Great Barrier Reef bleaching unmasked
: A mass bleaching event at the Great Barrier Reef this year affected 91% of corals, according to an official report
that was eventually published after delays in the run-up to Australia’s general election. As Carbon Brief
has previously reported, mass coral bleaching events at the Great Barrier Reef are a modern-day phenomenon driven by human-caused climate change, with the first event taking place in 1998. Mass bleaching occurs when unusually high sea temperatures cause corals to release the colourful algae that lives inside their tissue, leaving them a ghostly white. This algae acts as the primary source of food and, without it, corals slowly starve. Since 1998, there have been six mass bleaching events at the Great Barrier Reef, including four in the last seven years, Sky News
reported. The broadcaster quoted Dr Simon Bradshaw
, a researcher at Australia’s Climate Council
, who described the results as “heartbreaking” and “deeply troubling”. Writing on Twitter
, veteran coral reef scientist Prof Terry Hughes
said: “Compared to earlier mass bleaching events, 2022 was more severe than 1998 – then the hottest year on record, and 2002.” The 2022 event was the first to happen in a La Niña year, when sea temperatures in Australia tend to be cooler than average, the Guardian
: Several Australian publications reported on allegations of “political interference” in the publishing of the report, which comes in the run-up to a general election where climate change has emerged as a key voter issue. The Sydney Morning Herald
reported that the reef survey was “quietly released after the government department and a Commonwealth agency were accused of covering up the findings to shield the Coalition from criticism during the federal election campaign”. According to the newspaper, “the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet had advised the reef body and another science agency that helped with the survey…that it would be preferable to withhold the report during the ‘caretaker conventions’ that apply during an election period”. These “caretaker conventions” advise governments to “avoid major policy decisions, significant appointments, and major contracts and undertakings” in election periods, according to the Sydney Morning Herald, which added that experts said these rules should not apply to the reef survey.
VOTE FOR THE REEF
: In an opinion piece for the Sydney Morning Herald
, released shortly after the reef survey, former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres warned that, without immediate climate action, “Australia is sleep-walking towards devastating bushfires, floods and coral bleaching events that will become more frequent and dangerous than those over the last two years”. She continued: “There’s no gentle way to say this. Australia’s climate ambition has for years been well at the back of the pack globally…Australians are among the biggest per-capita emitters in the world. Add to that Australia’s position as one of the world’s biggest exporters of high-polluting coal and gas, and you have a picture of a nature-blessed country that has not yet embraced its climate leadership potential.” Her words came as Australians began using the Twitter hashtag “#VotefortheReef
”. (Ahead of the general election on 21 May, Carbon Brief
has produced an interactive grid analysing the climate pledges made by all of the main parties.)
Global food crisis worsens
: The global hunger crisis is “exploding” amid record food prices, set to be worsened by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to Arif Husain
, the chief economist at the UN World Food Programme, Bloomberg
reported. According to the publication, an index of world food prices soared to a record in 2021. It reported: “Almost 193 million people across 53 countries or territories suffered acute food insecurity in 2021, meaning their lack of meals posed an immediate threat to their lives or livelihoods.” Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is now worsening the crisis by disrupting “harvests and exports from one of the world’s top grain and vegetable-oil suppliers”, Bloomberg added. According to the publication, Husain told a press briefing on Wednesday: “The world is exploding with food insecurity.”
: When Russia’s invasion of Ukraine first sparked fears of further food instability earlier this year, India was keen to offer its support to other countries, CNN
reported. “We already have enough food for our people, but our farmers seem to have made arrangements to feed the world,” India’s prime minister Narendra Modi said in April. “We are ready to send the relief from tomorrow itself.” However, CNN reported, “now, those lofty goals have been abandoned and wheat exports banned as life-threatening heatwaves in South Asia stunt output and push local prices to record highs”. The announcement of an export ban in India – the second biggest wheat producer after China – immediately caused wheat prices to spike, CNN added. (Carbon Brief
has produced an in-depth summary of how the media has covered India’s extreme heatwave.)
TROUBLE IN EUROPE
: The global food crisis is causing tension in all world regions, including Europe, publications reported this week. EurActiv
reported that, in light of the Ukraine crisis, Germany is lobbying the European Commission to postpone a new regulation on crop rotation to allow farmers to grow more wheat. In addition, a separate EurActiv
story reported that the European Union plans to warn Turkey, the third-largest importer of wheat in the world, that it must do more to comply with its rules if it hopes to secure more agricultural trade with Europe. In addition, Agence France-Presse
reported that France’s food production is suffering in an early drought, with 15 administrative départements having to restrict water use.
Desertification and land COP
The United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is the only legally binding framework that addresses drought and is focused on the rehabilitation, conservation and sustainable management of land and water resources. Over 9-21 May, the Ivory Coast is hosting the 15th session of the Conference of Parties (COP15) in its capital Abidjan, attended by more than 2,000 participants, including a dozen heads of state and government. States are expected to address key findings
from a milestone report on land released before the conference. Drought has been one of the key themes at UNCCD COP15, with UNCCD executive secretary Ibrahim Thiaw warning that humanity was “at a crossroads” and that it needed to “steer toward the solutions rather than believing that marginal change can heal systemic failure”.
DRY DAYS AHOY:
A new UNCCD drought report
found that the number and duration of droughts have risen 29% globally since the year 2000. It added that, while droughts count for only 15% of natural disasters, they have taken the largest human toll (approximately 650,000 deaths over 1970-2019). By 2050, the report estimates that 4.8-5.7 billion people will live in areas that are water-scarce for at least one month each year, up from 3.6 billion today. Drought could also force 216 million people to migrate by 2050, in combination with factors such as declining crop productivity and water scarcity. The report estimated that severe droughts have reduced India’s gross domestic product by 2-5%.
FORESTS AND FAULT LINES:
Protecting and restoring forests may be a key to combating desertification
, but “funding the fight remains a problem”, Deutsche Welle
reported.The outlet pointed out that the UNCCD-led Great Green Wall of Africa project
– “which aims to restore a green belt across the Sahel to stop the southward spread of the Sahara” – is still billions of dollars short of its target set 15 years ago. At the leaders’ summit, Ivory Coast’s president Alassane Ouattara announced the Abidjan Legacy Programme to “boost long-term sustainability in value chains in the country while protecting and restoring forests” to increase climate resilience, Reuters
reported, which would require $1.5bn over the next five years and use technologies such as tree-planting drones and drought-resistant plant varieties to repair degraded land. According to the DW story, civil society was “not happy about” the election of a former Ivory Coast minister of water and forests to the COP15 presidency, given that his ministry was being audited after reports of timber trafficking.