Paris climate deal could go up in smoke without action: Guterres

NOAA/Jerry Penry
Scientists believe that climate change is causing an increase in extreme weather events.

Unless wealthy nations commit to tackling emissions now, the world is on a “catastrophic pathway” to 2.7-degrees of heating by the end of the century, UN Secretary General António Guterres warned on Friday.

The UN chief’s remarks came after the UN’s climate agency (UNFCCC) published an update on national climate action plans (officially known as Nationally Determined Contributions or NDCs) submitted by the 191 countries which signed Agreement.

The report indicates that while there is a clear trend that greenhouse gas emissions are being reduced over time, nations must urgently redouble their climate efforts if they are to prevent disastrous global heating in the future.

The document includes updates to the NDCs of 113 countries that represent around 49% of global emissions, including the nations of the European Union and the United States.

Those countries overall expect their greenhouse gas emissions to decrease by 12% in 2030 compared to 2010. “This is an important step,” the report points out, but insufficient, as highlighted by Mr. Guterres at Friday’s Forum of Major Economies on Energy and Climate, hosted by the President of the United States, Joe Biden

“We need a 45 per cent cut in emissions by 2030, to reach carbon neutrality by mid-century…It is clear that everyone must assume their responsibilities”, he emphasized.

70 countries indicated their embrace of carbon neutrality goals by around the middle of the century. If this materializes, it could lead to even greater emissions reductions, of about 26% by 2030, compared to 2010, the report explains.

According to the latest IPCC findings, that would mean that unless climate action is taken immediately, it may lead to a temperature rise of about 2.7C, by the end of this century.

“The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) was a code red for humanity. But it also made clear that it is not too late to meet the Paris Agreement 1.5-degree target. We have the tools to achieve this target. But we are rapidly running out of time”, the UN chief highlighted.

The Secretary General highlighted a particular challenge: energy still obtained from coal. “If all planned coal power plants become operational, we will not only be clearly above 1.5 degrees – we will be well above 2 degrees. The Paris targets would go up in smoke”.

UNDP Comoros/James Stapley
Farmers and fisherfolk in the Comoros Islands are needing to adapt to climate change.

Mr. Guterres urged the creation of “coalitions of solidarity” between countries that still depend heavily on coal, and countries that have the financial and technical resources to support transitions to cleaner energy sources.

Without pledges and financial commitments from industrialised nations to make this happen, “there is a high risk of failure of COP26”, Mr. Guterres continued, referring to the pivotal UN Climate summit in Glasgow in six weeks’ time.

“G20 nations account for 80% of global emissions. Their leadership is needed more than ever. The decisions they take now will determine whether the promise made at Paris is kept or broken”, he warned.

Human activities raised atmospheric concentrations of CO2 by 48%

Over the past 171 years, human activities have raised atmospheric concentrations of CO2 by 48% above pre-industrial levels found in 1850, according to Global Climate Change.

This is more than what had happened naturally over a 20,000 year period (from the Last Glacial Maximum to 1850, from 185 ppm to 280 ppm).

The Latest measurement of CO2 stands at 416 ppm.

Scientists attribute the global warming trend observed since the mid-20th century to the human expansion of the “greenhouse effect” — warming that results when the atmosphere traps heat radiating from Earth toward space.

Certain gases in the atmosphere block heat from escaping. Long-lived gases that remain semi-permanently in the atmosphere and do not respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature are described as “forcing” climate change. Gases, such as water vapor, which respond physically or chemically to changes in temperature are seen as “feedbacks.”

Gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect include:

  • Water vapor. The most abundant greenhouse gas, but importantly, it acts as a feedback to the climate. Water vapor increases as the Earth’s atmosphere warms, but so does the possibility of clouds and precipitation, making these some of the most important feedback mechanisms to the greenhouse effect.
  • Carbon dioxide (CO2). A minor but very important component of the atmosphere, carbon dioxide is released through natural processes such as respiration and volcano eruptions and through human activities such as deforestation, land use changes, and burning fossil fuels. Humans have increased atmospheric CO2 concentration by 48% since the Industrial Revolution began. This is the most important long-lived “forcing” of climate change.
  • Methane. A hydrocarbon gas produced both through natural sources and human activities, including the decomposition of wastes in landfills, agriculture, and especially rice cultivation, as well as ruminant digestion and manure management associated with domestic livestock. On a molecule-for-molecule basis, methane is a far more active greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, but also one which is much less abundant in the atmosphere.
  • Nitrous oxide. A powerful greenhouse gas produced by soil cultivation practices, especially the use of commercial and organic fertilizers, fossil fuel combustion, nitric acid production, and biomass burning.
  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Synthetic compounds entirely of industrial origin used in a number of applications, but now largely regulated in production and release to the atmosphere by international agreement for their ability to contribute to destruction of the ozone layer. They are also greenhouse gases.

On Earth, human activities are changing the natural greenhouse. Over the last century the burning of fossil fuels like coal and oil has increased the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2). This happens because the coal or oil burning process combines carbon with oxygen in the air to make CO2. To a lesser extent, the clearing of land for agriculture, industry, and other human activities has increased concentrations of greenhouse gases.

Credit: NASA

MONDELĒZ International commits to reduction in Virgin plastic use to combat plastic pollution

Mondelēz International (Nasdaq: MDLZ) has announced an increased commitment to reduce its use of virgin plastics in its packaging, as part of its ongoing efforts to eliminate, reduce, replace and recycle plastic packaging across its portfolio.

The company also said it supported the introduction of a U.S. Federal recycling scheme that takes into account the various types of plastic packaging used across the industry today.

While it already has a significantly below-sector-average use of plastics in its portfolio by weight, Mondelēz International is demonstrating its resolve to continue to reduce plastic packaging. By 2025, the company aims for an at least 25% reduction in virgin plastic use in its rigid plastic packaging or a 5% reduction in virgin plastic use in its overall plastic packaging portfolio, assuming constant portfolio mix.

The virgin plastic use reduction target will be achieved through a combination of measures including elimination of plastic material, increased use of recycled content and the adoption of reuse models for the company’s portfolio where it makes sense to do so.

“Our support for a more sustainable future for plastics is clear,” said Dirk Van de Put, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, for Mondelēz International. “We’re already one of the most efficient users of plastic packaging in the consumer goods space and we’ve made significant strides to reduce plastic packaging use, substitute plastics for other materials and design for recyclability.”

“Given the strong progress we’ve made in packaging, and our focus on leading a sustainable future for snacking, we’re committing to reductions in virgin plastics use and investments in innovation to remove packaging or switch to more easily recyclable materials.”

These commitments build on the company’s existing 2025 goals to use 5% recycled content by weight across its plastic packaging and to design all packaging for recyclability, a goal the company is on track to achieve with 94% of packaging already designed to be recycled.

The company currently invests over $30 million a year in technology, resources and recycling infrastructure and anticipates an acceleration in this investment over time. In total, between 2019 and 2025, Mondelēz International anticipates spending approximately $300 million in creating a sustainable future for plastics.

Supporting Nationwide Recycling Scheme in U.S.

Mondelēz International’s portfolio of snacks uses lightweight plastic packaging, or so-called flexible films, to protect food, which reduces the company’s plastic packaging footprint by weight and brings some clear environmental benefits such as helping reduce transportation emissions and prolonging food shelf-life. This is meaningful as food waste can have a significantly greater environmental impact than plastics.

While packaging can be increasingly designed for recyclability, recycling infrastructure improvements, such as those proposed under Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) schemes, are needed globally, particularly for flexible films. The company today is lending its support for a reasonable, Federal EPR scheme in the United States that caters to flexible films, as well as other plastics.

“Increasing recyclability of materials is a great start, but we need actual recycling rates of various materials to increase,” said Christine Montenegro McGrath, Vice President and Chief of Impact. “Compared to rigid plastics like PET, flexible plastic films, like the flow wraps we use on our snacks, are still difficult to collect, sort and reprocess economically, because the infrastructure doesn’t exist yet for this to be done at scale. We are committed to playing our part to improve this, including partnering with stakeholders across sectors to drive action to combat plastics pollution.”

Mondelēz International is an active participant in the Consumer Goods Forum Plastic Coalition of Action; the Business Call for a Global UN Treaty on Plastics Pollution; the U.S. Plastics Pact; the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s New Plastics Economy Global Commitment; the New Plastics Economy Initiative; the European CEFLEX initiative; the UK Plastics Pact and the UK Flexible Plastic Fund (formerly known as EPPIC); and the Australia/New Zealand Plastics Pact, among others.

Mondelēz International reports transparently on the progress it is making against its Environment, Social Sustainability and Governance commitments, strategies and goals in the Snacking Made Right Report, published annually in early May. For more information, visit

About Mondelēz International

Mondelēz International, Inc. (Nasdaq: MDLZ) empowers people to snack right in over 150 countries around the world. With 2020 net revenues of approximately $27 billion, MDLZ is leading the future of snacking with iconic global and local brands such as OREObelVita and LU biscuits; Cadbury Dairy MilkMilka and Toblerone chocolate; Sour Patch Kids candy and Trident gum. Mondelēz International is a proud member of the Standard and Poor’s 500, Nasdaq 100 and Dow Jones Sustainability Index.

NASA Satellites Help Quantify Forests’ Impacts on Global Carbon Budget

Using ground, airborne, and satellite data, a diverse team of international researchers – including NASA scientists – has created a new method to assess how the changes in forests over the past two decades have impacted carbon concentrations in the atmosphere.

In addition to better understanding the overall role of forests in the global carbon cycle, the scientists were also able to distinguish between the contributions of various forest types, confirming that among forests, tropical forests are those responsible for the largest component of global carbon fluctuations – both absorbing more carbon than other forest types, and releasing more carbon into the atmosphere due to deforestation and degradation.

While clearing land for agriculture, industry, and other human activities increases carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the primary cause of the global carbon dioxide increase over the last century is from human activities that burn fossil fuels such as coal and oil. On balance, trees and other plants pull carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.

The forest carbon flux map from web application Global Forest Watch, and the accompanying study published in Nature Climate Change on Jan. 21, show these carbon fluctuations from forests in unprecedented detail. This was published just one day after the United States rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement – an international effort to limit global temperature rise that specifically highlights reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.

Through photosynthesis, forests absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to produce oxygen, complementing the collective breathing of other life on Earth that breathes oxygen and expels carbon dioxide.

According to the researchers, forests collectively absorbed around 15.6 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide from Earth’s atmosphere each year between 2001 and 2019, while deforestation, fires, and other disturbances released an average of 8.1 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Forests around the world are estimated to absorb about 7.6 billion metric tons, acting as a net carbon sink of roughly 1.5 times the annual emissions from the entire United States.

World map showing forested regions that are sources of carbon emissions (purple) and where they are carbon sinks (green).

“Forests act as a two-lane highway in the climate system,” said principal investigator Nancy Harris, who serves as the research director for the World Resources Institute (WRI) Forests Program. “A detailed view of where both sides are occurring – forest emissions and forest removals – adds transparency to monitoring forest-related climate policies.”

This new methodology integrates datasets from numerous sources, including on-the-ground reports, aerial data, and satellite observations, to create the first consistent global framework for estimating the carbon flux specifically for forests.

This is a change from the current annual reporting of national forestry data, which still varies between countries despite standardized guidelines from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), often determined by the resources available in that region. Such a lack of uniformity in the data means that global carbon estimates can contain a sizeable degree of uncertainty.

“The good thing is that we know there is uncertainty and we can actually quantify it,” says co-author Lola Fatoyinbo, a scientist from NASA Goddard’s Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. “All estimates come with an uncertainty around them, which is going to keep getting smaller and smaller as we get better datasets.”

The biomass estimates for the study were based on data from NASA’s Ice, Cloud, and land Elevation Satellite (ICESat), which was primarily designed to track changes in ice sheet coverage but also provides topography and vegetation data.

Going forward, NASA’s Carbon Monitoring Systems Biomass Pilot, which combines satellite and field data to improve estimates of vegetation and carbon stocks, NASA’s ICESat-2, and the Global Ecosystem Dynamics Investigation (GEDI) – a laser-equipped instrument aboard the International Space Station that records the three-dimensional structures of the world’s temperate and tropical forests – are expected to further improve understanding of carbon removal rates across forest landscapes going forward. As part of the GEDI team, Fatoyinbo says they will be making multiple relevant data products such as tree canopy profiles and global maps of aboveground biomass that will be useful for making future carbon estimates.

“This is kind of a major shift in the paradigm of monitoring forests,” says Sassan Saatchi, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California and a co-author of the study. “It brought in a new picture of where the big changes are happening, in terms of both the land surface losing carbon to the atmosphere and also absorbing carbon from the atmosphere.”

The new approach also helped identify which forest types have higher uncertainties, highlighting tropical forests, as well as temperate forests in the Northern Hemisphere. “Where the uncertainties are large, that’s where we need to focus and get more data to quantify better,” Saatchi says.

Once new data are available, it is relatively easy to crunch the new numbers.

“The way this was set up is in a cloud computing platform,” says Fatoyinbo. “If there is a new dataset that comes out that is much better than was previously available, you can just go in and swap it. This used to be something that took years to do, and now you could do it in a few hours.”

While the outputs aren’t expected to change significantly, the uncertainties will shrink, providing scientists with a clearer picture of the global carbon cycle and helping to inform policy makers. For example, the study shows that 27% of the world’s net forest carbon sinks are found within protected areas, such as national parks.

Governments looking to reduce their emissions need data that is as accurate and current as possible. Fatoyinbo says that “this is one framework that can really help with that.”

Story credit: By Lara Streiff,
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

NASA partners with health stakeholders to study how particulate matter air pollution affects our health

A first-ever partnership between NASA, epidemiologists, and health organizations will use data from a new NASA space mission to study how particulate matter air pollution affects our health.

Particulate matter air pollution has numerous sources, both natural and human-produced. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Scientists have long known the air we breathe can be hazardous to our health. The World Health Organization estimates that more than 90 percent of the world’s population breathes air containing harmful levels of pollutants.

Airborne particulate matter (PM) is especially dangerous. Breathing these tiny, floating solid and/or liquid particles of organic and inorganic matter, also known as aerosols, results in more than 4 million premature deaths each year due to cardiovascular, respiratory, and other illnesses, according to a major international health study called the Global Burden of Disease.

Now a new NASA satellite mission currently in development promises to take research into the connections between PM air pollution and human health to new heights. The Multi-Angle Imager for Aerosols (MAIA) investigation, targeted for launch in 2022, will produce unique maps of PM air pollution that epidemiologists will use to study how different types of PM – mixtures of particles with different sizes, shapes, and compositions – affect our health. The three-year investigation marks the first-ever partnership between NASA, epidemiologists and health organizations to use space-based data to study human health and improve lives.

“We know exposure to airborne particles from combustion of fossil fuels, traffic, smoke, and dust is associated with various diseases and even mortality,” said MAIA Principal Investigator David Diner of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California. JPL is building the MAIA instrument and managing the investigation. “It is likely that infections from bacteria, fungi, or a virus such as COVID-19 can be exacerbated by air pollution-related health problems that people already have, making them more susceptible to severe illness and adverse health consequences.”

As climate and commercial threats intensify, WHO-UNICEF-Lancet Commission presses for radical rethink on child health

No single country is adequately protecting children’s health, their environment and their futures, finds a landmark report released Wednesday by a Commission of over 40 child and adolescent health experts from around the world.

The health and future of every child and adolescent worldwide is under immediate threat

The Commission was convened by the World Health Organization (WHO), UNICEF and The Lancet. 

The report, A Future for the World’s Children?, finds that the health and future of every child and adolescent worldwide is under immediate threat from ecological degradation, climate change and exploitative marketing practices that push heavily processed fast food, sugary drinks, alcohol and tobacco at children. 

“Despite improvements in child and adolescent health over the past 20 years, progress has stalled, and is set to reverse,” said former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Co-Chair of the Commission, Helen Clark. “It has been estimated that around 250 million children under five years old in low- and middle-income countries are at risk of not reaching their developmental potential, based on proxy measures of stunting and poverty. But of even greater concern, every child worldwide now faces existential threats from climate change and commercial pressures.

“Countries need to overhaul their approach to child and adolescent health, to ensure that we not only look after our children today but protect the world they will inherit in the future,” she added.

The report includes a new global index of 180 countries, comparing performance on child flourishing, including measures of child survival and well-being, such as health, education, and nutrition; sustainability, with a proxy for greenhouse gas emissions, and equity, or income gaps. [Top & Bottom 10 countriesFull Global Index on pp. 35-38] [1]

According to the report, while the poorest countries need to do more to support their children’s ability to live healthy lives, excessive carbon emissions – disproportionately from wealthier countries –  threaten the future of all children. If global warming exceeds 4°C by the year 2100 in line with current projections, this would lead to devastating health consequences for children, due to rising ocean levels, heatwaves, proliferation of diseases like malaria and dengue, and malnutrition. 

The index shows that children in Norway, the Republic of Korea, and the Netherlands have the best chance at survival and well-being, while children in Central African Republic, Chad, Somalia, Niger and Mali face the worst odds. However, when authors took per capita CO2 emissions into account, the top countries trail behind: Norway ranked 156, the Republic of Korea 166, and the Netherlands 160. Each of the three emits 210% more CO2 per capita than their 2030 target. The United States of America (USA), Australia, and Saudi Arabia are among the ten worst emitters.  

“More than 2 billion people live in countries where development is hampered by humanitarian crises, conflicts, and natural disasters, problems increasingly linked with climate change,” said Minister Awa Coll-Seck from Senegal, Co-Chair of the Commission. “While some of the poorest countries have among the lowest CO2 emissions, many are exposed to the harshest impacts of a rapidly changing climate. Promoting better conditions today for children to survive and thrive nationally does not have to come at the cost of eroding children’s futures globally.”    

The only countries on track to beat CO2 emission per capita targets by 2030, while also performing fairly (within the top 70) on child flourishing measures are: Albania, Armenia, Grenada, Jordan, Moldova, Sri Lanka, Tunisia, Uruguay and Viet Nam.

Pregnancy hypertension risk increased by traffic-related air pollution

A new report from the National Toxicology Program (NTP) suggests that traffic-related air pollution increases a pregnant woman’s risk for dangerous increases in blood pressure, known as hypertension.

NTP scientists evaluated published research on the link between traffic-related air pollution, or TRAP, and hypertensive disorders broken down by pollutant measurements of TRAP, such as particulate matter (PM2.5). PM is the term for a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets found in the air, and PM2.5 refers to fine inhalable particles, with diameters that are generally 2.5 micrometers or smaller. The average human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter, about 30 times larger than the largest fine particle.

“What we found when we reviewed the literature is that exposure to PM2.5 from traffic emissions was associated with development of hypertensive disorders in pregnant women,” said Brandy Beverly, Ph.D., lead scientist and researcher at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, part of the National Institutes of Health. “When these women are exposed to PM2.5 during their entire pregnancy, the likelihood of developing preeclampsia increases by about 50%.”

Other components of TRAP that NTP evaluated included nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, black carbon, and elemental carbon, along with parameters like traffic density and mothers’ proximity to main roads.

For example, the literature suggests that women who live within a quarter of a mile of a major roadway or in high traffic density regions may be at an increased risk for developing hypertensive disorders of pregnancy.

TRAP comes from the combustion of fossil fuels by motor vehicles. These vehicle emissions are mixtures of gases and particles that are easily inhaled and have adverse health effects. TRAP is known to be a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease, including hypertension.

Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy complicate more than 10% of pregnancies worldwide and are a leading cause of maternal and fetal illness and death. According to the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, mothers with hypertension during pregnancy are more likely to have a pre-term delivery. Their infants are at greater risk for low birthweight and a range of long-term health problems associated with pre-mature birth.

“Hypertensive disorders of pregnancy refer to a range of clinical conditions, all of which include high blood pressure during pregnancy,” said Beverly. “The disorders are classified into four distinct types, based on differences in the timing and onset of the symptoms.”