Newsdesk – January 15, 2021

What clean energy might look like in 2021. Despite the intense challenges of 2020, local leaders stepped up to demonstrate their commitment to fighting climate change last year — a movement that is set to flourish in 2021. 2020 was undoubtedly one of the most tumultuous years in American history — one that was rocked not only by a global health pandemic but also by unprecedented political divisions that infiltrated most facets of life in the country. Last year we also saw that states, cities, utilities, and businesses were not waiting for federal directives before implementing green infrastructure of their own. With local leaders continuing to step up to the plate, we can expect even more climate-conscious decision-making to take place in 2021. In 2020, several states took the first steps in reexamining the long-term future of their gas distribution systems. California, Colorado, Massachusetts, and New York all opened proceedings focused on gas planning, often following the lead of local city and town actions to limit or even phase out gas appliances. One state that has already made bold climate change promises for 2021 is New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) recently outlined an ambitious agenda during a State of the State address. Cuomo shared that he plans to make New York the “green economy of the world,” and announced 24 new renewable energy projects that will take off this year, creating nearly 11,000 jobs in upstate New York alone. 2021 will mark a new era of accelerated funding for climate resilience infrastructure that directly benefits environmental justice communities, and expands the role consumers play in expediting decarbonization,” predicts Nicole Sitaraman, vice president of strategic engagement at Sustainable Capital Advisors during a recent interview with Forbes.  Sitaraman points to Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris for evidence to back up the prediction; they pledged $2 trillion in sustainable infrastructure investment – The Hill

  • A Green Transformation for the ‘World’s Most Beautiful Avenue’ – Bloomberg City Lab
  • How to transform your street into a 1-minute city – Fast Company
  • Madrid Is Buried Under Heaviest Snowfall in 50 Years – The New York Times
  • Pandemic and Africa on agenda at 2021 One Climate Summit – DW Made for Minds
  • Award-winning Thai community continues the fight to save its wetland forest – Mongabay
  • Garden of Hope – Grist
  • Many Overheated Forests May Soon Release More Carbon Than They Absorb – Inside Climate News
  • The Capitol Riot and Climate Disinformation – The New York Times
Mekong Delta near Can Tho, Vietnam. Photo © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue
Mekong Delta near Can Tho, Vietnam. Photo © J. Carl Ganter/Circle of Blue

Four International Water Stories to Watch in 2021. The travails of the last year, when a bat virus-infected humans and turned the world upside down, were an unfortunate reminder of the inseparable ties between society and the natural environment. So it is with water, which will again this year direct the course of history, through events small and large. The fallout from the pandemic will continue to cast a shadow. So will negotiations between countries that share major rivers with unsettled politics, like the Mekong and Nile. 2021 will bring more awareness of the water risks for businesses and the need to restore ecosystems to build resilience to rising seas, stronger storms, and harsher droughts. The Climate Adaptation Summit on January 25-26 will set the stage for more discussion of the topic at the UN climate conference in Glasgow in November. The pandemic brought about one of the most significant reversals of fortune in recent history. The World Bank expects that 88 million to 115 million person to fall into extreme poverty this year, meaning that they live on less than $1.90 a day. This is after three decades of near-continuous reductions in extreme poverty. Hunger is on the rise.  Relief agencies like the International Rescue Committee have issued alerts that food aid is needed across a swathe of Africa’s Sahel region. Millions of people in Afghanistan, Ethiopia, and Yemen also face acute hunger due to drought, floods, political violence, and reduced household income during the pandemic. If La Niña conditions persist, these areas would see continued dryness in the early months of 2021. There’s a big new dam in the Nile basin, and it’s causing a stir. For the last few years, representatives of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan have failed to secure an agreement on how to Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam will be filled and operated during times of drought. Water levels in the lower Mekong have perked up after last year’s severe drought. But rainfall is not the only variable that influences river flows. Chinese dams have been the source of much consternation among the four downstream countries of Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, and Vietnam – Circle of Blue

Smoke and flames rise from an illegal fire in the Amazon rainforest reserve, south of Novo Progresso in Para state, Brazil. Photograph: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty

Top scientists warn of the ‘ghastly future of mass extinction’ and climate disruption.  A sobering new report says the world is failing to grasp the extent of threats posed by biodiversity loss and the climate crisis. The planet is facing a “ghastly future of mass extinction, declining health and climate-disruption upheavals” that threaten human survival because of ignorance and inaction, according to an international group of scientists, who warn people still haven’t grasped the urgency of the biodiversity and climate crises. The 17 experts, including Prof Paul Ehrlich from Stanford University, author of The Population Bomb, and scientists from Mexico, Australia, and the US, say the planet is in a much worse state than most people – even scientists – understood. Frontiers in Conservation Science report, which references more than 150 studies detailing the world’s major environmental challenges, warns that climate-induced mass migrations, more pandemics, and conflicts over resources will be inevitable unless urgent action is taken. “Ours is not a call to surrender – we aim to provide leaders with a realistic ‘cold shower’ of the state of the planet that is essential for planning to avoid a ghastly future,” it adds. The report comes months after the world failed to meet a single UN Aichi biodiversity target, created to stem the destruction of the natural world, the second consecutive time governments have failed to meet their 10-year biodiversity goals. This week a coalition of more than 50 countries pledged to protect almost a third of the planet by 2030. An estimated one million species are at risk of extinction, many within decades, according to a recent UN report. Large populations and their continued growth drive soil degradation and biodiversity loss, the new paper warns. “More people means that more synthetic compounds and dangerous throwaway plastics are manufactured, many of which add to the growing toxification of the Earth. It also increases the chances of pandemics that fuel ever-more desperate hunts for scarce resources” – The Guardian