The long hot summer seems to be drawing to an end, which will come as a relief to all sorts of people for all sorts of reasons. We’ve had hot weather for so long that wearing long trousers seems almost novel. Wildfires in unexpected places or of unusual size and ferocity have been a commonplace and the recent rain (in northern Europe at least) will put an end to that particular facet of global warming for a while, although the next few years are predicted to see more warm conditions during this El Nino cycle. The impact on crop yields remains something of an unknown; significant quantities of water after a long dry spell will contribute to increased potato scab and other problems (the picture below is from the 2017 crop, not this year). Recent warnings from various sources that food shortages are a likely outcome of a ‘no deal’ Brexit only add to the unwelcome prospect of a poor harvest. At the other end of extreme climatic events, the south Indian state of Kerala has been experiencing devastating excesses of rain rather than the paucity we have seen in Europe.
Last week saw the publication of two rather sobering reports, one from the Global Footprint Network on the apparently inexorable shortening of the time until Earth Overshoot Day (1st August this year, the earliest since the index was launched in 1969) and one by an international team of climate researchers, writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, warning that the warming expected in the next few decades could turn carbon sinks into sources and make the problems of climate change significantly worse. This isn’t necessarily new news for those of us who work in sustainability, but perhaps it will reach a new audience. A small glimmer of hope is that the Earth Overshoot report was picked up by HSBC, and the message thereby reached the global financial community in a way that it might not have done if was only being discussed by NGOs. Warning that governments and business are under-prepared for the impacts of climate change, HSBC’s analysts pointed out the severe economic and social costs of extreme weather events saying that “In our view, adaptation will move further up the agenda with a growing focus on the social consequences”. Global finance may turn out to be an unlikely saviour!
Also recently published is a report by DNV-GL containing the results of a survey on how WBCSD members and organizations that make up WBCSD’s Global Network are engaging with the SDGs. Even among this group engagement isn’t universal (1 in 8 ‘have no concrete engagement with the SDGs yet’), but more hearteningly perhaps, slightly more than 1 in 3 are considering their negative as well as their positive impacts on the Goals. There are some of the usual disparities between what is and isn’t viewed as strategic within the Goals; Climate Action (SDG13) comes out as top of the list and Life Below Water (SDG14) languishes at the bottom as is so often the case. Regional variations were less apparent in this report than has been the case in other surveys over the past 1 months, but the WBCSD-centred respondents were less diverse than in most surveys which might go some way to explaining it. Deforestation is becoming a major issue (the carbon-sink benefit of forests is well-known and its possible reversal at higher warming temperatures was one of the subjects of the report in PNAS) and has been cited as a contributor to the flooding in Kerala arising from the heavy rainfall mentioned above but the oceans are less-well publicised either as carbon and heat sinks or as oases of biodiversity.
One of the conference speakers at the Food Matters Live trade show in November (see https://www.foodmatterslive.com/2018) will be James Honeyborne, Executive Producer of the award-winning Blue Planet II documentary (you don’t need telling that I’ve mentioned it here before). He will be discussing how the learnings from the series has created a global phenomenon in raising awareness of plastic pollution and why building on the impact is so important to provide a global solution. It’s a food show, hence the focus on plastics (although much ocean plastic doesn’t derive from food of course) but I hope that he will use the voice that the success of the programme has given him to address other issues impacting on the health of the world’s oceans.