Global Cooperation Key to Preventing ‘Runaway’ Climate and AI Chaos: UN Chief

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Original article by JULIA CONLEY republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). 

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres speaks at the U.N. headquarters on February 22, 2023.  (Photo: Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)

“Geopolitical divides are preventing us from coming together around global solutions for global challenges,” said United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres.

At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on Wednesday, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres warned that multilateralism that includes often overlooked governments in the Global South is the only solution to the rapidly developing crises posed by the climate emergency and artificial intelligence—both of which are worsening “the global crisis in trust.”

“In the face of the serious, even existential threats posed by runaway climate chaos,” said Guterres, “and the runaway development of artificial intelligence without guardrails, we seem powerless to act together.”

While “droughtsstormsfires, and floods are pummeling countries and communities,” particularly in nations that have contributed the least planet-heating fossil fuel pollution, Guterres told the political and business elite assembled in Davos, “countries remain hellbent on raising emissions.”

He reserved particular scorn for the United States fossil fuel industry, which—amid the Biden administration’s approval of pollution-causing infrastructure including the Willow oil project and the Mountain Valley Pipelinedeceives the public with false climate solutions, misinformation, and greenwashing campaigns “to kneecap progress and keep the oil and gas flowing indefinitely.”

As suffering intensifies in communities that are most vulnerable to drought, damage from extreme weather, and other climate catastrophes, Guterres said, fossil fuel giants and powerful governments are risking lives to only delay an “inevitable” shift to renewable energy.

“The phaseout of fossil fuels is essential,” said the secretary-general. “No amount of spin or scare tactics will change that. Let’s hope it doesn’t come too late.”

As trust between the Global South and wealthy governments is frayed by fossil fuel-producing countries’ refusal to leave oil, gas, and coal behind, Guterres warned that the separate threat of “unintended consequences” of artificial intelligence evolution also looms—for people in rich economies as well as developing countries.

“This technology has enormous potential for sustainable development,” said the U.N. chief, while noting that “some powerful tech companies are already pursuing profits with a clear disregard for human rights, personal privacy, and social impact.”

Guterres’ comments came days after the International Monetary Fund (IMF) released a new analysis of AI’s expected impact on the global economy and workers, with nearly 40% of the labor market expected to be “exposed” to AI.

In wealthy countries, about 60% of jobs are projected to be impacted by AI, and about half of those workers are likely to see at least some of their primary tasks being completed by AI tools like ChatGPT or similar technology, “which could lower labor demand, leading to lower wages, and reduced hiring,” according to the IMF. “In the most extreme cases, some of these jobs may disappear.”

The analysis released Sunday noted that the rapidly changing field could worsen inequality within countries, as some higher earners may be able to “harness AI” and leverage its use for increases in their productivity and pay while those who can’t fall behind.

“In most scenarios, AI will likely worsen overall inequality, a troubling trend that policymakers must proactively address to prevent the technology from further stoking social tensions,” said the IMF. “It is crucial for countries to establish comprehensive social safety nets and offer retraining programs for vulnerable workers.”

Guterres called on policymakers to work closely with the private sector—currently “in the lead on AI expertise and resources”—to “develop a governance model” for AI that is focused on “monitoring and mitigating future harms.”

A systematic effort is also needed, said the secretary-general, “to increase access to AI so that developing economies can benefit from its enormous potential.”

Along with the IMF and Guterres, global human rights group Amnesty International this week raised alarm about AI and the “urgent but difficult task” of regulating the technology, noting that in addition to changing how people and companies work, AI has the potential to be “used as a means of societal control, mass surveillance, and discrimination.”

Police agencies in several countries have begun using AI for so-called “predictive policing,” attempting to prevent crimes before they’re committed, while officials have also deployed automated systems to detect fraud, determine who can and can’t access healthcare and social assistance, as well as to monitor migrants’ and refugees’ movement.

Amnesty credited the European Union with making headway in regulating AI in 2023, closing out the year by reaching a landmark agreement on the AI Act, which would take steps to protect Europeans from the automation of jobs, the spread of misinformation, and national security threats.

The AI Act, however, has been criticized by rights groups over its failure to ban mass surveillance via live facial recognition tools.

“Others must learn from the E.U. process and ensure there are not loopholes for public and private sector players to circumvent regulatory obligations, and removing any exemptions for AI used within national security or law enforcement is critical to achieving this,” said Amnesty.

In Davos on Wednesday, Guterres expressed hope that policymakers will agree on climate, AI, and other solutions that center human rights in the coming year, including at the U.N.’s Summit of the Future, planned for September.

“These two issues—climate and AI—are exhaustively discussed by governments, by the media, and by leaders here in Davos,” said Guterres. “And yet, we have not yet an effective global strategy to deal with either. And the reason is simple. Geopolitical divides are preventing us from coming together around global solutions for global challenges.”

“The only way to manage this complexity and avoid a slide into chaos,” he said, “is through a reformed, inclusive, networked multilateralism.”

Original article by JULIA CONLEY republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). 

Continue ReadingGlobal Cooperation Key to Preventing ‘Runaway’ Climate and AI Chaos: UN Chief

‘It’s high time government woke up to the climate emergency’

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Flood water in York, Yorkshire, January 2, 2024

Firefighters demand emergency funding as thousands evacuated across Britain

FIREFIGHTERS have demanded emergency funding to tackle widespread flooding after thousands of residents were evacuated from their homes and transport links ground to a halt in the wake of Storm Henk.

Since 2010 funding for the Environment Agency has been axed by two-thirds, including funding for flood defences and resilience. More than 2,000 jobs have been axed.

In the call for emergency funding, Fire Brigades Union (FBU) general secretary Matt Wrack said: “When floods threaten people’s homes, lives and livelihoods, it’s firefighters who step in to protect communities.

“Storm Henk follows a winter of storm after devastating storm and more is to come.

“It’s high time that the government woke up to the realities of the climate emergency.

Greenpeace UK climate campaigner Georgia Whitaker said: “While the prime minister is on a tour to kick off the election year, thousands of people are seeing their homes, businesses and fields wrecked by rising water.

“We’ve known for decades that the climate crisis would bring more rainfall and flooding and yet the government completely failed to prepare for it.

“Thousands of flood defences are in a state of disrepair and ministers are still allowing developers to build in high-risk areas, while also pushing for more oil and gas drilling that will only make the problem worse. It’s a double failure.

“(Prime Minister Rishi) Sunak should take a break from his glad-handing tour and see for himself what the real consequences of climate inaction look like.

“He might learn how voters waist-deep in flood water feel about his plans to slow down climate action ahead of the election.”

Image of UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reads 1% RICHEST 100% CLIMATE DENIER
Image of UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak reads 1% RICHEST 100% CLIMATE DENIER

Continue Reading‘It’s high time government woke up to the climate emergency’

Fires, Floods, and All-Time Record Heat Batter Brazil

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Original article by JON QUEALLY republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). 

A woman cools off with a hose as fans of singer Taylor Swift queue outside the Nilton Santos Olympic Stadium before Taylor Swift’s concert amid a heat wave in Rio de Janeiro on November 18, 2023. (Photo by Tercio Teixeira/AFP via Getty Images)

The heat index—which combines air temperature and humidity—hit an astounding 58.5ºC (137ºF), the highest index ever recorded, in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday.

Amid a stifling heatwave this week Brazil is experiencing its highest temperatures ever recorded—a milestone that comes alongside global trends and fresh scientific data showing the world is far from meeting stated ambitions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to curb the climate emergency.

According to the National Institute of Meteorology, temperatures in the southeastern city of Araçuaí hit 44.8ºC (112.6ºF) on Sunday, breaking the previous record set in 2005.

It was so hot over the weekend that international pop star Taylor Swift was forced to reschedule concerts nationwide.

Meanwhile, the heat index—which combines air temperature and humidity—hit an astounding 58.5ºC (137ºF), the highest index ever recorded, Tuesday morning in the country’s second-most populous city of Rio de Janeiro.

The extreme heat is having a severe and negative impact on people’s ability to work and live comfortably and putting a crush on the nation’s power grid. As the Associated Pressreports:

Brazilians turned to fans, air conditioners and dehumidifiers to cool down, with utilities reporting record energy demand. Power outages were reported in Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro.

Amid the high heat, wildfires are burning widely in the Pantanal biome, the world’s biggest tropical wetlands spanning parts of Mato Grosso and Mato Grosso do Sul states. The fires have ravaged an area about the size of Cyprus, or more than 947,000 hectares (about 3,600 square miles), according to the Environmental Satellite Applications Laboratory of the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

The wildfires are arriving earlier in some places and with much more intensity. With summer not even at its height, fears are growing of what’s to come:

“The Pantanal is a region that’s used to fires,” biologist Gustavo Figueiroa, head of the environmental group SOS Pantanal, toldAl-Jazeera on Monday. “Normally, it regenerates naturally. But this many fires isn’t normal.”

Attributed in part to the El Niño effect, the historic temperatures in South America’s largest country mirror the trend happening worldwide, with 2023 on track to be the hottest in 125,000 years, the result of burning fossil fuels and release of other heat-trapping gasses since the Industrial Revolution.

In addition to the heatwave and fires, heavy rains and damaging storms have brought severe flooding to other regions of the country, some resulting in the death of local residents and tens of thousands displaced.

Despite global efforts to reduce emissions and transition away from coal, oil, and gas, the latest figures from the United Nations in its 2023 Emissions Gap Report, released Monday, show that humanity is expanding its use of fossil fuels instead.

“The report shows that the emissions gap is more like an emissions canyon,” U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement. “A canyon littered with broken promises, broken lives, and broken records. All of this is a failure of leadership, a betrayal of the vulnerable, and a massive missed opportunity.”

Original article by JON QUEALLY republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). 

Continue ReadingFires, Floods, and All-Time Record Heat Batter Brazil

‘Five-Alarm Fire’ as Global Temps Breach 2°C Threshold

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Canadian wildfire 2023
Canadian wildfire 2023

Original article by OLIVIA ROSANE republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). 

While scientists were quick to point out that this was just a daily anomaly, not a permanent shift, it is a “canary in the coalmine” that “underscores the urgency of tackling greenhouse gas emissions.”

Global temperatures surpassed 2°C above preindustrial levels for the first time Friday, according to preliminary data from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

The European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts’ ERA5 data set showed global service air temperatures rising 2.07°C above the 1850-1900 average on Friday and 2.06°C above that average on Saturday, the service said.

“This is a five-alarm fire for humanity,” the group Climate Defiance tweeted in response to the figures.

In the 2015 Paris agreement, world leaders set out to keep warming to “well-below” 2°C above preindustrial levels. Allowing warming to breach that point increases several climate risks, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC): 2°C of warming compared with 1.5°C would raise sea levels by an additional 0.1 meters by 2100, destroy 99% of coral reefs instead of 70% to 90%, and expose several hundred million more people to poverty and climate-related hazards by 2050.

Friday’s 2°C breach was first noted by Copernicus Climate Change Service deputy director Samantha Burgess on social media Sunday. She said the day was also 1.17°C above the 1991-2020 average, making it the warmest November 17 on record.

Scientists were quick to point out that this doesn’t mean global heating has breached the 2°C threshold long-term.

“The 1.5°C and 2°C warming thresholds have been defined in terms of the trend line,” University of Pennsylvania climate scientist Michael Mann tweeted. “Not individual years, let alone months, weeks, or days (the shorter the time period, the larger the random fluctuations). Those who imply otherwise are misleading you.”

Richard Allan, professor of climate science at the University of Reading in the U.K., told CNN that it was “entirely expected that single days will surpass 2°C above preindustrial well before the actual 2°C target is breached over many years.”

“We are blowing past warning signs with wild abandon. We are approaching the precipice and flooring the gas.”

That said, the reading was a “canary in the coalmine” that “underscores the urgency of tackling greenhouse gas emissions,” Allan said.

It also comes in a year of dropping canaries: The 12 months from November 2022 to October 2023 were the 12 hottest on record, according to a Climate Central analysis. 2023 saw the hottest Northern Hemisphere summer on record, the hottest month in July, and is likely to be the hottest year not just since record-keeping began, but in the last 125,000 years. And it’s not just numbers. The record-breaking temperatures fueled deadly heatwaveswildfires, and floods around the world.

“The indicators are flashing red,” Climate Defiance wrote. “The planet’s vital signs are clear. Humanity is on life support. With the El Niño cycle just beginning, this 2°C breach sadly represents not a climax but a small taste of what is to come.”

“This is happening faster than expected,” the group continued. “We are blowing past warning signs with wild abandon. We are approaching the precipice and flooring the gas. This is madness. Utter madness.”

The 2°C breach comes a little less than two weeks from the start of the next United Nations Climate Change Conference in the United Arab Emirates. A recent report from U.N. Climate Change found that national plans were still incompatible with limiting warming to 1.5°C and that world leaders must take “bold strides forward” at the conference “to get on track.” More than 650 scientists have signed a letter to President Joe Biden urging him to back a fossil-fuel phaseout at the talks.

“It’s just one day (so far) above 2°C, but it highlights again that the world is approaching the limits set out by the Paris Agreement,” IPCC scientist Ed Hawkins tweeted. “We already have many of the solutions to rapidly reduce emissions and halt the rise in global temperatures. We just need to choose to use them.”

Original article by OLIVIA ROSANE republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). 

Continue Reading‘Five-Alarm Fire’ as Global Temps Breach 2°C Threshold

Climate Emergency in Action: NYC ‘Essentially Shut Down’ by Flash Flooding

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Climate Emergency in Action: NYC 'Essentially Shut Down' by Flash Flooding
Climate Emergency in Action: NYC ‘Essentially Shut Down’ by Flash Flooding

Original article by JULIA CONLEY republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). 

“One week ago, 75,000 people inundated New York City streets to demand the president end fossil fuels,” said one campaigner. “Now, climate-fueled rains are submerging those same streets.”

“This is the climate crisis,” said youth-led grassroots organization Sunrise Movement on Friday as photos and videos of flooded streets and subway stations in the largest city in the United States went viral across social media.

The group shared a video of cars struggling to drive through water that was up to pedestrians’ knees in Brooklyn, saying the image starkly illustrated the need to both prepare U.S. cities and infrastructure for fossil-fueled extreme weather events and to rapidly draw down planet-heating greenhouse gas emissions that have been linked to stronger hurricanes, rising sea levels, and other destructive changes.

“We need an all-out mobilization of our government and society to stop [the climate crisis] right now,” said the group.

New York Gov. Kathy Hochul called the rainstorm that caused the flash flooding a “life-threatening rainfall event” and noted that there have been reports of some school buildings flooding, prompting administrators to move children to higher floors or close the buildings.

“No children are in danger as far as we know,” said Hochul, adding that many New York City children use public transportation to get home from school. “We want to make sure we get the subways, the trains, our communication system, our transportation system working.”

According to Richard Davis, president of Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union, some bus passengers on Friday were forced to stand on their seats as drivers navigated through high flood waters that seeped into buses.

Maintenance workers were using pumps to remove water from subway stations, and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority announced “extremely limited subway service,” with many lines suspended or rerouted.

New York City Councilmember Chi Ossé criticized Mayor Eric Adams for failing to address the public until the crisis was well underway and said the flooding shows the city is “severely underprepared for the climate crisis.”

Earlier this month Adams announced a new initiative aimed at mobilizing business owners to comply with Local Law 97, which will take effect in 2024 and would reduce carbon emissions from buildings.

According toGothamist, “environmental experts say the new plan will weaken the law’s enforcement powers by giving qualified building owners an extra three years to meet carbon reduction deadlines.”

Jean Su, energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity, took aim at the offshore drilling plan proposed by President Joe Biden on Friday over the objections of scientists and climate advocates. The five-year plan includes three new offshore gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico despite Biden’s campaign promise to end offshore gas and oil drilling.

“We are in the climate emergency,” said Su. “Yet the president is continuing to drill for oil and gas. He has to stop to give us a chance at a livable planet.”

Earlier this month, noted Su, some of the same streets that were inundated with rainwater on Friday had been filled with tens of thousands of people demanding that Biden declare a climate emergency and take decisive action to speed the transition toward renewable energy.

“A week ago, we were hitting the streets of New York for Climate Week NYC,” said grassroots group Rising Tide North America. “We shut down Citibank’s headquarters and blockaded the New York Federal Reserve.”

“[The New York Police Department] arrested lots of our friends,” the group added. “Maybe they should have been arresting those bankers and bureaucrats who are responsible for this disaster.”

Original article by JULIA CONLEY republished from Common Dreams under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). 

Continue ReadingClimate Emergency in Action: NYC ‘Essentially Shut Down’ by Flash Flooding