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Swimming against the tide: the Pacific nations fighting a losing battle with climate change

Many of the small island Pacific nations have ambitious renewable energy targets, but their efforts will all be in vain if progress is absent where it really counts. Alex Blackburne looks at a group of countries desperately hoping for change.

It’s a David versus Goliath scenario in which David doesn’t even own a slingshot. David, or the 22 Pacific Islands, is being continually pummelled by several Goliaths in the shape of China, the US, and the rest of the top ten polluting nations who are perhaps unaware of their opponent’s existence.

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Many of the small island Pacific nations have ambitious renewable energy targets, but their efforts will all be in vain if progress is absent where it really counts. Alex Blackburne looks at a group of countries desperately hoping for change.

It’s a David versus Goliath scenario in which David doesn’t even own a slingshot. David, or the 22 Pacific Islands, is being continually pummelled by several Goliaths in the shape of China, the US, and the rest of the top ten polluting nations who are perhaps unaware of their opponent’s existence.

Despite the best efforts of the Pacific Island Countries (PICs), climate change is becoming an increasingly real threat for the region. And it is a threat that they have very little control over.

The whole nation of Kiribati is seriously considering uprooting and relocating to Fiji for salvation, all because of the dangers of rising sea levels.

In an effort to influence the rest of the world, many PICs have set themselves ambitious but entirely realistic renewable energy targets.

As it stands, the PICs have a high dependence on fossil fuels. But they are so insignificantly small when compared to the rest of the world, that their combined carbon emissions only account for around 0.03% of the world’s total.

You only have to compare PICs emissions to China—the world’s most polluting (and admittedly most populous) country with a 25% contribution to this total—to get a real sense of scale.

Still, the Pacific Islands Greenhouse Gas Abatement through Renewable Energy Project (snappily shortened to PIGGAREP) endeavours to make change. It claims that even with a business-as-usual approach, the 11 nations taking part can collectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 33% by 2015.

With investments pumped into renewable technologies, the targets are even more impressive. Tuvalu and Niue both have 100% renewable targets set for the not-too-distant future. The Cook Islands, Fiji, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, Samoa, Tonga and Vanuatu also have similarly ambitious aims, according to the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme.

Most of these extremely positive targets are sadly somewhat irrelevant, really only serving as a cry for help. Niue, for example, emits less carbon than any other country on the planet—just 4,000 tonnes yearly (China emits 30 million tonnes).

In its drive towards being 100% renewably powered, a blog called Niue Press, which is devoted to everything related to the island, lists all the places where solar panels are found in the country – the high school, the power station office, and the hospital. That’s it.

The country has 1,398 inhabitants (as of July 2009), two television stations, one newspaper, one nine-hole golf course, and a currently-under-construction lawn bowling green.

The sad irony behind the PICs’ heart-warming, globe-cooling efforts is that whilst they’re the ones that will very soon be most severely affected, they’re also the ones that can do the least about it.

Back in November, we wrote an article about how research by global risks advisory firm, Maplecroft, had deemed the developing world at “extreme risk” of climate change. It’s a familiar story.

Conversely, the biggest contributors to world carbon levels—by rank, China, the US, India, Russia, Japan, Germany, Canada, South Korea, Iran and the UK—will not witness such a severe effects when climate change really digs its heels in, but are the nations with the most power and influence.

Click to enlarge. Infographic: Ben Willers

China’s contribution to carbon emissions is staggering—25.36% to be exact—but then again, it does also account for nearly 20% of the Earth’s population.

The real demon then, is instead our cousin across the Atlantic. Sitting comfortably in second place of the carbon emissions table, with a total input of nearly 18%. However, unlike China, the US can’t be allowed off the hook because of a massive population. With just over 4.5% of people living in the country, its carbon emission levels are shockingly high.

And the UK isn’t exactly sitting pretty. It’s tenth in the carbon emissions table, and boasts just over 0.9% of the world population.

In stark contrast, the Pacific Islands are way, way down on both carbon emission and population. Even when added together the ones on the list only contribute 0.05% of the world’s greenhouse gases, placing the PICs between Lebanon and Bolivia.

Click to enlarge. Infographic: Ben Willers.

The above infographic shows the gulf in both population and carbon levels between China and the US, and the PICs. Whilst China and the 15 combined PICs more or less produce carbon levels relative to their population, the US clearly doesn’t. It produces as much carbon as the bottom 194 countries combined but has a population equal to the bottom 129.

In reality, the majority of world’s countries release carbon at a relatively insignificant level. Therefore, put simply, it’s down to the top emitters to make the real difference. But sadly, we’re not currently doing enough.

The US, China to an extent and, yes, the UK and the rest of the top 10 polluters are all responsible for the near-term climate change problems that have led Kiribati to consider relocating to Fiji. But this is not a solution for the longer term—we can’t all move to Fiji.

At the end of last year, Japan announced that it was contributing $15m to support the clean energy drive in some of the world’s smallest nations that face an immediate threat from climate change.

While sustainable investment is always welcome, because of the aforementioned issues of scale, it really only serves to send out a signal to the rest of the world and raise the profile and immediacy of the threat.

Finding solutions to meet this very global challenge is what makes sustainable investment so important. Adopting a “not my problem, why should I care?” attitude can no longer be tolerated. We, the nations with the true power and influence to make a difference, must act now.

And you can be part of that revolution. Ask your financial adviser how you can invest money into funds and companies that don’t contribute to the PICs’ increasingly doomed existence or, even better, how you can let your money do sustainable work for you. If you can’t find an answer to your questions or if you don’t have an IFA, fill in our online form and we’ll connect you to a specialist.

What’s more, you can switch to 100% renewable energy at home and start reducing your carbon footprint immediately. Visit Good Energy to find out more.

Related links:

Rising sea levels force Pacific Islanders to relocate

Developing world at ‘extreme risk’ of climate change

Infographics: Ben Willers. Picture source: YXO.

Editors Choice

2017 Was the Most Expensive Year Ever for U.S. Natural Disaster Damage

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Natural Disaster Damage
Shutterstock / By Droidworker | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/droidworker

Devastating natural disasters dominated last year’s headlines and made many wonder how the affected areas could ever recover. According to data from the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the storms and other weather events that caused the destruction were extremely costly.

Specifically, the natural disasters recorded last year caused so much damage that the associated losses made 2017 the most expensive year on record in the 38-year history of keeping such data. The following are several reasons that 2017 made headlines for this notorious distinction.

Over a Dozen Events With Losses Totalling More Than $1 Billion Each

The NOAA reports that in total, the recorded losses equaled $306 billion, which is $90 billion more than the amount associated with 2005, the previous record holder. One of the primary reasons the dollar amount climbed so high last year is that 16 individual events cost more than $1 billion each.

Global Warming Contributed to Hurricane Harvey

Hurricane Harvey, one of two Category-4 hurricanes that made landfall in 2017, was a particularly expensive natural disaster. Nearly 800,000 people needed assistance after the storm. Hurricane Harvey alone cost $125 billion, with some estimates even higher than that. So far, the only hurricane more expensive than Harvey was Katrina.

Before Hurricane Harvey hit, scientists speculated climate change could make it worse. They discussed how rising ocean temperatures make hurricanes more intense, and warmer atmospheres have higher amounts of water vapor, causing larger rainfall totals.

Since then, a new study published in “Environmental Research Letters” confirmed climate change was indeed a factor that gave Hurricane Harvey more power. It found environmental conditions associated with global warming made the storm more severe and increase the likelihood of similar events.

That same study also compared today’s storms with ones from 1900. It found that compared to those earlier weather phenomena, Hurricane Harvey’s rainfall was 15 percent more intense and three times as likely to happen now versus in 1900.

Warming oceans are one of the contributing factors. Specifically, the ocean’s surface temperature associated with the region where Hurricane Harvey quickly transformed from a tropical storm into a Category 4 hurricane has become about 1 degree Fahrenheit warmer over the past few decades.

Michael Mann, a climatologist from Penn State University, believes that due to a relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation, there was about 3-5 percent more moisture in the air, which caused more rain. To complicate matters even more, global warming made sea levels rise by more than 6 inches in the Houston area over the past few decades. Mann also believes global warming caused the stationery summer weather patterns that made Hurricane Harvey stop moving and saturate the area with rain. Mann clarifies although global warming didn’t cause Hurricane Harvey as a whole, it exacerbated several factors of the storm.

Also, statistics collected by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from 1901-2015 found the precipitation levels in the contiguous 48 states had gone up by 0.17 inches per decade. The EPA notes the increase is expected because rainfall totals tend to go up as the Earth’s surface temperatures rise and additional evaporation occurs.

The EPA’s measurements about surface temperature indicate for the same timespan mentioned above for precipitation, the temperatures have gotten 0.14 Fahrenheit hotter per decade. Also, although the global surface temperature went up by 0.15 Fahrenheit during the same period, the temperature rise has been faster in the United States compared to the rest of the world since the 1970s.

Severe Storms Cause a Loss of Productivity

Many people don’t immediately think of one important factor when discussing the aftermath of natural disasters: the adverse impact on productivity. Businesses and members of the workforce in Houston, Miami and other cities hit by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma suffered losses that may total between $150-200 billion when both damage and sacrificed productivity are accounted for, according to estimates from Moody’s Analytics.

Some workers who decide to leave their homes before storms arrive delay returning after the immediate danger has passed. As a result of their absences, a labor-force shortage may occur. News sources posted stories highlighting that the Houston area might not have enough construction workers to handle necessary rebuilding efforts after Hurricane Harvey.

It’s not hard to imagine the impact heavy storms could have on business operations. However, companies that offer goods to help people prepare for hurricanes and similar disasters often find the market wants what they provide. While watching the paths of current storms, people tend to recall storms that took place years ago and see them as reminders to get prepared for what could happen.

Longer and More Disastrous Wildfires Require More Resources to Fight

The wildfires that ripped through millions of acres in the western region of the United States this year also made substantial contributions to the 2017 disaster-related expenses. The U.S. Forest Service, which is within the U.S. Department of Agriculture, reported 2017 as its costliest year ever and saw total expenditures exceeding $2 billion.

The agency anticipates the costs will grow, especially when they take past data into account. In 1995, the U.S. Forest Service spent 16 percent of its annual budget for wildfire-fighting costs, but in 2015, the amount ballooned to 52 percent. The sheer number of wildfires last year didn’t help matters either. Between January 1 and November 24 last year, 54,858 fires broke out.

2017: Among the Three Hottest Years Recorded

People cause the majority of wildfires, but climate change acts as another notable contributor. In addition to affecting hurricane intensity, rising temperatures help fires spread and make them harder to extinguish.

Data collected by the National Interagency Fire Center and published by the EPA highlighted a correlation between the largest wildfires and the warmest years on record. The extent of damage caused by wildfires has gotten worse since the 1980s, but became particularly severe starting in 2000 during a period characterized by some of the warmest years the U.S. ever recorded.

Things haven’t changed for the better, either. In mid-December of 2017, the World Meteorological Organization released a statement announcing the year would likely end as one of the three warmest years ever recorded. A notable finding since the group looks at global land and ocean temperature, not just statistics associated with the United States.

Not all the most financially impactful weather events in 2017 were hurricanes and wildfires. Some of the other issues that cost over $1 billion included a hailstorm in Colorado, tornados in several regions of the U.S. and substantial flooding throughout Missouri and Arkansas.

Although numerous factors gave these natural disasters momentum, scientists know climate change was a defining force — a reality that should worry just about everyone.

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Environment

How to be More eco-Responsible in 2018

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eco-responsible
Shutterstock / By KENG MERRY Paper Art | https://www.shutterstock.com/g/kengmerrymikeymelody

Nowadays, more and more people are talking about being more eco-responsible. There is a constant growth of information regarding the importance of being aware of ecological issues and the methods of using eco-friendly necessities on daily basis.

Have you been considering becoming more eco-responsible after the New Year? If so, here are some useful tips that could help you make the difference in the following year:

1. Energy – produce it, save it

If you’re building a house or planning to expand your living space, think before deciding on the final square footage. Maybe you don’t really need that much space. Unnecessary square footage will force you to spend more building materials, but it will also result in having to use extra heating, air-conditioning, and electricity in it.

It’s even better if you seek professional help to reduce energy consumption. An energy audit can provide you some great piece of advice on how to save on your energy bills.

While buying appliances such as a refrigerator or a dishwasher, make sure they have “Energy Star” label on, as it means they are energy-efficient.

energy efficient

Shutterstock Licensed Photo – By My Life Graphic

Regarding the production of energy, you can power your home with renewable energy. The most common way is to install rooftop solar panels. They can be used for producing electricity, as well as heat for the house. If powering the whole home is a big step for you, try with solar oven then – they trap the sunlight in order to heat food! Solar air conditioning is another interesting thing to try out – instead of providing you with heat, it cools your house!

2. Don’t be just another tourist

Think about the environment, as well your own enjoyment – try not to travel too far, as most forms of transport contribute to the climate change. Choose the most environmentally friendly means of transport that you can, as well as environmentally friendly accommodation. If you can go to a destination that is being recommended as an eco-travel destination – even better! Interesting countries such as Zambia, Vietnam or Nicaragua are among these destinations that are famous for its sustainability efforts.

3. Let your beauty be also eco-friendly

eco-friendly

Shutterstock / By Khakimullin Aleksandr

We all want to look beautiful. Unfortunately, sometimes (or very often) it comes with a price. Cruelty-free cosmetics are making its way on the world market but be careful with the labels – just because it says a product hasn’t been tested on animals, it doesn’t  mean that some of the product’s ingredients haven’t been tested on some poor animal.

To be sure which companies definitely stay away from the cruel testing on animals, check PETA Bunny list of cosmetic companies just to make sure which ones are truly and completely cruelty-free.

It’s also important if a brand uses toxic ingredients. Brands such as Tata Harper Skincare or Dr Bronner’s use only organic ingredients and biodegradable packaging, as well as being cruelty-free. Of course, this list is longer, so you’ll have to do some online research.

4. Know thy recycling

People often make mistakes while wanting to do something good for the environment. For example, plastic grocery bags, take-out containers, paper coffee cups and shredded paper cannot be recycled in your curb for many reasons, so don’t throw them into recycling bins. The same applies to pizza boxes, household glass, ceramics, and pottery – whether they are contaminated by grease or difficult to recycle, they just can’t go through the usual recycling process.

People usually forget to do is to rinse plastic and metal containers – they always have some residue, so be thorough. Also, bottle caps are allowed, too, so don’t separate them from the bottles. However, yard waste isn’t recyclable, so any yard waste or junk you are unsure of – just contact rubbish removal services instead of piling it up in public containers or in your own yard.

5. Fashion can be both eco-friendly and cool

Believe it or not, there are actually places where you can buy clothes that are eco-friendly, sustainable, as well as ethical. And they look cool, too! Companies like Everlane are very transparent about where their clothes are manufactured and how the price is set. PACT is another great company that uses non-GMO, organic cotton and non-toxic dyes for their clothing, while simultaneously using renewable energy factories. Soko is a company that uses natural and recycled materials in making their clothes and jewelry.

All in all

The truth is – being eco-responsible can be done in many ways. There are tons of small things we could change when it comes to our habits that would make a positive influence on the environment. The point is to start doing research on things that can be done by every person and it can start with the only thing that person has the control of – their own household.

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