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An essential guide to the week’s key developments relating to climate change.
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RECORD HEAT: July 2023 is set to be the world’s hottest month in “hundreds, if not thousands of years”, according to a warning from scientists that was covered by much of the world’s media, including the Independent. As millions around the world remain under heat advisories, officials have warned of danger to life under hot temperatures, reported BBC News. Commenting on Earth’s record July, UN chief António Gutteres said the “era of global boiling has arrived”, according to the Guardian.
WILDFIRES: Wildfires have continued to blaze throughout the Mediterranean and northern parts of Africa this week. At least 34 people were killed in record fires in northern Algeria, Africa News reported. Sky News reported that thousands of tourists were forced to flee from wildfires on the Greek island of Rhodes. In the Conversation, climate scientists explored how warming could have raised the risk of the Rhodes fires.
‘NEW NORMAL’: According to a new analysis reported on by Carbon Brief, the heat striking US, China and southern Europe this summer can not be considered “rare anymore” in our current climate. The World Weather Attribution service – a global network of scientists who investigate the influence of climate change on extreme weather events – found that the heatwaves in the US and Europe would have been “virtually impossible” in a world without climate change.
Atlantic ‘tipping point’
RUNNING AMOC: The New York Times was among outlets to cover new research looking at the possibility that an Atlantic current with a role in regulating the climate could “collapse” in the coming decades. The research discusses how climate change could be disrupting the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), a large system of ocean currents that carries warm water from the tropics northwards into the North Atlantic. The New York Times said the study suggests that warming could push the AMOC past a “tipping point” sometime this century.
CONTESTED: In its coverage of the study, New Scientist noted that “other researchers have doubts about the accuracy of the projections”. The Daily Telegraph reported that the UK’s Met Office has urged caution over the interpretation of the findings. On Twitter, Dr Céline Heuzé, a climate scientist at the University of Gothenburg, accused the authors of “exaggerating” their findings.
Net-zero under attack
POLICIES QUESTIONED: There was extensive – and contrasting – coverage across the UK media about whether both the prime minister Rishi Sunak and Labour’s Keir Starmer should change their approach to tackling climate change. The controversy started after Labour narrowly missed securing a byelection victory in the suburban London seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip last Thursday, with political pundits blaming local opposition to London mayor Sadiq Khan’s policies for tackling air pollution.
MISLEADING FRONTPAGE: Throughout the week, right-leaning newspapers published a series of prominent articles urging leaders to reconsider their commitments to tackling climate change. Among them, the Sunday Telegraph carried an interview on its frontpage with the levelling up secretary Michael Gove under the misleading headline: “Michael Gove warns against net-zero ‘religious crusade’.” As Carbon Brief’s Dr Simon Evans highlighted on Twitter, Gove did not refer to net-zero in this way in his actual interview.
‘POLITICAL SUICIDE’: Meanwhile, the Observer reported on its frontpage that senior officials from business, the scientific community and across the political divide warned that any dilution of climate policies would be “deeply unpopular” with voters and “politically suicidal”. A frontpage story in the i newspaper warned: “Tories warned over fiddling with green policies…while Rhodes burns.” Earlier today, the Times reported that the UK’s biggest environmental groups – which collectively have millions of members – have threatened to start “mass protests”, if Sunak waters down the country’s climate policies.
- NEW IPCC CHIEF: Prof Jim Skea, an eminent UK scientist, has been elected as the new chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Politico reported. Carbon Brief interviewed Skea in 2016.
- SEAGRASS VS CLIMATE CHANGE: Citizen scuba divers in Germany are fighting to save carbon-sucking seagrass meadows in the Baltic Sea, reported Reuters.
- FLORIDA HOT TUB: The Florida Keys Ocean reached 38.43C this week – the same temperature as a hot tub, reported the Guardian. The ocean temperatures are putting marine life at risk.
- EL NIÑO HITS SE ASIA: Vietnam and Thailand, two of the world’s biggest rice producers, “have been preparing for the worst” as El Niño affects water availability for crop production, according to Fair Planet.
- GDP LOSS: The former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Sanusi Lamido, estimated that Nigeria could lose 2.5% of its GDP per year to climate change if global emissions are not addressed, according to the Nigerian newspaper Blueprint.
- DEEP-SEA MINING: Crunch talks for the future of deep-sea mining are tabled to end today – but governments have not yet been able to agree on an agenda for the meeting, Climate Home News reported.
The number of endangered species of plant and lichen in the US that are threatened by climate change, according to research covered by the Daily Mirror.
- A new study in Nature Climate Change found that extreme weather events are putting around $80bn of global trade at risk each year by shutting down ports or rendering them inoperable.
- Research published in Energy Research & Social Science found that, while companies try to transition away from fossil fuels, oil and gas production has not declined and “remains profitable”.
- Approximately 36% of the world’s planted forests are located in east Asia, according to research published in Scientific Data.
(For more, see Carbon Brief’s in-depth daily summaries of the top climate news stories on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.)
2023 ‘likely’ to be hottest year on record
Extreme heatwaves are affecting countries across the globe, with 2023 now more likely than not to be the hottest year on record since the mid-1800s, according to new Carbon Brief analysis. In his latest quarterly “state of the climate” assessment, Carbon Brief’s Dr Zeke Hausfather analysed data from five research groups that document global surface temperature records to examine the pace of warming. “After a relatively cooler start to the year due to an unusual “triple dip” La Niña event, the world has witnessed an increasingly strong El Niño event that contributed to record-setting temperatures in June and July,” he said.
Climate change and the brain
As millions around the world remain under heat safety warnings, Carbon Brief examines how rising temperatures can affect the human brain.
Scientists this week said that July will be the hottest month ever recorded on Earth, with the UN chief warning that the world is entering an era of “global boiling” (see above). Rising extreme heat will have far-reaching consequences for the health of species across the globe – including humans.
Earlier this year, a journal article warned that not enough is known about how climate change is affecting the most complex part of the human body: the brain.
“We urgently need to understand the multilayered consequences of global warming on the brain,” the article said.
One major risk to the brain from climate change comes from the organ’s sensitivity to heat, said Dr Osman Shabir, a postdoctoral research associate in neuroscience at the University of Sheffield, who was not involved in the journal article. He told Carbon Brief:
“The brain is susceptible to temperature changes and, therefore, climate change will inevitably have long-term effects on the brain.”
When the brain is exposed to extreme heat, the blood-brain barrier can begin to break down, causing unwanted proteins and ions to build up. This, in turn, can cause inflammation and affect normal brain functioning.
The long-term impacts of this exposure to heat are not fully understood, Shabir explained, but could affect the risk of a range of neurological diseases, such as dementia. He added:
“Increased heat exposure can alter key brain proteins associated with dementia. Increased heat exposure also increases the levels of key inflammatory molecules that can result in brain inflammation that is so often seen in many neurological and neuropsychiatric conditions. These have the ability to cause long-term changes in the brain.
“It is important to stress, however, that these are proposed theoretical mechanisms based on animal studies – and real-life validation studies need to confirm these associations.”
Another way that climate change could be affecting our brains is by increasing the spread of infectious neurological diseases, he added:
“Due to changing regional climates, incidence of certain infectious diseases that can cause neurological disease will also increase, such as the West Nile virus, which causes severe encephalitis [brain swelling]. Primary amoebic meningoencephalitis [a rare fatal brain infection] caused by Naegleria fowleri amoeba (‘brain-eating amoeba’) is also set to rise.”
CLIMATE COST: Today in Focus, a podcast by the Guardian, dedicated an episode to explaining the human cost of the wildfires in Greece, taking a closer look at the help and rescue effort offered by locals.
ADAPTATION: As wildfires, floods and increasing temperatures strike southern Europe, Deutsche Welle invited German researchers to discuss climate adaptation, focusing on solutions and the changes needed to get there.
DROUGHT: Reuters published an interactive investigation on how drought imperils Iraq’s water buffalo and “a child’s way of life”.
- China Dialogue Trust, global editor | Salary: £59,409. Location: London
- City of Newcastle, project lead – climate change and sustainability | Salary: AUS$116,002 (£60,832). Location: Newcastle, Australia
- Wildlife Works, climate and Indigenous affairs policy specialist | Salary: R$ 200,000-240,000 (£32,949-£39,539). Location: Brasília, Brazil
- Fossil Free London, inequality and climate crisis campaigner | Salary: £33,000. Location: London
DeBriefed is written in rotation by Carbon Brief’s team and edited by Daisy Dunne. Please send any tips or feedback to [email protected]
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