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Houseboats in California’s depleted Lake Oroville. Photo credit: Josh Edelson, AFP

 
The Climate, Health & Equity Brief
May 7-14, 2022
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Hot Topic: Water scarcity. A new report from the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification shines a light on the growing incidence of extreme drought and calls upon leaders to be much more proactive about dealing with drought-related disasters. The report found that droughts have increased globally by 29% since 2000, and more than 2.3 billion people—a third of the world’s population—will face water stress this year.

The current situation in California illustrates this point. This week—and at the point in the year when water levels should be at their highest—California's two largest reservoirs, Lake Oroville and Shasta Lake, are “critically low” at just 55% and 40% capacity, respectively. Both reservoirs serve as a source of water to millions of people and are vital to the clean energy and agriculture industry throughout the state. 
 
As the report notes, droughts have deep, widespread and underestimated impacts on the environment, people and economies, including reduced GDP and biodiversity loss. And the burden of drought, much like other climate impacts, is most severe in developing nations due to their strong dependence on subsistence agriculture. In these regions, water scarcity can impede health, nutrition, sanitation, safety and educational attainment for hundreds of millions of people.
 
Droughts should be no surprise given a chilling new report out this week from the World Meteorological Organization, which finds that there is now a 50:50 chance that planetary temperatures will likely surpass an increase of 1.5°C—the critical threshold at which climate impacts will grow increasingly devastating—within the next five years. In 2015, the chance of that happening within five years was zero, demonstrating the speed at which we are barreling toward climate disaster.

While the breach is expected to be temporary, scientists warn that it could be enough to trigger irreversible changes to the planet, such as the destruction of coral reefs and the accelerated melting of permafrost—once considered permanently frozen Arctic ground—which stores close to two trillion metric tons of carbon dioxide, twice as much as Earth’s atmosphere currently holds.
 
Going forward, both reports call on global leaders to urgently reduce planet-warming emissions while simultaneously increasing climate disaster preparedness and resilience. Each passing day demonstrates that they have little other choice.

—  Matt & Traci, GMMB
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Human Health
A new UN report found that roughly one-third of the world’s population is facing water scarcity as climate change increases the frequency and duration of droughts, with that total expected to double by 2050 without a significant reduction in emissions. (AP News)
 
Unrelenting sandstorms fueled by ongoing drought and rising temperatures in Iraq have grounded flights, blanketed entire cities in a thick haze of dust and left more than 5,000 people in need of respiratory treatment. (The New York Times)
 
Planetary Health
A new report revealed that the world has a 50-50 chance of temporarily surpassing the critical threshold of a 1.5°C increase in planetary warming within the next five years, threatening to set off potentially irreversible changes to the planet’s oceans and the Arctic, among other impacts. (UN News)

The two largest reservoirs in California have reached critically low levels, threatening agriculture yields and hydroelectric power generation and driving municipalities to implement unprecedented water use restrictions heading into summer. (CNN)

Equity 
As the impacts of climate-fueled extreme weather force families in Bangladesh to migrate from rural areas to the slums of Dhaka, a growing number of children—1.7 million so far—are leaving school to take on labor-intensive jobs and support their families. (Al Jazeera)   
 
Politics & Economy
Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders have signed onto a UN statement urging financial institutions to stop financing activities that contribute to climate change, saying they have a responsibility to children and the living world to promote a just transition to a sustainable future. (Reuters)
 
A new analysis found that the world’s largest oil and gas companies are expected to sell off more than $100 billion in polluting assets to buyers with no net-zero commitments, a move that will show progress toward their corporate climate goals on paper while achieving no actual planetary emissions reductions. (Oil Price) 
 
Despite commitments to carbon neutrality by 2050 and the efforts of activist shareholders, shareholders of several major banks including Bank of America, Citigroup, Credit Suisse and the Royal Bank of Canada have voted against proposals to end financing of new fossil fuel projects. (The New York Times)
 
Amid persisting energy instability and high gas prices, the Biden Administration has angered Republicans by canceling the sale of drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, citing a lack of industry interest and conflicting court rulings. (The New York Times)

Life as We Know It
Plane crash debris, missing vehicles and human remains are being exposed as persistent drought and rising temperatures melt mountain icepack and deplete bodies of water around the globe. (NBC News)
 
Action 
Portugal is set to power on Europe’s largest floating solar park—made up of 12,000 panels—in July, which will supply 1,500 families with power and accelerate the country’s move away from carbon-emitting power sources. (Reuters)
 
Hawaii-based start-up Symbrosia is creating a seaweed feed additive in an effort to reduce methane emissions from livestock—which make up 10% of total greenhouse gas emissions—by up to 90%. (The Maui News)

Kicker
Ever wonder how your water use stacks up? Use this water calculator to see how you compare and how small changes can make a big difference in your consumption.
 

“When the well is dry, we know the worth of water.”


– Benjamin Franklin
The GMMB Climate, Health & Equity Brief would not be possible without the contributions of the larger GMMB California team—Elke Cortes, Devin Della Maggiora, Sharde Olabanji and Stefana Simonetto. Feedback on the Brief is welcome and encouraged and should be sent to CHandEBrief@gmmb.com.
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