used to describe people displaced by climate events, they are not included in the United Nations 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol relating to the status to seek protection, and therefore they cannot seek asylum,” Hedegaard said.




Immediate global action on climate change could reduce impending large-scale climate migration by up to 80 percent, the World Bank has said, amid warnings over the future stability of North Africa. (AFP)

But according to Dr. Alex de Sherbinin, an associate director at Columbia University’s Earth Institute, the vast majority of future climate migrants are likely to be internally displaced — and while the emphasis, in general, is on poorer countries in the global south, rich countries such as the US are not exempt from these issues.

The US regularly experiences deadly wildfires, hurricanes, droughts and other such environmental catastrophes that scientists predict will only get worse. Now the US has adopted a strategy of “managed retreat,” de Sherbinen said. 

“The idea of ‘managed retreat’ is to implement a package of interventions such as home buyouts and re-zoning. In some cases managed retreat maeqeey not actually be a retreat — the place may be so valuable that you build flood barriers around it, for example, or take other measures to keep people in place.




The US regularly experiences deadly wildfires, hurricanes, droughts and other such environmental catastrophes that scientists predict will only get worse. Now the US has adopted a strategy of “managed retreat,” de Sherbinen said. 

“Places like the Netherlands have done that successfully for decades,” he said. “It’s not completely inconceivable. But in some cases, it may not be economically viable to protect the area.”

But while these efforts are continuing, de Sherbinin believes that they will never create a true safe haven for people within the US or elsewhere to completely protect them from the impacts of climate change.

“Climate change is with us to stay. The notion that we are going to find an ideal safe space where everyone can be perpetually safe from climate disasters is not going to be part of our 21st-century existence — or into the 22nd.

“We poked the beast, and it’s not going to stop affecting us.”

____________

Twitter: @CHamillStewart 


Red Cross warns aid groups not enough to stave off Afghan humanitarian crisis

Updated 58 min 6 sec ago

Red Cross warns aid groups not enough to stave off Afghan humanitarian crisis

  • ICRC has since increased its efforts in the country while other organisations were also stepping up, Director General Robert Mardini said
  • The UN on Thursday announced it had set up a fund to provide cash directly to Afghans

DUBAI: The Red Cross on Friday urged the international community to engage with Afghanistan’s new Taliban rulers, saying that aid groups on their own would be unable to stave off a humanitarian crisis.
Afghanistan has been plunged into crisis by the abrupt end of billions of dollars in foreign assistance following the collapse of the Western-backed government and return to power by the Taliban in August.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has since increased its efforts in the country while other organizations were also stepping up, Director General Robert Mardini said.
But he told Reuters that support from the international community, who had so far taken a cautious approach in engaging with the Taliban, was critical to providing basic services.
“Humanitarian organizations joining forces can only do so much. They can come up with temporary solutions.”
The United Nations on Thursday announced it had set up a fund to provide cash directly to Afghans, which Mardini said would solve the problem for three months.
“Afghanistan is a compounded crisis that is deteriorating by the day,” he said, citing decades of conflict compounded by the effects of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Mardini said 30 percent of Afghanistan’s 39 million population were facing severe malnutrition and that 18 million people in the country need humanitarian assistance or protection.
The Taliban expelled many foreign aid groups when it was last in power from 1996-2001 but this time has said it welcomes foreign donors and will protect the rights of their staff.
But the hard-line Islamists, facing criticism it has failed to protect rights, including access to education for girls, have also said aid should not be tied to conditions.
“No humanitarian organization can compensate or replace the economy of a country,” Mardini said.


Greece tourism rebounds but still suffers from COVID-19

Updated 29 min 59 sec ago

Greece tourism rebounds but still suffers from COVID-19

  • Foreign tourists seeking sun and sand are the driver of Greece's tourism industry
  • Pandemic travel restrictions kept most away in 2020 and battered the sector

ATHENS: The number of foreign tourists arriving in Greece has rebounded strongly this year, central bank data released Friday showed, but the key tourism sector still remains far below pre-pandemic levels.
Foreign tourists seeking sun and sand are the driver of Greece’s tourism industry, which accounts for a fifth of the overall economy, but pandemic travel restrictions kept most away in 2020 and battered the sector.
Greek central bank data showed that the number of tourist arrivals has jumped 80 percent this year to over 8.6 million.
Meanwhile, spending by tourists during the first eight months of the year has shot up by over 135 percent to nearly 6.6 billion euros ($7.7 billion), the Bank of Greece said in a statement.
But those figures are still far off the level in 2019, before the pandemic, when some 21.8 million tourists spent 13.2 billion euros.
Ahead of the peak summer tourism season, Greece ran a major campaign to voluntarily vaccinate most residents if its Aegean islands, its most popular travel destinations, to help lure back foreign tourists.
Most of the arrivals came from Germany, Britain, France and the United States.
Greece’s economy contracted by 9.0 percent in 2020, due in no small part to the drop in tourists.
The government expects the economy to rebound 6.1 percent this year and grow by 4.5 percent in 2022.


Pfizer says COVID-19 vaccine more than 90 percent effective in kids

Updated 22 October 2021

Pfizer says COVID-19 vaccine more than 90 percent effective in kids

  • Shots could begin in early November with the first children in line fully protected by Christmas if regulators give the go-ahead
  • FDA was expected to post its independent review of the company's safety and effectiveness data later in the day

DUBAI: Kid-size doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine appear safe and nearly 91 percent effective at preventing symptomatic infections in 5- to 11-year-olds, according to study details released Friday as the US considers opening vaccinations to that age group.
The shots could begin in early November — with the first children in line fully protected by Christmas — if regulators give the go-ahead.
Details of Pfizer’s study were posted online. The Food and Drug Administration was expected to post its independent review of the company’s safety and effectiveness data later in the day.
Advisers to the FDA will publicly debate the evidence next week. If the agency ultimately authorizes the shots, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will make the final decision on who should receive them.
Full-strength Pfizer shots already are authorized for anyone 12 or older, but pediatricians and many parents are anxiously awaiting protection for younger children to stem rising infections from the extra-contagious delta variant and help keep kids in school.
More than 25,000 pediatricians and primary care providers already have signed up to get the shots into little arms.
The Biden administration has purchased enough kid-size doses — in special orange-capped vials to distinguish them from adult vaccine — for the nation’s roughly 28 million 5- to 11-year-olds. If the vaccine is cleared, millions of doses will be promptly shipped around the country, along with kid-size needles.
A Pfizer study tracked 2,268 kids in that age group who got two shots three weeks apart of either a placebo or the low-dose vaccine. Each dose was one-third the amount given to teens and adults.
Researchers calculated the low-dose vaccine was nearly 91 percent effective, based on 16 COVID-19 cases in youngsters given dummy shots versus three cases among vaccinated children. There were no severe illnesses reported among any of the youngsters, but the vaccinated ones had much milder symptoms than their unvaccinated counterparts.
In addition, young children given the low-dose shots developed coronavirus-fighting antibody levels just as strong as teens and young adults who got regular-strength vaccinations.
That’s important information considering that hospitalizations of mostly unvaccinated children reached record levels last month.
The CDC reported earlier this week that even as the delta mutant surged between June and September, Pfizer vaccinations were 93 percent effective at preventing hospitalizations among 12- to 18-year-olds.
Pfizer’s study of younger kids found the low-dose shots proved safe, with similar or fewer temporary side effects such as sore arms, fever or achiness that teens experience.
The study isn’t large enough to detect any extremely rare side effects, such as the heart inflammation that occasionally occurs after the second dose, mostly in young men.
While children run a lower risk of severe illness or death than older people, COVID-19 has killed more than 630 Americans 18 and under, according to the CDC. Nearly 6.2 million children have been infected with the coronavirus, more than 1.1 million in the last six weeks as the delta mutant surged, the American Academy of Pediatrics says.
Moderna also is studying its COVID-19 shots in elementary school-age youngsters. Pfizer and Moderna are studying even younger children as well, down to 6-month-olds. Results are expected later in the year.


Four dead as hurricane-force winds batter Poland

Updated 22 October 2021

Four dead as hurricane-force winds batter Poland

  • Fire services reported more than 10,000 incidents and 930 buildings were damaged
  • In Wroclaw, police said that two people were killed when a tree fell on their car

WARSAW: Four people were killed and 18 injured in a storm that battered Poland with hurricane-force winds on Thursday night, authorities said, damaging properties and felling trees across western and central areas of the country.
Fire services reported more than 10,000 incidents and 930 buildings were damaged, private broadcaster TVN24 reported, with the western region of Lubuskie and the central Lodzkie region hardest hit.
“The storm was terrible, it broke the sheet metal and took it from one part of the roof to the other side of the house,” Krzysztof Kolczynski, whose house in the village of Maszkowice in central Poland was damaged in the storm, told TVN24.
“It’s good that there were chimneys, otherwise it would have torn off the entire roof.”
In the south-western city of Wroclaw, police said that two people were killed when a tree fell on their car.
“Wroclaw police received a report about a tree that fell on a moving vehicle,” said police officer Pawel Noga. “Unfortunately, it was confirmed on the spot that two people in the car were killed in the incident.”
The Polish meteorological office issued fresh storm warnings for Friday evening, with the north of the country expected to face the strongest winds.


Alec Baldwin fires prop gun on movie set, killing cinematographer

Updated 22 October 2021

Alec Baldwin fires prop gun on movie set, killing cinematographer

  • Baldwin shot Halyna Hutchins, the photography director of ‘Rust,’ and Joel Souza, the film’s director
  • Baldwin was seen ‘distraught and in tears’ as he spoke on the phone outside the sheriff’s office in Santa Fe

Hollywood actor Alec Baldwin fatally shot a cinematographer and wounded a director when he discharged a prop gun on a movie set in New Mexico on Thursday, authorities said.
Baldwin shot Halyna Hutchins, the photography director of “Rust,” and Joel Souza, the film’s director, at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, a production location south of Santa Fe, according to the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Department.
Hutchins was transported by helicopter to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where she was pronounced dead.
Souza was taken by ambulance to Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical center to undergo treatment for his injuries. The severity of his injuries could not immediately be determined.
Actress Frances Fisher said on Twitter that “Souza texted me that he’s out of hospital.” Asked whether Souza had been discharged, medical center spokesperson Arturo Delgado said he was not allowed to release information about patients.
The Sheriff’s office said that no charges have been filed and they are investigating the shooting and interviewing witnesses.
“The investigation remains open and active,” the Sherrif’s office said in a statement.
Entertainment news site cited a source in the Sheriff’s office as saying that Baldwin was questioned by investigators and later released.
Baldwin went to the sheriff’s office willingly and provided a statement to investigators, the Santa Fe New Mexican reported, citing spokesperson Juan Rios.
Deputies were still trying to determine whether what happened was an accident, the newspaper added. Rios did not immediately respond to requests for information from Reuters.
Baldwin’s representatives did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Earlier on Thursday, news magazine People reported that a spokesperson for Baldwin had said there was an “accident” involving the “misfire of a prop gun with blanks.”
Baldwin was seen “distraught and in tears” as he spoke on the phone outside the sheriff’s office headquarters on Thursday, the Santa Fe New Mexican wrote.
Baldwin, 63, is a co-producer of “Rust,” a Western movie set in 1880s Kansas, and plays the eponymous character who is an outlaw grandfather of a 13-year-old boy convicted of an accidental killing.
Production of the film had been halted for an “undetermined period,” several news outlets quoted the film’s production company, Rust Movie Productions LLC, as saying.
An email to an address for the film production, which was listed on a New Mexico government statement, went unanswered.
The shooting evoked memories of an on-set accident in 1993 when US actor Brandon Lee, son of Bruce Lee, died aged 28 after being fatally wounded by a prop gun filming “The Crow.”
“Our hearts go out to the family of Halyna Hutchins and to Joel Souza and all involved in the incident on ‘Rust’. No one should ever be killed by a gun on a film set. Period,” said a tweet from Lee’s account, which is handled by his sister.
Earlier on Thursday, Baldwin posted a picture of himself on Instagram sporting a grey beard and dressed in Western cowboy-style attire in front of trailers. He appeared to have a fake blood stain on his shirt and jacket.
“Back to in person at the office. Blimey ... it’s exhausting,” he wrote. The post was deleted late on Thursday night.
Known for his impersonations of former US President Donald Trump on NBC’s comedy sketch show “Saturday Night Live,” Baldwin has a long history in film and television, including roles in “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “30 Rock.”
Baldwin was charged in 2018 after a fight over a New York parking spot. He pleaded guilty to second-degree harassment and agreed to participate in an anger management program.
In 2014, he was given a summons for disorderly conduct after an argument with police who stopped him from riding his bike down a one-way street in New York. And in 2011, he was thrown off a plane for refusing to stop playing the game “Words with Friends” before take-off.
Hutchins, 42, who was originally from Ukraine and grew up on a Soviet military base in the Arctic Circle, once worked as an investigative reporter in Europe, according to her website.
She graduated from the American Film Institute in 2015 and was selected as one of American Cinematographer’s Rising Stars of 2019, according to her website biography.
She described herself as a “Restless Dreamer” and an “Adrenaline junkie” on her Instagram page.
Her last post, two days ago, shows her grinning under a wide-brimmed hat as she rides a horse. “One of the perks of shooting a western is you get to ride horses on your day off:)” she captioned the video.
April Wright, a writer, director and producer, paid tribute to her on Facebook.
“I’m in disbelief,” wrote Wright. “So young, vibrant, and talented. Such a wonderful soul. My heart goes out to her son and family.”
Representatives for Hutchins did not immediately respond to a request for information about her death.
Souza, 48, lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with his wife and two children, according to the IMDB website. His LinkedIn page credits him as the “writer/director” of action film Crown Vic and comedy Christmas Trade.
“This is still an active investigation and we do not yet have all the facts,” said SAG-AFTRA, which describes itself as the world’s biggest labor union representing performers and broadcasters.
“We will continue to work with production, the other unions, and the authorities to investigate this incident and to understand how to prevent such a thing from happening again.”