Red-breasted Pygmy-parrot, photographed on 10 August 2009 in the Arfak mountains, West Papua, Indonesia. Photo: Collaertsbrothers / Flickr

17 January 2019 (Radboud University) – Currently approximately 600 species might be inaccurately assessed as non-threatened on the Red List of Threatened Species. More than a hundred others that couldn’t be assessed before, also appear to be threatened. A new more efficient, systematic and comprehensive approach to assess the extinction risk of animals has shown this. The method, designed by Radboud University ecologist Luca Santini and colleagues, is described in Conservation Biology on 17 January 2019.

Using their new method, the researchers’ predictions of extinction risks are quite consistent with the current published Red List assessments, and even a bit more optimistic overall. However, they found that 20% of 600 species that were impossible to assess before by Red List experts, are likely under threat of extinction, such as the brown-banded rail and Williamson’s mouse-deer. Also, 600 species that were assessed previously as being non-threatened, are actually likely to be threatened, such as the red-breasted pygmy parrot and the Ethiopian striped mouse. “This indicates that urgent re-assessment is needed of the current statuses of animal species on the Red List”, Santini says.

Limited amount of data leads to misclassification

Once every few years, specialized researchers voluntarily assess the conservation status of animal species in the world, which is then recorded in the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species. Species are classified into five extinction risk categories ranging from Least Concern to Critically Endangered, based on data such as species distribution, population size and recent trends.

“While this process is extremely important for conservation, experts often have a limited amount of data to apply the criteria to the more than 90,000 species that are currently covered by the Red List”, Santini says. “Often these data are of poor quality because they are outdated or inaccurate because certain species that live in very remote areas have not been properly studied. This might lead to species to be misclassified or not assessed at all.”

New method: information and statistics lead to more efficiency

It’s time for a more efficient, systematic and comprehensive approach, according to Santini and his colleagues. They designed a new method that provides Red List experts with additional independent information, which should help them to better assess species.

The method uses information from land cover maps, that show how the distribution of species in the world has changed over time. The researchers’ method couples this information with statistical models to estimate a number of additional parameters, such as species’ abilities to move through fragmented landscapes, to classify species into a Red List extinction risk category.

Algorithms for a more dynamic Red List

The new approach is meant to complement the traditional methods of Red List assessments. “As the Red List grows, keeping it updated becomes a daunting task. Algorithms that use near-real time remote sensing products to scan across vast species lists, and flag those that may be nearing extinction, can improve dramatically the timeliness and effectiveness of the Red List”, says Carlo Rondinini, Director of the Global Mammal Assessment Programme for the Red List.

Santini: “Our vision is that our new method will soon be automated so that data is re-updated every year with new land cover information. Thus, our method really can speed up the process and provide an early warning system by pointing specifically to species that should be re-assessed quickly.”


More animal species under threat of extinction, new method shows

Effect of decreasing proportions of population size and suitable habitat on the number of Data Deficient species predicted to be threatened, and the number of species predicted to be more threatened than currently classified under Red List criteria. Graphic: Santini, et al., 2019 / Conservation Biology

ABSTRACT: The IUCN Red List categories and criteria are the most widely used framework for assessing the relative extinction risk of species. The criteria are based on quantitative thresholds relating to the size, trends and structure of species’ distributions and populations. However, data on these parameters are sparse and uncertain for many species and unavailable for others, potentially leading to their misclassification, or classification as Data Deficient.

Here we propose an approach combining data on land‐cover change and species‐specific habitat preferences, population abundance and dispersal distance to estimate key parameters (extent of occurrence, maximum area of occupancy, population size and trend, and degree of fragmentation) and hence IUCN Red List categories.

We demonstrate the applicability of our approach for non‐pelagic birds and terrestrial mammals globally (∼15,000 species), generating predictions fairly consistent with published Red List assessments, but more optimistic overall. We predict 4.2% of species (467 birds and 143 mammals) to be more threatened than currently assessed, and 20.2% of Data Deficient species (10 birds and 114 mammals) to be at risk of extinction. However, incorporating the habitat fragmentation sub‐criterion reduced these predictions 1.5‐2.3% and 6.4‐14.9% (depending on the quantitative definition of fragmentation) of threatened and Data Deficient species respectively, highlighting the need for improved guidance to Red List assessors on applying this aspect of the Red List criteria.

Our approach can be used to complement traditional methods of estimating parameters for Red List assessments. Furthermore, it can readily provide an early warning system to identify species potentially warranting changes in their extinction risk category based on periodic updates of land cover information. Given that our method relies on optimistic assumptions about species distribution and abundance, all species predicted to be more at risk than currently evaluated should be prioritized for reassessment.

Applying habitat and population‐density models to land‐cover time series to inform IUCN red list assessments

President Donald Trump pauses while speaking about the partial government shutdown, immigration and border security in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House, in Washington, Saturday, 19 January 2019. A painting of George Washington is visible in the background. Photo: Alex Brandon / AP Photo

By Hope Yen and Calvin Woodward
20 January 2019

WASHINGTON (AP) – There’s nothing like a cold snap to bring out the global-warming skepticism of President Donald Trump.

The fact that periods of extreme cold happen in a warming climate is well known by his government but Trump’s crack Sunday — “Wouldn’t be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming right now!” — suggests that hasn’t sunk in for the president.

Over the past week and through the weekend, Trump and his team misstated the reality on myriad issues, many connected with the partial government shutdown, Trump’s proposed wall and the Russia investigation. Here’s a look: […]

TRUMP: “Large parts of the Country are suffering from tremendous amounts of snow and near record setting cold. Amazing how big this system is. Wouldn’t be bad to have a little of that good old fashioned Global Warming right now!” — tweet Sunday.

THE FACTS: Trump is suggesting, as he has done before, that global warming can’t exist if it’s cold outside. But he is conflating weather and climate. Weather is like mood, which changes daily. Climate is like personality, which is long term.

The climate is warming, which still allows for intense cold spells.

While much of the United States was frigid Sunday, that is still less than 2 percent of the world. Earth on Sunday was about 0.9 degrees (0.5 Celsius) warmer than from 1979-2000, according to the University of Maine’s Climate Reanalyzer.

The White House in November produced the National Climate Assessment by scientists from 13 Trump administration agencies and outside scientists. It amounted to a slap in the face for those who question whether climate is changing.

“Climate change is transforming where and how we live and presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life, the economy, and the natural systems that support us,” the report says.

The White House report swept aside the idea, already discredited, that a particular plunge in temperatures can cast uncertainty on whether Earth is warming. It says more than 90 percent of current warming is caused by humans: “There are no credible alternative human or natural explanations supported by the observational evidence.” [more]

AP FACT CHECK: Trump’s murky claims on weather, shutdown

CO2 emissions from developed fossil fuel reserves, compared to carbon budgets (as of January 2018) within range of the Paris climate goals. Graphic: Oil Change International

By Ivana Kottasová
18 January 2019

LONDON (CNN Business) – America's push for oil and gas supremacy could lead to a "climate catastrophe," a new report has warned.

The report by Oil Change International said that the United States is set to "unleash the world's largest burst" of carbon emissions from new oil and gas development if it goes ahead with its plans to expand drilling.

"At precisely the time in which the world must begin rapidly decarbonizing to avoid runaway climate disaster, the United States is moving further and faster than any other country to expand oil and gas extraction," the report said.

The United States became the world's largest oil producer last year, surpassing Russia and Saudi Arabia. America's oil output has more than doubled over the past decade, mostly thanks to the huge shale oil boom.

CO2 emissions unlocked by new U.S. oil and gas development, 2018-2050. Graphic: Oil Change International

The International Energy Agency said Friday that US oil output soared by more than 2 million barrels per day in 2018, the biggest jump ever recorded by any country. The agency, which monitors energy markets trends for the world's richest nations, said the growth will continue this year. […]

The report by Oil Change International said that existing oil and gas fields and coal mines already contain enough carbon to push the world beyond the goals of the Paris Agreement.

    "Stopping new projects alone will not be enough to keep warming well below" 2 degrees Celsius, it said.

    "To limit catastrophic climate change, governments must manage the decline of the fossil fuel industry, and do so over the next few decades," it added. [more]

    America's oil boom is terrible for the climate

    Projected annual CO2 emissions of U.S.-produced oil and gas, 2010-2050, by current stage of development. Graphic: Oil Change International

    By Kelly Trout
    16 January 2019

    (Oil Change International) – A new study released by Oil Change International and 17 partner organizations examines the urgent need for U.S. leadership to manage a rapid and just decline of fossil fuel production.

    The United States should be a global leader in winding down fossil fuel use and production. Instead, the U.S. oil and gas industry is gearing up to unleash the largest burst of new carbon emissions in the world between now and 2050. At precisely the time in which the world must begin rapidly decarbonizing to avoid runaway climate disaster, the United States is moving further and faster than any other country to expand oil and gas extraction.

    Top Countries by Increase in Oil and Gas Production to 2030 (over 2017 baseline). Data: Rystad Energy (November 2018). Graphic: Oil Change International

    Key findings include:

    • Unprecedented Oil & Gas Expansion: Between 2018 and 2050, U.S. drilling into new oil and gas reserves could unlock 120 billion metric tons of new carbon pollution, which is equivalent to the lifetime CO2 emissions of nearly 1,000 coal-fired power plants. If not curtailed, U.S. oil and gas expansion will impede the rest of the world’s ability to manage a climate-safe, equitable decline of oil and gas production.
    • Expansion Hot Spots: Some 90% of U.S. drilling into new oil and gas reserves through 2050 would depend on fracking; nearly 60% of the carbon emissions enabled by new U.S. drilling would come from the epicenters of fracking – the Permian Basin of Texas and New Mexico and the Appalachian Basin across Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio.
    • Coal – Too Much Already: Given U.S. coal mining should be phased out by 2030 or sooner if the world is to equitably achieve the Paris Agreement goals, at least 70% of the coal in existing U.S. mines should stay in the ground.

    Global oil and gas use in a 1.5°C low-demand pathway, compared to projected U.S. oil and gas production, 2010 to 2050. Graphic: Oil Change International

    These findings show that leadership is urgently needed towards a U.S. fossil fuel phase-out that aligns with climate limits, takes care of workers and communities on its front lines, and builds a more healthy and just economy for all in the process.

    Key recommendations for what U.S. policymakers must do to show real climate leadership:

    1. Ban new leases or permits for new fossil fuel exploration, production, and infrastructure;
    2. Plan for the phase-out of existing fossil fuel projects in a way that prioritizes environmental justice;
    3. End subsidies and other public finance for the fossil fuel industry;
    4. Champion a Green New Deal that ensures a just transition to 100 percent renewable energy; and
    5. Reject the influence of fossil fuel money over U.S. energy policy.

    Drilling Towards Disaster: Why U.S. Oil and Gas Expansion Is Incompatible with Climate Limits

    Number of very hot days in Canberra, Australia, 1914-2018. The red curve is a quasipoisson regression. Graphic: Tamino / Open Mind

    By Tamino
    19 January 2019

    (Open Mind) – We’ve spoken before (as have many before us) of the fact that climate isn’t just about the average, it’s about the whole distribution (the probability distribution if you want to get technical).

    We also emphasized that the tails of the distribution — the probabilities for extreme values (very very cold or very very hot, if we’re talking about temperature) can change profoundly when we shift the distribution left or right, without otherwise changing its shape; we illustrated this with July temperature in Moscow:

    Probability distribution of July temperature for Moscow, before and after the year 2000. Graphic: Tamino / Open Mind

    It set me to wondering, how do things look down under?

    I got daily data from the Australian Bureau of Meteorology for over 100 stations across the continent (their “ACORN” data set), and searched them for “very hot days.” I defined a “very hot day” as one with a high temperature of 100°F (37.78°F) or higher. I hope the Aussies can forgive me for using a definition based on an arbitrary choice (triple-digits) for an arcane (Fahrenheit) temperature scale … but Americans understand it, and few can argue that 100°F or higher makes for a very hot day.

    I counted how many hot days occur each year, defining the “year” as July-through-June so that summer (Dec-Jan-Feb for southern hemisphererians) won’t be split across years. Then I fit a straight line by least squares, just to test whether or not there’s a trend and which way it’s going. To be eligible, I insisted that a station must have had at least 5 hot days since records began (for most stations, the year 1910). […]

    We can do exactly the same analysis for a station which is in a very hot part of Australia, Alice Springs. […]

    Number of very hot days in Alice Springs, Australia, 1911-2018. Graphic: Tamino / Open Mind

    The number of very hot days each year (100°F or hotter) has nearly tripled. All temperature from 37°C (98.6°F) and above are more likely. Note that about once a year they would reach 41°C (105.8°F) or more, but these days about once a year they’ll make it up to 43°C (109.4°F). Not only have heat waves gotten more frequent and hotter, in places like Alice Springs they’re reaching extremely dangerous levels. [more]

    The Oz Heat Distribution

    Significant loss events in 2018 by overall losses. Wildfire in California caused the highest losses of $16.5 billion. Graphic: Munich Re

    By Petra Löw
    8 January 2019

    (Munich Re) – When compared with the record losses of the previous year from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, the indications at the start of 2018 were that it would be a more moderate year. However, the second half of the year saw an accumulation of billion-dollar losses from floods, tropical cyclones in the US and Japan, wildfires and earthquakes. The overall economic impact was US$ 160bn, of which US$ 80bn was insured.

    A comparison with the last 30 years shows that 2018 was above the inflation-adjusted overall loss average of US$ 140bn. The figure for insured losses – US$ 80bn – was significantly higher than the 30-year average of US$ 41bn. 2018 therefore ranks among the ten costliest disaster years in terms of overall losses, and was the fourth-costliest year since 1980 for the insurance industry.

    In particular, Hurricanes Michael and Florence in the Atlantic, and Typhoons Jebi, Mangkhut and Trami in Asia, all left their mark. Overall losses from tropical cyclones in 2018 came to roughly US$ 57bn, of which US$ 29bn was insured. There was also an extremely high impact from wildfires in California that produced overall losses of US$ 24bn and insured losses of US$ 18bn. Over the course of the year, 29 events each resulted in an overall loss of US$ 1bn or more.

    Roughly 50% of global macroeconomic losses from natural catastrophes in 2018 were insured, a significantly higher percentage than the long-term average of 28%. North America accounted for 68% of insured losses, Asia for 23% and Europe for 8%. The remaining losses of less than 1% were divided between South America, Africa, Australia, and Oceania.

    Payouts by the insurance industry helped to boost catastrophe resilience, in other words the ability after a disaster to return to normality as quickly as possible. However, industrialised countries still account for the vast majority of insurance payouts following natural catastrophes. There has been a steadily growing willingness in these countries to take out cover against natural hazards since the 1980s. The situation with insurance protection in emerging and developing countries is quite different, despite the fact that, for financially weak and low-income countries, improving risk management and resilience-building systems is an important way of mitigating the impact of humanitarian disasters and promoting sustainable economic growth.

    Insured and uninsured global losses from natural disasters in 2018. Graphic: Munich Re

    Regrettably, 10,400 people around the world lost their lives in natural disasters this year. This groups 2018 with the years 2016, 2014, 2000, and three other years in the 1980s, in which the victim toll was around 10,000. Geophysical events accounted for 34% of all fatalities. This is much lower than the 49% figure over the period 1980–2017. Storm events claimed 24% of the victims, roughly the same as the 26% average since 1980. However, the picture was very different for the number of lives lost in flood events; this year's figure of 35% was substantially higher than the 14% average. The reason for this was large-scale flood events in Asia and Africa.

    Earthquakes with and without tsunamis in August, September, and December in Indonesia claimed the lives of over 3,000 people. These proved to be the events with the highest number of fatalities in 2018, followed by floods in India, Japan and Nigeria. Worldwide, 273 people were killed in wildfires over the course of the year. This is the second-highest number in the time series since 1980 and is only surpassed by the extensive fires in Indonesia in 1997, which claimed the lives of 375 people. Heading the list in 2018 were fires in Greece with 100 fatalities and the US with 108.

    Number of events

    The Munich Re NatCatSERVICE registered 850 events in 2018. Geophysical events such as earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions accounted for 5% of the total. Storms made up 42%, floods, flash floods and landslides 46%, while 7% fell into the categories of heat, cold and wildfire. Generally speaking, the distribution followed the long-term trend towards a greater number of storms and floods. The continents most affected were Asia (43%), North America (20%), Europe (14%), and Africa (13%).

    Munich Re ( categorises events from small loss to major disaster according to overall losses and/or number of victims. On this basis, 12% of events in 2018 fall into the highest categories 3 and 4 (severe events and catastrophes). Category 2 makes up 28% and category 1 (small-scale loss events) 60%. This continues the trend towards a greater number of small-scale, high-frequency events with a lower magnitude of loss. This is the category most strongly influenced by reporting, and is therefore subject to the greatest uncertainty.

    The year in figures – Regional

    North America (including Central America and the Caribbean): North America was badly hit by two types of event in particular. Firstly, the 2018 hurricane season again resulted in high losses of US$ 31bn, of which US$ 15bn was insured. Hurricanes Michael and Florence were responsible for the bulk of the burden. These losses are admittedly far short of the record overall loss of nearly US$ 230bn in 2017 and insured losses of US$ 93bn. In addition, billion-dollar losses resulted from major wildfires, such as the Carr Fire that devastated California in July/August and the Camp and Woolsey Fires of November. Taken together, these events caused overall losses of US$ 24bn, of which US$ 18bn was insured. A total of 110 people were killed in 15 major wildfires.

    163 natural catastrophe events were registered across the American continent, producing overall losses of US$ 82bn, of which US$ 53bn was insured. More than 800 people lost their lives. The highest number of fatalities was 165 from the de Fuego volcanic eruption in Guatemala. A heatwave in Canada in June and July, mainly affecting the greater Montreal region, pushed temperatures above 35°C. It is anticipated that there will have been an additional 100 fatalities from this event when compared with average annual mortality.

    Significant loss events in 2018 by insured losses. Wildfire in California caused the highest insured losses of $12.5 billion. Graphic: Munich Re

    South America: South America experienced an extremely low number of natural disasters in 2018. The NatCatSERVICE database registered just 51 significant events. A total of 144 people were killed and losses amounted to some US$ 1bn. There were 72% hydrological events, consisting primarily of flooding, flash floods and landslides. Other categories included storms (20%), earthquakes (6%) and climatological events (around 2%).

    Europe: Europe can look back on a loss year that was similar to 2014, 2015 and 2017, with a total of 113 events and overall losses of US$ 16bn (€13.5bn). Some US$ 6bn (€5bn) was paid out in insured losses. In particular, the severe drought that affected large areas of Europe in 2018 resulted in widespread losses in agriculture and forestry. This drought produced an overall loss of around US$ 3.9bn (€3.3bn), making it the year's costliest event in Europe. Only a small portion of this (US$ 280m or €230m) was insured. In addition, two winter storms, Friederike and Burglind, swept across Europe in January, leaving in their wake overall losses of US$ 4bn (€3.1bn), of which around US$ 3bn (€2.4bn) was insured. In mid-October, the remnants of Tropical Storm Leslie battered France, Portugal and Spain. With wind speeds of up to 170 km/h, accompanied by heavy rainfall, the US$ 350m (€310m) in property damage was mainly caused by flash floods and landslides. Roughly US$ 50m of the total was insured. Shortly afterwards, a further storm developed that primarily affected Italy, Croatia and Slovenia along the Adriatic coast. In some cases, strong gusts of the local Bora wind swept over coastal regions. Losses came to US$ 3.5bn (€3bn), making this the second-costliest event in Europe after the drought. The deadliest events in 2018 also included the wildfires in Greece, which claimed 100 lives, and a cold snap in February and March that led to 77 fatalities.

    Africa: Around 100 significant events were registered for the continent of Africa. Almost 1,200 people were killed, the majority in flood events and flash floods in Nigeria and Kenya. Overall losses for 2018 are estimated at US$ 1.4bn. Because of the low insurance density, however, insured losses are extremely low.

    Asia: Asia was the worst-affected continent in terms of the number of events. It accounted for 43% of all events worldwide and for 74% of fatalities in 2018. Overall losses came to US$ 59bn. This corresponds to roughly 37% of the global loss burden. US$ 18bn of the total was insured, which corresponds to just 24% of insurance industry payouts worldwide. A total of 7,750 people lost their lives in natural disasters in the region, with Japan and Indonesia particularly affected.

    In Japan, even though just 14 events were registered, these included five events with losses in excess of one billion dollars. In July, intense rainfall led to flooding, accompanied in some cases by severe flash floods and landslides in a number of major cities, including Hiroshima, Kyoto and Osaka. Overall losses came to US$ 9.5bn and insured losses to US$ 2.4bn. In September, the two tropical storms Jebi and Trami made landfall, causing widespread devastation. Here too, losses mounted up, and together the two storms produced overall losses of US$ 15.9bn, with insured losses of roughly US$ 11.6bn. Two earthquake events also accounted for a substantial portion of the loss burden. In June and September, quakes struck the prefectures of Osaka and Hokkaido, pushing losses up by a further US$ 9bn. Japan suffered US$ 34bn in losses from natural disasters in 2018, of which US$ 16bn was insured.

    Indonesia was hit extremely hard by tsunami events. These were triggered by earthquakes and undersea landslides that occurred on the slopes of the active volcano Anak Krakatau. In September, a tremor near the city of Palu and a subsequent tsunami killed more than 2,000 people and caused billions of dollars in property damage. Towards the end of the year, a further tsunami occurred after the volcano Anak Krakatau erupted. An underwater landslide triggered a tsunami that claimed more than 400 victims. The loss for insurers is likely to be slight, as few of those affected were insured. Higher insurance penetration in such countries could help them deal more swiftly with the financial consequences of natural disasters. 

    Australia/Oceania: Around 40 events in Australia and Oceania caused overall losses of approximately US$ 1.5bn, of which US$ 540m was insured. On 20 December 2018, a hailstorm in Sydney caused insured losses of at least US$ 200m, making it one of Australia’s ten largest hail losses of all time. Smaller losses were incurred in Australia and New Zealand from cyclones, storms, wildfires and flash floods. Overall losses from individual events, such as the earthquake in Papua New Guinea in February, and Cyclone Gita on Tonga, remained in the low hundreds of millions of dollars. 164 people lost their lives in the region, the majority of them in the earthquake on Papua New Guinea.

    The natural disasters of 2018 in figures

    Cover of the World Economic Forum report, “Global Risks Report 2019”. Graphic: WEF

    20 January 2019 (Desdemona Despair) – At the beginning of each year, the World Economic Forum publishes its Global Risks Report, which  “presents the results of our latest Global Risks Perception Survey, in which nearly 1,000 decision-makers from the public sector, private sector, academia and civil society assess the risks facing the world.”

    In 2019, for the first time, abrupt climate change tops the list of concerns (cf. Davos climate obsessions contain clues for policymaking – The environment has replaced the economy and finance on the global elite’s worry list.)

    But another theme emerged: the rise of anger globally and the tribalization of politics. “Where opposing political groups previously expressed frustration with each other, they now express fear and anger. […] Anger has long been associated with loss of status.” The WEF report suggests that the impoverishment of the public sector, as well as increasing within-country wealth inequality are driving anger and populist movements. With global debt skyrocketing to a higher value than before the 2008 financial crisis, don’t expect the anger to abate any time in the foreseeable future.

    Net private and public wealth, 1970–2015

    Net private and public wealth 1970–2015 (percent of national income) in Germany, France, Spain, the United Kingdom, Japan, and the United States. Data: World Inequality Database, Graphic: WEF

    Page 11: High levels of global indebtedness were one of the specific financial vulnerabilities we highlighted last year. These concerns have not eased. The total global debt burden is now significantly higher than it was before the global financial crisis, at around 225% of GDP. In its latest Global Financial Stability Report, the IMF notes that in countries with systemically significant financial sectors, the debt burden is higher still, at 250% of GDP—this compares with a figure of 210% in 2008. In addition, a tightening of global financial conditions has placed particular strain on countries that built up dollar-denominated liabilities while interest rates were low. By October last year, more than 45% of low-income countries were in or at high risk of debt distress, up from one-third in 2016.

    Inequality continues to be seen as an important driver of the global risks landscape. “Rising income and wealth disparity” ranked fourth in GRPS respondents’ list of underlying trends. Although global inequality has dipped this millennium, within-country inequality has continued to rise. New research published last year attributes economic inequality largely to widening divergences between public and private levels of capital ownership over the past 40 years: “Since 1980, very large transfers of public to private wealth occurred in nearly all countries, whether rich or emerging. While national wealth has substantially increased, public wealth is now negative or close to zero in rich countries”.

    Coupled with political polarization, inequality erodes a country’s social fabric in an economically damaging way: as cohesion and trust diminish, economic performance is likely to follow. One study attempts to quantify by how much various countries’ per capita income would hypothetically increase if their levels of trust were as high as they are in Sweden. Even in richer developed countries, the estimated gains would be significant, ranging from 6% in the United Kingdom to 17% in Italy. In some other countries they are much greater: 29% in the Czech Republic, 59% in Mexico and 69% in Russia. Given these results, it is sobering that the 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer categorizes 20 of the 28 countries surveyed as “distrusters”. Beyond economic impacts, eroding trust is part of a wider pattern that threatens to corrode the social contract in many countries. This is an era of strong-state politics, but also one of weakening national communities.

    Global foreign direct investment inward flows, 2015-2019

    Global foreign direct investment (FDI) inward flows (US$ billions), 2015-2019. Data: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Graphic: WEF

    Page 28: The past year’s developments in foreign direct investment (FDI) are arguably even more significant than trade tensions. As discussed in the 2018 Global Risks Report, outward investment has become more associated with geopolitical positioning. As a result, caution towards inward investment is growing. Because FDI creates economic facts on the ground in a way that trade flows do not, this is an area where increasing geo-economic competition could sow seeds of tensions that take years to grow and years more to resolve. Western countries in particular have been sharpening their power to block investments in strategic sectors, particularly emerging technologies—raising the prospect of a partial unwinding of globalization in investment, as in trade. […]

    As with trade, if the climate for cross-border investment flows continues to worsen it will hamper global economic growth and risk creating a vicious circle in which economic and geopolitical tensions aggravate each other. The data already point to a sharp fall-off in FDI in 2017, despite other macroeconomic indicators being solid. This trend continued in the first half of 2018.

    If this were to be sustained, it would leave many states — particularly smaller or weaker ones — having to make painful choices between securing investment for growth and maintaining fiscal control and strategic independence.

    Negative and Positive Experience Index, 2006-2017

    Negative Experience Index (left) and Positive Experience Index (right), 2006-2017. Every year Gallup takes a large-scale snapshot of the world’s emotional state. It asks respondents—154,000 across more than 145 countries in 2017 — whether they had various positive and negative experiences on the preceding day. Overall, the positive experiences (such as smiling, respect and learning) comfortably outstrip the negative (which include pain, worry and sadness) — but the trend lines are worrying. As illustrated by these graphs, the positive experience index (a composite measure of five positive experiences) has been relatively steady since the survey began in 2006. Meanwhile, the negative experience index has broken upwards over the past five years. In 2017, almost four in ten people said they had experienced a lot of worry or stress the day before; three in ten experienced a lot of physical pain; and two in ten experienced a lot of anger. Data: Gallup 2018 Global Emotions Report. Graphic: WEF

    Page 34: Every year Gallup takes a large-scale snapshot of the world’s emotional state. It asks respondents—154,000 across more than 145 countries in 2017 — whether they had various positive and negative experiences on the preceding day. Overall, the positive experiences (such as smiling, respect and learning) comfortably outstrip the negative (which include pain, worry and sadness) — but the trend lines are worrying.

    As illustrated by these graphs, the positive experience index (a composite measure of five positive experiences) has been relatively steady since the survey began in 2006. Meanwhile, the negative experience index has broken upwards over the past five years. In 2017, almost four in ten people said they had experienced a lot of worry or stress the day before; three in ten experienced a lot of physical pain; and two in ten experienced a lot of anger.

    Although still the least prevalent of Gallup’s negative experiences, anger is commonly referenced as the defining emotion of the zeitgeist. Some suggest this is an “age of anger”, noting a “tremendous increase in mutual hatred.” And while it is conceivable that public anger can be a unifying and catalysing force — a hope often expressed at the start of the decade in relation to the Arab Spring — it has since come to be seen more as politically divisive and societally corrosive.

    In the United States, public opinion researchers note that where opposing political groups previously expressed frustration with each other, they now express fear and anger. In one survey, almost a third of respondents reported having stopped talking to a family member or friend over the 2016 presidential election. In another, 68% of Americans said they were angry at least once a day; women reported themselves more angry than men, as did the middle class relative to their richer and poorer peers.

    Anger has long been associated with loss of status. Recent research also suggests a strong link with group identity. The risk is that this combination generates angry polarization — an increasingly prevalent feature of politics in many countries. And as further explored in the technology section below, in recent years group identities have been hardened by a process of “social sorting” that has eroded traditional, cross-cutting societal ties.

    Life prospects in various countries, 2016

    Life Prospects in various countries, 2016. “Will you have had a better or worse life than your parents’ generation?” (% of respondents). Data: Ipsos Global Trends, 2016. Graphic: WEF

    Page 36: Another important generational pattern relates to expectations of increasing quality of life. As illustrated by Figure 3.2, there is significant variation across countries in terms of young people’s perceptions of how their lives will compare to those of their parents. Only 5% of survey respondents in China expect to live a worse life than their parents, compared with 30% in the United States and the United Kingdom and almost 60% in France.

    Within affluent countries, wealth affects well-being in complex ways. The prevalence of anxiety disorders is higher among lower-income groups. But attitudes towards money matter too — researchers have linked reduced well-being to societal shifts away from intrinsic motivations (related to community feeling and affiliation) and towards extrinsic motivations (related to financial success and social status). This is generationally significant: in one US study, 81% of 18- to 25-year-olds said that getting rich was their generation’s top or second goal, compared to 62% of 26- to 39-year-olds.

    The Global Risks Report 2019

    South Texas Rancher Alonzo Peeler Jr. stands near land where all the vegetation has died, he believes because of contaminants leaking out of a coal ash waste pond behind this fence. “The toxic pollution leaking from these coal ash dumps is threatening our family’s ranch and our heritage,” said Jason Peeler, who helps run the Peeler Ranch. “We’ve asked the power company to stop polluting our land and clean up the mess. But their response has been to threaten to seize our land through eminent domain instead of cleaning it up. It’s outrageous — and an example of how coal ash pollution can cause real damage.” Photo: Ari Phillips / Environmental Integrity Project

    AUSTIN, Texas, 17 January 2019 (Earthjustice) – Toxic coal ash pollutants are leaking into groundwater surrounding 100 percent of Texas’s power plants for which data are available, with unsafe levels of arsenic, cobalt, lithium, and other pollutants seeping from the ash dumps, according to an analysis by the Environmental Integrity Project (EIP).

    Industry groundwater monitoring data made publicly available for the first time in 2018 thanks to a new requirement in federal coal ash regulations reveal multiple contaminants leaching from 16 of 16 coal-fired power plants in Texas to which the new rules apply.

    EIP’s report, Groundwater Contamination from Texas Coal Ash Dumps, with analysis from Earthjustice, concludes that both the fossil fuel industry and Texas regulators have consistently failed to protect Texas groundwater.

    “We found contamination everywhere we looked, poisoning groundwater aquifers and recreational fishing spots across the state,” said Environmental Integrity Project Attorney Abel Russ, an author of the report. “This confirms that dumping large volumes of toxic waste in poorly-lined pits is a terrible idea. The problem is unfortunately going to get even worse unless Texas power plants change the way they dispose of coal ash.”

    Lisa Evans, Senior Counsel for Earthjustice, said: “At a time when the Trump administration is working overtime to gut the federal coal ash rule, this report shows we actually need stronger health safeguards to protect the public. The toxic pollution in Texas will get much worse if the Trump administration gets its way.”

    Across the U.S., coal-fired power plants produce more than 100 million tons per year of toxic coal ash, which for decades has been dumped in unlined and poorly designed disposal sites that are vulnerable to leaks and spills.

    Map showing Texas power plants polluting groundwater with coal ash. An Environmental Integrity Project examination of power company data made available for the first time in 2018 found that all (16 of 16) of the coal-fired power plants in Texas for which records are available are leaking unsafe levels of contaminants into groundwater. Graphic: Environmental Integrity Project

    Following a disastrous coal ash spill in Kingston, Tennessee, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2015 established the nation’s first federal coal ash regulations. But the Trump administration has now started to weaken and delay implementation of these rules and promises to shift more responsibility to the states.

    Texas regulators drafted a preliminary version of their own state regulations in August 2018. However, the state proposal was deeply flawed because it would not restore groundwater or protect aquatic life, require the cleanup of all leaking ash dumps, ensure sufficient monitoring, or provide adequate public notification.

    Other main findings in the Environmental Integrity Project report include:

    • With one or two exceptions, none of Texas’s coal ash disposal units meet EPA liner design criteria — so they are all effectively unlined, which causes leaking.
    • Twelve of the 16 coal plants examined in Texas have unsafe levels of arsenic in the nearby groundwater, with some concentrations up to 100 micrograms per liter. That’s 10 times higher than the EPA Maximum Contaminant Level for arsenic, which causes multiple types of cancer.
    • Nine plants have unsafe levels of boron in the groundwater, which is toxic to both humans and aquatic life.
    • Thirteen plants appear to be leaking unsafe levels of cobalt, which can harm the heart, blood, and other organs.
    • Ten Texas coal plants have unsafe levels of lithium, which causes neurological problems, in groundwater, with concentrations frequently exceeding 1,000 micrograms per liter. That’s 25 times the health-based groundwater protection standard.

    The worst groundwater contamination in Texas from coal ash, according to utility data analyzed in EIP’s report, is an hour south of San Antonio, at the San Miguel Electric Co-Op power plant in Jourdantown.

    There, the groundwater beneath a nearby fifth-generation cattle ranch owned by the Peeler family is being polluted by leakage from the power company’s three coal ash waste ponds. Arsenic (a carcinogen) is in the groundwater exceeding EPA’s maximum contaminant level by up to 12 times; and cadmium, which causes kidney and bone damage, exceeds safe levels by 130 fold. High levels of boron, beryllium, and lithium have also been detected, according to utility monitoring data.

    Aerial view of the San Miguel Electric Plant south of San Antonio, the most contaminated coal ash site in Texas. The site is owned and operated by the San Miguel Electric Cooperative, Inc. Photo: Environmental Integrity Project

    “The toxic pollution leaking from these coal ash dumps is threatening our family’s ranch and our heritage,” said Jason Peeler, who helps run the Peeler Ranch. “We’ve asked the power company to stop polluting our land and clean up the mess. But their response has been to threaten to seize our land through eminent domain instead of cleaning it up. It’s outrageous — and an example of how coal ash pollution can cause real damage.”

    Other local examples of groundwater contamination across Texas highlighted in the report include:

    • At the Calaveras Power Station near San Antonio, operated next to Calaveras Lake by CPS Energy, the municipal utility serving San Antonio, levels of cobalt in the groundwater exceed health-based thresholds by up to 36 fold, among other contaminants.
    • At the Welsh power plant east of Dallas, cobalt in groundwater reaches more than 600 micrograms per liter, which is more than 100 times higher than safe levels.
    • At the Martin Lake plant east of Tyler, which sits on the edge of a popular fishing lake, groundwater is contaminated with concentrations of boron ranging as high as 69 mg/L, more than twenty times higher than EPA’s drinking water advisory.
    • At the Gibbons Creek facility northwest of Houston, multiple wells have beryllium levels that are 10, 20, or even 30 times greater than the federal drinking water standards. Beryllium has been associated with damage to bones and lungs.
    • At the W.A. Parish Electric Generating Station southwest of Houston, levels of chromium, a carcinogen, in the groundwater exceeds health standards by as much as double; and levels of manganese, a neurotoxin, are as much as 14 times too high.

    “This report makes it clear that when polluters burn coal in Texas, they continue to burden communities with an expensive, unnecessary, and dangerous legacy of pollution,” said Chrissy Mann, Senior Campaign Representative for the Sierra Club’s Texas Beyond Coal Campaign. “Texas can move rapidly past coal with clean energy solutions like wind, solar and storage that are readily available and cost effective to replace existing coal plants.”

    EIP’s report recommends several ways that Texas can solve the problem of leaking coal ash waste sites, including by requiring the clean up or containment of pollution from ash dumps, whether they are active or inactive; mandating better monitoring of groundwater; and ensuring that coal ash is not buried beneath the water table.

    Read the report.

    Records Show 100 Percent of Texas Coal Power Plants Contaminating Groundwater

    Antarctic sea ice extent has been running well below all other years during the first two weeks of January 2019. Graphic: National Snow and Ice Data Center

    By Bob Henson 
    16 January 2019

    (Weather Underground) – Just two years after shrinking to its lowest extent ever measured, Antarctic sea ice may challenge that record a few weeks from now. This depletion comes just as scientists reported a harrowing sixfold increase in the loss of Antarctic land ice over the last 40 years. Unlike land ice, the loss of sea ice doesn’t contribute to sea level rise in itself, but it could help make some of Antarctica’s land ice more vulnerable (see below).

    The extent of ice cover encircling the Antarctic coast began taking a nosedive in December, dropping even more quickly than usual for the time of year (late spring in the Southern Hemisphere). Since December 25, Antarctic ice extent has set calendar-day record lows every day for more than three solid weeks. Satellite-based records from the National Snow and Ice Data Center go back to 1979.

    Typically, Antarctic ice reaches its minimum for the year in late February or early March (late summer). As of Monday, January 14, the extent was 3.979 million sq km, which is well below the value of 4.154 million sq km observed on that date in 2017. We still have a few weeks to go before 2019’s extent can challenge the lowest value measured at any time of year: 2.110 million square kilometers, observed on March 3, 2017.

    A new all-time record-low extent isn’t yet a slam dunk, according to polar climate expert Cecilia Bitz (University of Washington). “The minimum won't happen for another 40 days or so, and the weather between now and the minimum could shrink or grow the margin that exists today,” Bitz said in an email. […]

    As the planet warms, the trajectories of northern and southern sea ice have unfolded in starkly differing ways. The Arctic’s storehouse of multiyear ice has been raided by warming in recent years (see Figure 2). Overall, the Arctic’s sea ice loss has been sadly consistent with the projections from climate models. Years of dramatic loss (such as 2007 and 2012) have been interspersed with periods of little change, but the overall downward trend line is clear. Arctic ice loss is also one of the factors behind Arctic amplification, in which warming trends become sharper at high northern latitudes than in more temperate zones.

    NOAA’s 2018 Arctic Report Card found the Arctic region had the second-lowest overall sea-ice coverage on record. The map shows the age of sea ice in the Arctic ice pack in March 1985 (left) and March 2018 (right). Ice that is less than a year old is darkest blue. Ice that has survived at least 4 full years is white. Data: Mark Tschudi / University of Colorado / CCAR. Graphic: NOAA /

    According to NOAA’s 2018 Arctic Report Card, this past year brought the Arctic’s second-warmest air temperatures ever recorded; the second-lowest overall sea-ice coverage; the lowest recorded winter ice in the Bering Sea; and earlier plankton blooms due to early melting of sea ice in the Bering Sea. […]

    Whatever its causes, the unexpectedly resilient Antarctic sea ice certainly wasn’t enough to make up for the myriad effects of planetary warming elsewhere. As Jeff Masters once put it: “Calling attention to Antarctic sea ice gain is like telling someone to ignore the fire smoldering in the attic, and instead go appreciate the coolness of the basement, because there is no fire there.”

    Years of extra-abundant Antarctic sea ice came to a halt in mid-2015, when ice extent began dropping below average. The melt season of 2016-17 brought even more dramatic losses, including the record low extent noted above. The sea ice was only slightly more abundant in 2017-18.

    “We’ve always suspected that the expansion of Antarctic sea ice which occurred through 2014 or so was a trend destined to reverse itself in a warming climate,” David Schneider (National Center for Atmospheric Research) said in an email. [more]

    Antarctic Sea Ice Dips to Record-Low Extent for Early January

    The World Economic Forum's Global Risks Landscape 2019. 'Extreme Weather Events' and 'Failure of climate-change mitigation and adaptation' are in the highest impact / highest likelihood quadrant. Graphic: World Economic Forum Global Risks Perception Survey 2018–2019

    By Gillian Tett
    17 January 2019

    (Financial Times) – What are the biggest risks stalking the world today? A cynic might gripe that the list is so depressingly long that it is pointless even to try to choose: populism, cyber attacks, trade wars, weather shocks and global debt are all on the rise.

    However, during the past decade the World Economic Forum has asked its members to rank their worries in terms of likelihood and impact, ahead of its annual meeting in Davos. And while this poll is limited in scope — WEF members are drawn, of course, from the global elite of corporate executives, government officials, NGO activists and the media — the results are nevertheless thought-provoking.

    This year’s “worry” list, for example, is dominated by climate change concerns: Davosians apparently fear that extreme weather events are becoming more common, and that the world has no effective mechanism to respond. Climate issues account for three of the five risks deemed most likely to materialise in 2019 — and four of the top five risks that could cause the most damage. The only other topics cited are weapons of mass destruction, and cyber risks.

    That might seem unremarkable. After all, the survey was carried out in the autumn of 2018, a year marked by extreme weather events, which, it is becoming clear, are damaging some companies’ bottom lines. Pacific Gas and Electric is just the latest case in point — as well as a warning.

    But what is more striking is how this worry list has changed since the WEF started its survey. A decade ago, what worried Davosians was the economy and the financial system. When asked about which dangers were most likely to materialise, they cited “asset price collapse”, and “slowing Chinese economy” first. And the risks perceived to cause most damage were “asset price collapse”, “retreat from globalisation”, “oil and gas price spike”, and “fiscal crises”. The only non-financial issue cited was “pandemic”. The environment was not mentioned at all. [more]

    Davos climate obsessions contain clues for policymaking

    17 January 2019 (WEF) – The Global Risks Report 2019 is published against a backdrop of worrying geopolitical and geo-economic tensions. If unresolved, these tensions will hinder the world’s ability to deal with a growing range of collective challenges, from the mounting evidence of environmental degradation to the increasing disruptions of the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

    The report presents the results of our latest Global Risks Perception Survey, in which nearly 1,000 decision-makers from the public sector, private sector, academia and civil society assess the risks facing the world. Nine out of 10 respondents expect worsening economic and political confrontations between major powers this year. Over a ten-year horizon, extreme weather and climate-change policy failures are seen as the gravest threats.

    This year’s report includes another series of “what-if” Future Shocks that examine quantum computing, weather manipulation, monetary populism, emotionally responsive artificial intelligence, and other potential risks. The theme of emotions is also addressed in a chapter on the human causes and effects of global risks; the chapter calls for greater action around rising levels of psychological strain across the world.

    The Global Risks Report 2019


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