Environmental activists and organisations typically try and stay positive, to give people hope that we can change. Positive signs exist, going back to the historic whaling and toxic dumping bans of the 1980s. The 1987 Montreal Protocol, reducing CFC gas emissions, led to a partial recovery of the ozone hole. Birth rates have declined in some regions, and forests and freshwater have been restored in some regions. The world's nations have, at least, made promises to reduce carbon emissions, even if action has been slow.
A challenge we face as ecologists and environmentalists, however, is that when we step back from our victories and assess the big picture - the global pace of climate change, forest loss, biodiversity decline - we must admit: our achievements have not been enough.
Children playing near a coal plant in Central Java
25 years ago, in 1992, the Union of Concerned Scientists issued the “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity” signed by 1,700 scientists, including most living Nobel laureates. They presented disturbing data regarding freshwater, marine fisheries, climate, population, forests, soil, and biodiversity. They warned that “a great change" was necessary to avoid "vast human misery.”
This year, on the 25th anniversary of that warning, the Alliance of World Scientists published a second warning - an evaluation of our collective progress. With the exception of stabilising ozone depletion, they report that "humanity has failed to make sufficient progress in generally solving these foreseen environmental challenges, and alarmingly, most of them are getting far worse."
Environmental awareness is not new. Over 2,500 years ago, Chinese Taoists articulated the disconnect between human civilisation and ecological values. Later Taoist Bao Jingyan warned that "fashionable society goes against the true nature of things… harming creatures to supply frivolous adornments.”
Modern warnings began in the 18th century, at the dawn of the industrial age, particularly from Thomas Malthus, who warned that an exponentially growing population on a finite planet would reach ecological limits. Modern growth advocates have ridiculed Malthus for being wrong, but his logic and maths are impeccable. He did not foresee the discovery of petroleum, which allowed economists to ignore Malthus for two centuries, aggravating the crisis that Malthus correctly identified.
Rachel Carson ignited the modern environmental movement in 1962 with Silent Spring, warning of eminent biodiversity collapse. A decade later, in the early days of Greenpeace, the Club of Rome published The Limits To Growth, using data to describe what we could see with our eyes: declining forests and biodiversity, and resources, clashing head-on with growing human population and consumption demands. Conventional economists mocked the idea of limits, but The Limits to Growth projections have proven accurate.
In 2009, in Nature journal, a group of scientists lead by Johan Rockström published Planetary Boundaries, warning humanity that essential ecological systems – biodiversity, climate, nutrient cycles, and others – had moved beyond ecological limits to critical tipping points.
Melting iceberg in the Southern Ocean
Three years later, 22 international scientists published a paper called ‘Approaching a State Shift in Earth’s Biosphere’ which warned that human growth had “the potential to transform Earth... into a state unknown in human experience.” Canadian co-author, biologist Arne Mooers lamented, “humans have not done anything really important to stave off the worst. My colleagues… are terrified.”
In 2014 Michael Gerst, Paul Raskin, and Johan Rockström published ‘Contours of a Resilient Global Future’ in Sustainability 6, searching for viable future scenarios that considered both the natural limits to growth and realistic targets for human development. They warned that the challenge is "daunting" and that "marginal changes" are insufficient.
Last year, the UN International Resource Panel (IRP), published ‘Global Material Flows and Resource Productivity’ warning nations that global resources are limited, human consumption trends are unsustainable, and that resource depletion will have unpleasant impacts on human health, quality of life, and future development.
This year, the second “World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity,” alerted us again that marginal changes appear insignificant and that we are surpassing "the limits of what the biosphere can tolerate without substantial and irreversible harm."
The Alliance of World Scientists researchers tracked data over the last 25 years, since the 1992 warning. They cite some hopeful signs, such as the decline in ozone-depleting CFC gases, but report that, from a global perspective, our "changes in environmental policy, human behavior, and global inequities... are far from sufficient."
Here’s what the data shows:
Ozone: CFC (chlorofluorocarbons) emissions are down by 68% since 1992, due to the 1987 UN Montreal Protocol. The ozone layer is expected to reach 1980 levels by mid-century. This is the good news.
Freshwater: Water resources per capita have declined by 26% since 1992. Today, about one billion people suffer from a lack of fresh, clean water, "nearly all due to the accelerated pace of human population growth" exacerbated by rising temperatures.
Fisheries: The global marine catch is down by 6.4% since 1992, despite advances in industrial fishing technology. Larger ships with bigger nets and better sonar cannot catch fish that are not there.
Ocean dead zones: Oxygen-depleted zones have increased by 75 %, caused by fertilizer runoff and fossil-fuel use. Acidification due to carbon emissions kills coral reefs that act as marine breeding grounds.
Forests: By area, forests have declined by 2.8% since 1992, but with a simultaneous decline in forest health, timber volume, and quality. Forest loss has been greatest where forests are converted to agricultural land. Forest decline feeds back through the ecosystem as reduced carbon sequestration, biodiversity, and freshwater.
Biodiversity: Vertebrate abundance has declined 28.9 %. Collectively, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals have declined by 58% between 1970 and 2012. This is harrowing.
CO2 emissions: Regardless of international promises, CO2 emissions have increased by 62% since 1960.
Temperature change: The global average surface temperature is increasing in parallel to CO2 emissions. The 10 warmest years in the 136-year record have occurred since 1998. Scientists warn that heating will likely cause a decline in the world’s major food crops, an increase in storm intensity, and a substantial sea level rise, inundating coastal cities.
Population: We’ve put 2 billion more humans on this planet since 1992 - that’s a 35 % increase. To feed ourselves, we’ve increased livestock by 20.5 %. Humans and livestock now comprise 98.5% of mammal biomass on Earth. The scientists stress that we need to find ways to stabilise or reverse human population growth. "Our large numbers," they warn, "exert stresses on Earth that can overwhelm other efforts to realise a sustainable future"
Soil: The scientists report a lack of global data, but from national data we can see that soil productivity has declined around the world (by up to 50% in some regions), due to nutrient depletion, erosion, and desertification. The EU reports losing 970 million tonnes of topsoil annually to erosion. The US Department of Agriculture estimates 75 billion tons of soil lost annually worldwide, costing nations $400 billion (€340 billion) in lost crop yields.
"We are jeopardising our future by not reining in our intense but geographically and demographically uneven material consumption," the scientists warn, "and by not perceiving ... population growth as a primary driver behind many ecological and societal threats.”
The Alliance of World Scientists report offers some hope, in the form of steps that we can take to begin a more serious transition to sustainability:
These proposed solutions are not new, but the emphasis on population is important, and often overlooked. Some environmentalists avoid discussing human population, since it raises concerns about human rights. We know that massive consumption by the wealthiest 15% of us is a fundamental cause of the ecological crisis. Meanwhile, the poorest individuals consume far less than their fair share of available resources.
Aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines
As an ecologist, I feel compelled to ask myself: if the last 50 years of environmental action, research, warnings, meetings, legislation, regulation, and public awareness has proven insufficient, despite our victories, then what else do we need to do?
That question, and an integrated, rigorous, serious answer, needs to be a central theme of the next decade of environmentalism.
Resources and Links:
World Scientists’ Warning to Humanity: A Second Notice; eight authors and 15,364 scientist signatories from 184 countries; BioScience, W.J. Ripple, et. al., 13 November 2017
List of 15,364 signatories from 184 Countries: Oregon State University
Alliance of World Scientists: Oregon State University
Recovery of Ozone depletion after Montreal Protocol: B. Ewenfeldt, "Ozonlagret mår bättre", Arbetarbladet 12 September, 2014.
Fertility rate reduction in some regions: UN
Accuracy of Limits to Growth Study: "Is Global Collapse Imminent? An Update to Limits to Growth with Historical Data," Graham Turner, 2014): Melbourne Sustainable Society Institute
“Contours of a Resilient Global Future,” Michael Gerst, Paul Raskin, and Johan Rockström, Sustainability 6, 2014.
Arithmetic, Population, and Energy: Albert Bartlett video lecture on exponential growth
William Rees, The Way Forward: Survival 2100, Solutions Journal, human overshoot and genuine solutions.
Johan Rockström, et. al., “Planetary Boundaries,” Nature, September 23, 2009.
Anthony D. Barnosky, et. al., “Approaching a state shift in Earth’s biosphere,” Nature, June 7, 2012.
Traditional early morning Japanese breakfast, briefing on objectives, equipment check and drive into the beautiful mountainous forests of this region: this is the daily routine that will allow us to complete our latest investigation into the radiological status in some of the most contaminated areas of Fukushima prefecture.
But there is nothing normal about the routine in Fukushima.
Nearly seven years after the triple reactor meltdown, this unique nuclear crisis is still underway. Of the many complex issues resulting from the disaster, one in particular may have become routine but is anything but normal: the vast amounts of nuclear waste, stored and being transported across Fukushima prefecture.
A satellite image shows damage at Fukushima I Nuclear Power Plant In Fukushima Prefecture.
As a result of the Fukushima Daiichi accident, gases and particulates which vented into the atmosphere, led to radioactive fallout greater than 10,000 becquerels per square meter contaminating an estimated 8 percent, or 24,000 square kilometers, of the landmass of Japan. The highest concentrations (greater than 1 million becquerels per meter square) centered in an area more than than 400 square kilometers within Fukushima prefecture.
In the period 2013-14, the Japanese government set about a decontamination program with the objective of being able to lift evacuation orders in the Special Decontaminated Area (SDA) of Fukushima prefecture. Other areas of Fukushima and other prefectures where contamination was lower but significant were also subject to decontamination efforts in the so called Intensive Contamination Survey Area (ICSA).
Two areas of the SDA in particular were subject to concentrated efforts between 2014-2016, namely Iitate and Namie. A total of 24-28,000 people formally lived in these areas, with all evacuated in the days and months following the March 2011 disaster.
The decontamination program consisted of scraping, reverse tillage and removal of top soil from farmland, stripping and removal of soil from school yards, parks and gardens, trimming and cutting of contaminated trees and plants in a 20 meter area around peoples homes, and the same along a 10-15 meter strip either side of the roads, including into the nearby forests.
Aerial view of nuclear waste storage area in the mountainous forests of Iitate, Fukushima prefecture in Japan.
This program involved millions of work hours and tens of thousands workers (often Fukushima citizens displaced by the earthquake, tsunami and reactor meltdown), and often homeless and recruited off the streets of cities, and exploited for a wage of 70 dollars a day to work long hours in a radioactive environment. All this for a man-made nuclear disaster officially estimated at costing 21 trillion yen but with other estimates as high as 70 trillion yen.
As of March 2017, the decontamination program was officially declared complete and evacuation orders were lifted for the less contaminated areas of Namie and Iitate, so called area 2. The even higher radiation areas of Iitate and Namie, Area 3, and where no decontamination program has been applied, remain closed to habitation.
In terms of effectiveness, radiation levels in these decontaminated zones have been reduced in many areas but there are also multiple examples where levels remain significantly above the governments long range target levels. In addition to where decontamination has been only partially effective, the principle problem for Iitate and Namie is that the decontamination has created islands where levels have been reduced, but which are surrounded by land, and in particular, forested mountains, for which there is no possible decontamination. Forests make up more than 70% of these areas.
As a consequence, areas decontaminated are subject to recontamination through weathering processes and the natural water and lifecycle of trees and rivers. Given the half life of the principle radionuclide of concern – cesium-137 at 30 years – this will be an on-going source of significant recontamination for perhaps ten half lives – or 300 years.
Greenpeace documents the ongoing radioactive decontamination work in Iitate district, Japan. The area is still contaminated since the March 2011 explosions at the Fukushima Dai-Ichi nuclear power plant.
So apart from the decontamination not covering the largest areas of significant contamination in the forested mountains of Fukushima, and in reality only a small fraction of the total landmass of contaminated areas, the program has generated almost unimaginable volumes of nuclear waste. According to the Japanese Government Ministry of Environment in its September 2017 report, a total of 7.5 million nuclear waste bags (equal to 8.4 million m³) from within the SDA was in storage across Fukushima.
A further 6 million m³ of waste is generated in the ICSA within Fukushima prefecture (but not including waste produced from the wider ICSA which stretches from Iwati prefecture in the north to Chiba in the south on the outskirts of Tokyo). In total nuclear waste generated from decontamination is stored at over 1000 Temporary Storage Sites (TSS) and elsewhere at 141,000 locations across Fukushima.
The Government projects a total of 30 million m³ of waste will be generated, of which 10 million is to be incinerated, generating 1 million cubic meters of highly contaminated ash waste. Options to use some of the less contaminated waste in construction of walls and roads is actively under consideration.
Government policy is for all of this waste to be deposited at two sites north of the Fukushima Daiichi plant at Okuma and Futaba – both of which remain closed to habitation at present but which are targeted for limited resettlement as early as 2021. Although the facilities are not completed yet, they are supposed to be in operation only for 30 years – after which the waste is to be deposited in a permanent site. The reality is there is no prospects of this waste being moved to another permanent site anywhere else in Japan.
As we conducted our radiation survey work across Fukushima in September and October 2017, it was impossible not to witness the vast scale of both the waste storage areas and the volume of nuclear transports that are now underway. Again the numbers are numbing.
In the space of one hour standing in a main street of Iitate village, six nuclear waste trucks passed us by. Not really surprising since in the year to October over 34,000 trucks moved nuclear waste across Fukushima to Okuma and Futaba. The target volume of waste to be moved to these sites in 2017 is 500,000 m³. And this is only the beginning. By 2020, the Government is planning for as much as 6.5 million m³ of nuclear waste to be transported to the Futaba and Okuma sites – a rough estimate would mean over one million nuclear transports in 2020.
On any measure this is insanity – and yet the thousands of citizens who formally lived in Namie and Iitate are expected and pressurized by the Japanese government to return to live amidst this nuclear disaster zone.
Perhaps one of the most shocking experience in our visit to Fukushima was to witness a vast incineration complex hidden deep in the woods of southern Iitate and a nearby vast storage area with tens of thousands of waste bags surrounded on all sides by thick forests. The tragic irony of a multi-billion dollar and ultimately failed policy of decontamination that has unnecessarily exposed thousands of poorly protected and desperate workers to radiation – but which leads to a vast nuclear dump surrounded by a radioactive forest which that can never be decontaminated.
There is no logic to this, unless you are a trucking and incineration business and of course the Japanese government, desperate to create the myth of recovery after Fukushima. On this evidence there is no 'after', only 'forever'.
This new abnormal in Fukushima is a direct result of the triple reactor meltdown and a cynical government policy that prioritizes the unattainable fantasy of effective radioactive decontamination, while de-prioritising the safety, health and well being of the people of Fukushima.
The nuclear waste crisis underway in Fukushima is only one of the many reasons why the Japanese government was under scrutiny at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva last month. Recommendations were submitted to the United Nations by the governments of Austria, Mexico, Portugal and Germany at the calling on the Japanese government to take further measures to support the evacuees of Fukushima, in particular women and children.
The Government in Tokyo is to announce its decision on whether it accepts or rejects these recommendations at the United Nations in March 2018. Greenpeace, together with other human rights groups and civil society in Japan are calling on the government to accept that it has failed to defend the rights of its citizens and to agree to implement corrective measures immediately.
Shaun Burnie is a senior nuclear specialist with Greenpeace Germany
One question we often get asked at Greenpeace is: “what's the best way to protect myself from air pollution?”
With news articles warning that 5.5 million people worldwide die prematurely every year as a result of breathing polluted air, it's understandable that people want to know how to protect themselves and their families.
Parking assistant in Beijing smog
While the best way to make sure no-one has to breathe polluted air is to clean up our transport system by switching from one that’s based on fossil fuels to one that runs on clean energy, there are some simple steps that you can take now that can help you avoid the worst pollution.
We've pulled together some ideas here, drawing on advice from scientists and environmental experts.
While analysing pollution levels along popular routes through London, researchers at King's College found that taking a side street can cut pollution exposure by up to 60%. So if you regularly walk or cycle to work down a busy road, or walk your children to school through a traffic hotspot, it's worth working out if there are side routes you can use instead.
National Park Retezat in Romania
While the research into the impact individual trees have on reducing air pollution is ongoing, a visit to your local park can help - particularly parks on city outskirts, away from the busiest roads. And what’s more, visiting your local park can have a positive effect on mental health too.
Traffic and air pollution in London
Air closest to the road tends to be the most polluted. So if you're walking along a busy road and there's no side route in sight, make sure you walk down the street keeping your distance from traffic. As Dr Iarla Kilbane-Dawe explains in this study, "walking further from the kerb on a busy road has been shown to make a difference."
Heavy traffic in London
Car, truck and bus emissions become concentrated as vehicles slow down towards traffic lights, so heavy pollution can build up in these zones, with pedestrians breathing in higher levels of pollution compared to walking down the street.
To make things worse, children tend to be the most exposed as being smaller means their lungs are closer to exhaust fumes. So to avoid breathing in the worst of it, if you’re waiting to cross the street, push the button at traffic lights but wait a few steps back where the air is a little clearer.
Opening windows is good for allowing fresh air in, and letting out indoor pollutants and bad smells. But if you live near a busy road, opening windows often means letting other pollutants in. So, as far as possible, when airing out your home, use windows that face away from busy roads.
Woman on a run
Air pollution usually spikes during rush hour. If you exercise outdoors, the best time to head out is in the early morning before traffic builds up, or in the evening (a few hours after traffic levels have dropped) when the air is normally clearer.
Clean Air street art in Rome
Following these tips can help reduce the amount of pollution breathed in. But to fully protect our families we need to switch to a clean transport system. Greenpeace is pressuring car firms to ditch fossil fuel vehicles and make the switch to electric. And we're calling on governments to do more to bring pollution levels down. Join the campaign.
Richard Casson is a digital campaigner with Greenpeace UK
After years of global mobilisation, movement building and courageous people-powered actions, the tide is turning away from fossil fuels and towards renewable energy. The critical question is, will global powers and industry leaders do it fast enough?
This is the same question we are asking Samsung Electronics after it announced it would release a “strategy” on improving its 1% renewable energy use by August 2018. That’s not any kind of action, it’s just the announcement of a plan that will take Samsung EIGHT months to come up with.
In the race to stop catastrophic climate change eight months is too long. #DoBiggerThings never sounded so appropriate.
Samsung’s slowness paints a very different picture of the company than the one we see in its adverts and interviews: an innovation driven, fast-moving and proactive global player. Or even one that puts “planet first”. When Samsung’s profits and reputation with shareholders were at risk from the Note7 disaster it didn’t taken them eight months to come up with a plan to recall these phones (even if they did need a bit of convincing not to just dump them...)
Reasons to be hopeful
The incredible thing is, there has never been a better time in Samsung’s home country South Korea for the brand to embrace renewables. South Korea, the world’s 7th largest greenhouse gas emitter, recently took a first step towards its energy transition: the government announced it will expand renewable energy by 20% by 2030.
Given Samsung Electronics and Samsung Display together are the biggest electricity consumers in the country, it can play a vital role in driving Korea from a climate laggard to a climate leader.
In February 2018 Korea will host the Winter Olympics, and the Olympics organising committee promised that the games would be supplied with 100% renewable energy. Samsung meanwhile, the MAIN SPONSOR of the event, is still stuck on just 1%.
We even know that people expect it of a company like Samsung. According to a survey we carried out in Korea, 85% of people agreed that Korean companies should set a goal to go 100% renewable energy!
The millions of people speaking out to stop climate change, the Korean government, the Winter Olympics committee, 117 of the world’s biggest companies, huge countries like Germany and India, even Samsung’s main competitor Apple is embracing renewable energy!
The world is shifting around Samsung and if the company doesn’t change quickly it risks being on the wrong side of history.
Leaving a legacy
In December, Samsung’s decision makers will meet in Seoul. If they want the company’s legacy to be celebrated by future generations, then they have to make a choice right now: fossil fuels or renewable energy?
Let your voice be heard and help us tell Samsung to #DoBiggerThings. Sign our petition or share this with your friends.
Insung Lee is IT campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, Seoul office.
10th December is International Human Rights Day and starts the one year lead up to the 70th anniversary of the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948.
Candlelight commemoration 3 years after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines
The United Nations is kicking off a year-long campaign to mark the 70th anniversary to raise awareness about the importance of human rights. The global organisation, made up of 193 member states, explains that:
“The principles enshrined in the Declaration are as relevant today as they were in 1948. We need to stand up for our own rights and those of others. We can take action in our own daily lives, to uphold the rights that protect us all and thereby promote the kinship of all human beings.”
Since 1948, new problems facing humanity have arisen. Climate change is one of them and has become a full-blown human rights crisis. Now it’s time for us to take action to uphold the rights of the people who are vulnerable to the impacts of climate change because in the end all of our rights are on the line.
This Human Rights Day you can do something that will make a real impact. Help us get the big fossil fuel companies to take responsibility for human rights violations resulting from climate change.
The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines has asked the biggest oil, gas, coal and cement companies to attend a meeting in Manila on 11th December to agree the next steps in a full-blown national inquiry into their responsibility for human rights abuses resulting from climate impacts.
Extreme weather fuelled by climate change is making life worse for those on the frontlines of climate change, like the communities in the Philippines. Their basic rights to food, water, shelter, health, and even life are being threatened by climate change. International Human Rights Day underscores the importance of human rights: we, the people, have rights, states have duties, and companies have responsibilities to protect these rights. No oil, gas, or coal company has a right to pollute the climate, and those who undermine, threaten, and violate human rights rights must be held accountable.
The national inquiry was triggered by a legal petition filed by disaster survivors, community leaders, Greenpeace Southeast Asia and 13 other organisations, two years after the deadly and devastating super-typhoon Haiyan, which killed at least 6,300 people and affected millions more in 2013.
Filipinos want to know how these polluters will change the fossil fuel business so that their children and future generations don’t have to face deadly and devastating climate impacts.
An elderly couple walk past rubble left by the damage caused by Typhoon Haiyan
These companies are responsible for over 20% of carbon emissions since the industrial age. New research has found that emissions of the 50 biggest investor-owned carbon producers - the same companies being investigated in the Philippines - were responsible for around 16% of global average temperature increase and around 11% of global sea level rise from 1880 to 2010. The big polluters have yet to go on record about their responsibility for climate disasters, let alone the harm to people’s lives, livelihood and property. This national inquiry is our first opportunity to set the record straight on climate change and make sure these companies are as committed as we need them to be to phasing out fossil fuels and ensuring that our future is powered by 100% renewable energy. Let’s stand with the people who are on the frontlines of climate change and spread their call for justice. They are the first to feel the deadly impacts of climate change, but all of us are at risk.
Will any of the companies show true corporate leadership on climate change by participating in the national inquiry and showing up on 11th December?
Tell the big polluters to show up at the investigation on 11th December. It’s time for them to come to the table to answer tough questions posed by the survivors and to discuss solutions to the human rights crisis created by climate change. Communities, with the support of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, are championing this cause. And they need your help today.
AG Saño, visual artist, activist and survivor of super-typhoon Haiyan from The Philippines, holds up an invite to Shell to attend the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR) investigation, in front of Shell’s annual general meeting in The Hague.
Climate change affects us all and, if we don’t do anything about it, the way we live will change forever. If we all stand with the brave people taking legal action in the Philippines now, we have a chance to create a tipping point that could save the climate from corporate greed.
We are all in this together, and people are rising up around the world. The national inquiry in the Philippines is one of many people-powered legal actions. Greenpeace Nordic and Nature & Youth in Norway, young people in the US, senior women in Switzerland, a Peruvian farmer in Germany, a law student in New Zealand, and many others, are taking legal action to protect our right to a stable climate and healthy environment.Let’s make this a win for Filipinos and for all the other brave people worldwide who are suing governments and corporations, and for all of us.
Add your name to demand #ClimateJustice and protection of #HumanRights
Kristin Casper is Litigation Counsel for the global Climate Justice and Liability Project with Greenpeace Canada
As if fossil fuels weren’t bad enough already. Now Gazprom wants to build the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline through the unique Kurgalsky Nature Reserve.
We can’t let that happen.
Over 38,000 people in Russia have already sent a letter to the Ministry of Natural Resources to defend this precious forest. Send yours here.This is the planned route of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline
Greenpeace Russia has filed a lawsuit in the Supreme Court to challenge the regulations that have allowed this pipeline to go through. But we need all of you to stand with us against a giant fossil fuel company who wants to destroy this incredible part of the world.
The Kurgalsky reserve is one of the most valuable natural territories in North-West Russia. Many rare plants and animals call it home: the baltic ringed seal, black-throated loon, ruddy turnstone, garden dormouse, peregrine falcon and the golden eagle. Last year, the nest of a white-tailed sea-eagle was discovered here — the rarest predatory bird in this area.
Nest of a rare white-tailed sea eagle
The planned gas pipeline will cut a 3.7 kilometre-long scar through the trees as it passes through parts of old-growth forests. The impact will be irreversible. If it goes ahead, the project will make consumers from Germany, France, the U.K. and the Netherlands unwitting participants in an environmental wrong.
Fossil fuels are one of the most destructive industry on the planet. The world is already shifting towards safer, greener renewable technologies. Don’t let this precious reserve be destroyed for gas.
Irina Kozlovskikh is the press officer in the forests campaign with Greenpeace Russia
It was ten years ago that Greenpeace first published an investigation into Indonesia’s palm oil industry. We showed that the world’s biggest brands got their palm oil from companies destroying Indonesia’s rainforests - threatening local people as well as tigers and orangutans.
Children play without wearing any protection at the playground while the air is engulfed with thick haze from the forest fires in Central Kalimantan, Indonesia.
As people learned the truth about their shampoo, cosmetics and chocolate bars, brands and their suppliers started to feel the pressure. In 2013, Wilmar became the first palm oil trader to adopt a No Deforestation, No Peat, No Exploitation (NDPE) policy. Others followed suit, and by the end of 2014, most household brands and big palm oil companies had sworn to protect Indonesia’s rainforests.
Greenpeace doesn’t take companies at their word – we watch them closely to make sure they’re keeping their promises. A couple of years ago, we investigated household brands and weren’t that impressed with what we found. So this year, we took a look at the biggest palm oil traders - the companies that brands get their palm oil from.
A Greenpeace investigator documents the devastation of a company-identified 'No Go' area of peatland in the PT Bumi Sawit Sejahtera (IOI) oil palm concession in Ketapang, West Kalimantan (2016).
The results are alarming. Not one of the traders could prove it wasn’t buying from palm oil companies that destroyed rainforests. Most could not even say when there would be no deforestation in their supply chains. Instead of cutting out dirty palm oil, traders have a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy - they pretend everything is under control while Indonesia’s forests go up in smoke.
Indonesia’s people and environment are paying for the industry’s failure. The country has lost 31 million hectares of forest – an area almost the size of Germany – since 1990. A recent study on Borneo and Sumatra orangutans showed that the population has significantly declined, with destruction of their habitat a leading cause of the crisis. Forest destruction has also contributed to the annual fires and haze crisis that threatens the health of people across Southeast Asia. One study estimated that the 2015 fires crisis contributed to over 100,000 premature deaths. NGOs have also uncovered widespread human rights abuses in palm oil plantations, including child labour and worker exploitation.
This should be a wake-up call for brands like PepsiCo, Unilever, Procter & Gamble and Mondelez. These brands promised their customers they would cut ties with forest destruction. For too long, brands have passed the buck to their suppliers - the traders whose progress we assessed and found wanting.
An excavator constructs a canal in recently cleared land in an oil palm concession owned by PT Andalan Sukses Makmur (PT ASMR) concession, a subsidiary of Bumitama Agro Ltd. (2013)
It’s time brands took responsibility for the palm oil they’re using. The first step is to tell us where their palm oil really comes from. Then brands need to clean up their supply chains and cut out anyone still destroying forests. That’s the only way we’ll get this destructive industry to change.
Thankfully it’s not all bad news. Just a few weeks ago, scientists discovered a whole new species of orangutan in Sumatra! This is an amazing discovery - but like the rest of the orangutan popular, there’s a big risk that their habitat gets destroyed. It’s up to us to make sure that these amazing creatures have healthy branches to swing on in the future.
Bagus Kusuma is a forest campaigner with Greenpeace Southeast Asia
Today is a great day for oceans at both ends of the earth.
Last night, governments from around the world agreed to protect a huge part of the Arctic Ocean against all commercial fishing. Thanks to the millions of you who supported our Save the Arctic campaign, an area roughly the size of the Mediterranean Sea will be safe from industrial fishing for at least the next 16 years.
Polar Bear on Sea Ice in Baffin Bay
This means we have an even stronger platform to push countries to commit to more long-term protection for this vulnerable ocean and remove the threats of destructive fishing and fossil fuels for good.
Humpback whale in Antarctica
On the other side of the planet, a massive ocean sanctuary in the Antarctic’s Ross Sea comes into force today. An area of ocean twice the size of Spain is now protected from all kinds of extractive industries and can remain one of the most exceptional shallow oceans left on Earth.
This is amazing news for polar bears AND penguins - as well as all of us who depend on healthy oceans across the world.
Adeli Penguins in the Southern Ocean
These two victories are proof that people power works. When we work together, incredible things can happen. So if anyone tells you it’s impossible to save the Arctic or create the biggest protected area in the Antarctic, show them this blog. It always seems impossible until it’s done.
But we’re not stopping here. Back in the 1980s, millions of people persuaded their governments to ditch plans to open up the continent of Antarctica for mining and protect it forever. Now we have an opportunity to make history by creating the largest protected area on the planet, in the Antarctic ocean.
An Antarctic Ocean Sanctuary would not only be a safe haven for penguins, whales and seals, but it would keep those waters off-limits to huge industrial fishing vessels sucking up the tiny shrimp-like krill, on which all Antarctic sea life relies.
This historic day for the protection of polar oceans is a reminder that together we can succeed. So celebrate these decisions, keep going and help us restore our blue planet - all the way from the Arctic to the Antarctic!
Louisa Casson is an Oceans camapigner at Greenpeace U.K.
As the People vs. Arctic Oil Trial comes to an end, the battle against climate change continues in courtrooms around the world
After seven days of court hearings, the People vs. Arctic oil trial has come to an end.
We expect a judgment during the first weeks of January 2018.
This is our chance to take a look at what happened inside and outside the courtroom and at the growing movement of ordinary people doing extraordinary things to defend and restore our planet.
What happened inside the courtroom
Greenpeace and Nature and Youth argued that Article 112 of the Norwegian Constitution grants people and future generations the right to a healthy environment, which can be enforceable in the courts if the government’s actions violate that right. By opening up new areas for drilling for oil and gas in the Arctic, the Norwegian government is in violation of this article. This meant we could invoke the highest law in the land for this case - the Constitution.
Greenpeace Nordic and Nature and Youth in court, Nov 2017
While the State attorney called opening up a new area for drilling “an ordinary decision” it is anything but in these extraordinary times. We simply cannot afford to burn more oil if we want to keep the global average temperature rise to below 1.5C, as the world agreed in Paris.
Developed nations like Norway committed to take the lead under the Paris Agreement. Their efforts in combatting climate change should reflect the highest possible ambitions to maintain the temperature targets. But the Norwegian government is breaking their international commitment by opening up new areas for drilling in the Arctic.
What happened outside the courtroom
As the trial continued inside the court, something incredible was happening outside. The bank managing the largest wealth fund in the world, the Norwegian Central bank, recommended the Norwegian Government to divest from oil and gas. They were essentially echoing what our expert witnesses' were saying: there is great economic risk in the uncertainty of the future of oil and gas.
Greenpeace activists protest in front of the Norwegian Embassy in Berlin, Nov 2017
As the court listened to our arguments about how drilling for oil in the Arctic is also a human rights issue, affecting the lives of many outside of Norway, a UN Committee called upon Norway to revise its policy on Arctic oil drilling on the basis that that climate change disproportionately affects women.
The wave is rolling!
The fight for climate justice continues not just in Norway but around the world. Ordinary people are paying attention and rising up:
21 youth plaintiffs sued the US government for failure to act on climate change. On 11 December 2017, the U.S. 9th Circuit Court will hear oral arguments on the latest attempt from the Trump administration to stop the case. If the youth prevail, we expect the trial to start on 5 February 2018.
The Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines have called on 47 carbon producers to attend its investigation into their responsibility for climate-related human rights abuses. On 11 December 2017, the Commission will hold its preliminary conference to consider witnesses and evidence and set the next steps of the inquiry.
An appeals court in Germany declared admissible a Peruvian Farmer’s claim against a German energy giant for contributing to climate change. On 30 November 2017, the Court will decide on next steps.
The Dutch government has filed an appeal against the successful climate case brought by Urgenda. The trial is set to begin on 28 May 2018.
Looking to the future
Over half a million people signed their name to support this court case.
The People vs. Arctic Oil trial may be over but the movement to hold governments and corporations accountable for climate change has begun - and it’s only going to get stronger!
Michelle Jonker-Argueta, Attorney Greenpeace International
As extreme weather increases, the world is being forced to wake up to the realities of climate change.
The good news is that every day more and more people are coming together, taking action to ensure a greener future for us all.
Unfortunately, there are still a handful of outspoken people and backward-looking companies who either outright deny climate change is real or are just sticking their heads in the sand, or should we say coal?
One of those is Samsung Electronics. Yes, that’s right. One of the biggest companies in the world is still using dirty, polluting energy sources like coal to make the millions and millions of gadgets many of us use every day. 19th century coal to make 21st century gadgets.
In fact, Samsung even admits the company uses only 1% renewable energy in its production!
Thanks to the tireless work of people like you, hundreds of companies, including its arch-rival Apple, have woken up and are going 100% renewable.
We are all doing our part, now it’s Samsung's turn.
A company like Samsung is just too big to ignore. In 2016 alone it produced about 400 million smartphones, provided parts for other companies like Apple, Huawei and even Tesla and turned in a profit of 10 billion USD! This is a company whose adverts tell us to “do what you can’t” and “do bigger things”. We think it is about time Samsung took a look in the mirror and started to walk the talk.
The trouble is, we are running out of time.
The more time spent talking instead of acting, following instead of leading or stepping instead of leaping, the more uncertain our future, and their future becomes. Samsung Electronic’s leadership faces a choice to decide which side are they on: the progressive, responsible companies looking to the future or those who history will judge for their inaction and for holding us back.
Together we can create a movement companies like Samsung can’t ignore.
Add your voice to convince Samsung to #DoBiggerThings: stop fueling climate change and choose renewable energy.
Insung Lee is an IT campaigner at Greenpeace East Asia, Seoul office.