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Island of Male, capital of the Maldives
The Climate, Health & Equity Brief
May 14 - 22, 2021
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Hot Topic: Oceans in peril. Multiple developments this week continue to sound the alarm over the impact of human behavior on Earth’s oceans. First, a new UN report revealed that the world fell short of its goal of protecting 10 percent of coastal and marine areas by 2020, and even several large pending marine protected areas won’t close the gap. Following the establishment of new global conservation goals in 2010, 80 countries have increased the size of protected areas on land and at sea, but more than 100 have not—a fact that scientists say will almost certainly continue to hasten biodiversity loss. 
 
Two contributing factors to the erosion of marine health are the cruise and cargo ship industries. While both industries have focused in recent years on reducing emissions from their dirty smokestacks, a new study found that much of that pollution is now winding up underwater. Increasingly popular ship-based systems designed to ‘scrub’ air pollutants deposit an estimated 10 billion metric tons of fuel-contaminated ‘wash water’ into seas every year, about 80 percent of which ends up close to shores and ecologically sensitive areas such as the Great Barrier Reef, where concentrations build up over time. Systems that treat and recirculate their wash water rather than dumping it do exist, but few shipping companies use them because they cost more to install and operate.
 
In the planet’s southernmost waters, a massive, 105-mile iceberg—confirmed by NASA satellite imagery to now be the world’s largest—calved from Antarctica this week. Thankfully, scientists consider that event part of the natural life cycle of the Ronne Ice Shelf, and they note that because the shelf is already floating and therefore already displacing the same volume it would if it were it to melt, the calving event will not have a direct impact on sea levels.

Unfortunately, the same is not true for the melting of small glaciers and ice caps, which studies show contribute to 60 percent of sea-level rise. Earth is now losing 1.2 trillion tons of ice each year, and new projections suggest that the current rate of ice melt could raise sea levels by 43 inches this century. Such a scenario promises to be catastrophic for island nations and coastal communities around the world, and nowhere is the situation more dire than in the Maldives. At the current rate of melt, scientists predict that the archipelagic nation—home to 500,000 people—will be completely submerged by century’s end, effectively wiped off the map by climate change.
                                                                                     
— Matt & Traci, GMMB
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Planetary Health
A new study warns that under current conditions and pledges, the rate of future planetary ice loss could equate to a sea-level rise of 42 inches this century without a significant reduction in planet-warming emissions. (Bloomberg) 
 
The Maldives could completely disappear by the end of the century if sea levels continue to rise at current rates, as 80 percent of the country is only a meter above sea level and sea levels are currently projected to rise by 1.1 meters in that time frame. (CNBC)
 
Although recently adopted technologies have enabled cruise and cargo ship companies to curb air pollution from their exhaust, a new study revealed that they dump at least 10 billion metric tons of contaminated fuel byproduct into global seas annually, 80 percent of which threatens ecologically sensitive coastal areas. (Grist)
 
The United Nations Environment Program revealed in a new report that world governments missed their target of protecting 10 percent of coastal and marine areas by 2020, hastening biodiversity loss in marine species. (New Scientist)
 
Scientists from the University of Exeter released a new plan to save the oceans for the sake of human health, which includes repairing the damage mankind has done to the oceans and transforming how businesses use the ocean. (Phys.org)
 
Equity
A preliminary EPA ruling found that 30 industrial permit approvals from Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources violated the Civil Rights Act by failing to consider how resulting emissions would disproportionately expose low-income communities of color to harmful levels of air pollution. (Grist)
 
The EPA ordered a U.S. Virgin Islands oil refinery to shut down after at least four sulfuric gas leaks contaminated St Croix’s drinking water supply and left hundreds of the island’s predominantly Black and low-income people sick. (The Washington Post) 
 
A new study revealed that increasingly unstable rainfall and temperature patterns threaten to disrupt more than a third of the world’s food production, especially in disproportionately climate-vulnerable areas of Asia and Africa. (Science Daily)
 
Politics & Economy
A recent International Energy Association roadmap found that the sale of new gas-powered cars must end by 2035 and that 90 percent of global electricity must come from renewable sources by 2050 to successfully limit planetary warming to 1.5°C and avoid the worst effects of climate change. (Grist)
 
After a four-year pause under the Trump administration, the EPA has updated its report on climate change indicators in the U.S., which revealed that the annual heat wave seasons in 50 major metropolitan areas are now 47 days longer than they were the 1960s. (Grist)
 
A new study analyzing how climate change exacerbates extreme weather revealed that climate-fueled sea-level rise accounted for an additional $8 billion in damages and the destruction of 36,000 more homes in New York and New Jersey during 2012’s Hurricane Sandy. (AP News)
 
A new study from One Earth quantified how ExxonMobil used their climate change messaging to shift responsibility from the company onto consumers, minimize the seriousness of the climate threat and muddle the science of climate change. (Inside Climate News)
 
A new report found that just 100 global companies are responsible for 90 percent of global plastic waste, and that just two percent of the world’s throwaway plastics are derived from recycled materials. (Earther Gizmodo)

Action
The U.S. Army announced that it now classifies climate change as a “serious threat to U.S. national security interests and defense objectives” and outlined steps that the military branch will take to combat the climate crisis. (National Review)
 
Spain’s legislature approved a new climate change bill that requires that renewable energy sources power 74 percent of the country’s electricity by 2030, bans the sale of carbon-emitting vehicles by 2040 and requires the country to phase out oil and gas production by 2042. (Grist)
 
Kicker
Need some weekend entertainment? Check out My Octopus Teacher, a fascinating new nature documentary streaming now on Netflix.

“There is no higher ground for us.” 

Aminath Shauna, minister of environment, climate change and technology, Maldives
 
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