DeBriefed 23 February 2024: Extreme heat from Asia to Africa; China risks missing 2025 CO2 targets; Why climate change matters for the pandemic treaty


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An essential guide to the week’s key developments relating to climate change.

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Extreme heat across the globe

SUPERLATIVE EXTREMES: Much of the world is experiencing extreme heat, with temperature records being broken on several continents but little western news coverage. Axios reported that temperatures in Japan are being “broken by rare margins”. The outlet added that Maximiliano Herrera, an independent climatologist who tracks weather records, “has been increasingly struggling to come up with new superlatives to describe” the extreme heat.

AFRICAN HEAT: Late last week, the Nigerian weather agency “predicted a prolonged heatwave across the country”, with temperatures forecast to rise above 40C, according to the Cable. In Kenya, the current “excess heat” could “persist till March”, the Standard reported. And “scorching” temperatures in parts of South Africa led to warnings for residents to stay indoors, the Witness said.

ASIAN EARLY BLOOMER: According to the Weather Channel, Japan’s iconic cherry blossoms are blooming early amid record heat there. The Thaiger reported that Thailand “is bracing for a severe heatwave”, while Cambodia’s meteorological ministry issued several advisories this week that maximum average temperatures could reach 37C, according to the Khmer Times

AUSTRALIA ‘SWELTERING’: The Sydney Morning Herald wrote that “parts of Western Australia have sweltered through their hottest night on record” this week. “Extreme fire danger” led to school closures in the state, another article said.

  • US REGULATIONS: US president Joe Biden is reportedly planning to “slow” the roll-out of tailpipe-emissions regulations – one of his administration’s “most ambitious strategies to combat climate change”, according to the New York Times. Meanwhile, US agencies are “scrambl[ing] to finish” environmental regulations “to ensure that a Republican Congress and White House can’t erase them next year”, Politico reported.
  • CLIMATE COCKTAIL: A deadly cholera outbreak in southern Africa “was likely triggered by a cocktail of issues”, Al Jazeera wrote, including “more severe flooding linked to climate change”. Heavy rainfall in the Amazon also triggered an alert for oropouche fever in the Brazilian city of Manaus, according to Folha de S. Paolo.
  • BACK-BURNER?: European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen is pursuing a second term, Politico reported, with “little appetite for expanding the Green Deal” amid concerns over “competitiveness, migration and defence”. However, a later Politico story quoted the draft manifesto of her party saying: “We want to further develop the Green Deal.” The Financial Times quoted von der Leyen saying: “We must achieve the climate targets…with the people and with the business sector.”
  • SOLAR SOARS: “‘World-leading’ electricity production” in China’s north-western deserts is being “fuelled by forces of nature”, with wind and solar making up more than half of the nearly 500 gigawatt capacity, according to the South China Morning Post.
  • EXTREMES AND ADAPTATION: Bangladesh was hit by 185 extreme weather events between 2000-19, according to a report covered by DownToEarth, which added that “adaptation policies and local initiatives have saved many lives”.
  • HIGH COURT CLAIMS: Three environmental groups are seeking legal action against the UK government over its decision to approve its “carbon budget delivery plan” in March 2023 without fully considering the risks, the Press Association wrote.

The profits of the “big five” oil majors – Shell, BP, Chevron, ExxonMobil and TotalEnergies – since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, according to the campaign group Global Witness.

  • New research by World Weather Attribution, covered by Carbon Brief, found that climate change had no significant impact on Chile’s recent deadly wildfires. 
  • Climate change is affecting the feeding and migration patterns of bowhead whales, which could lead to more collisions with ships in the future, according to a new study in Geophysical Research Letters.
  • A paper in Environmental Research Letters found that increasing population density could raise the carbon emissions from mangrove forest degradation by 50,000% by the end of the century.

(For more, see Carbon Brief’s in-depth daily summaries of the top climate news stories on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.)


China will need ‘record drop’ in emissions to meet target 

China's CO2 emissions need to fall 4-6% by 2025 to meet its carbon intensity target

Amid rapid growth of electricity demand, China’s energy emissions will now need to fall by a record 4-6% by 2025 in order to meet the government’s “carbon intensity” target – its CO2 emissions per unit of economic output. New analysis for Carbon Brief found that China is “at risk of missing” its other key climate targets for next year, but most of these can still be achieved if the country returns to pre-2020 levels of energy demand growth while maintaining last year’s “acceleration of clean energy deployment”. The analysis was covered by publications including the Straits Times, the South China Morning Post, Reuters, the Guardian and Bloomberg.

Guest post: Why climate change matters for the pandemic treaty

Dr Colin Carlson, a climate epidemiologist at Georgetown University.

In this spotlight, Dr Colin Carlson, a climate epidemiologist at Georgetown University, explains the connections between climate change and the proposed global pandemic treaty, as it enters the final stages of negotiations. 

For more than a year, World Health Organization (WHO) member states have been working towards a new treaty that would formalise the lessons learned during the Covid-19 response. 

On 19 February, delegates met at the WHO headquarters in Geneva to begin the eighth and penultimate session of negotiations. If countries can agree on final language, the Pandemic Agreement could then be adopted at the World Health Assembly in May.

The climate community has not paid much attention to these negotiations – nor has climate change featured heavily in the negotiations.

In the latest draft of the treaty, climate change is only mentioned once: the WHO and its member states are trying to move towards a “One Health” approach that protects human health, animal health and the environment, including “taking action on climate change”. 

Scientists have demanded more of a focus on preventing disease emergence, but for the most part, other drivers – such as wildlife trade and deforestation – have upstaged climate. 

But scientists are also starting to see connections between pandemics and climate change. 

Animals are on the move, and bringing their viruses to new places. Rising temperatures make another pandemic of Zika virus or another mosquito-borne disease more likely – and next time, the risks to the US and Europe will be far greater. Hotter temperatures also mean more antibiotic resistant bacteria – which will make the next flu or coronavirus pandemic more deadly.

Investment and surveillance

In that light, climate change makes the Pandemic Agreement all the more urgent.

It could mean countries spend more on surveillance, helping scientists spot new diseases as they show up.

Investments in clean water, sanitation and primary healthcare would also reduce the burden of climate-sensitive diseases such as cholera and malaria, while more investments in veterinary workforce would help to protect animal health from emerging diseases such as avian influenza. 

Most importantly, the proposed Pathogen Access and Benefit-Sharing (PABS) System would create a new framework for scientists around the world to share pathogen genomic sequence data with each other.

Pharmaceutical companies that access those data to design vaccines and therapeutics would then have to share some percent of their vaccines to the WHO, ensuring that low- and middle-income countries will have access to life-saving medicines – a massive step towards solving vaccine inequity and reducing disease risk in regions that are projected to see the largest increases in exposure because of climate change.

But first, the treaty has to survive the next three months. Since negotiations started, the PABS System has been flagged as a potential deal-breaker for high-income countries.

If the treaty falls through, health could become a much bigger problem for climate policy than it already is – after four million climate change-related deaths and counting.

DEEP-SEA SECRETS: The rediscovery of a 1970s-era deep-sea mining test site may shed light on the method’s lasting environmental impacts, the Post and Courier wrote.

ENERGY EQUITY: On the New Books Network podcast, two researchers discussed equitable clean energy and a just transition in north Africa and the Middle East.

MEKONG’S MANGROVES: The Mekong Eye explored how Vietnam’s mangrove forests have been felled in the name of economic growth – and how they might be saved.

DeBriefed is edited by Daisy Dunne. Please send any tips or feedback to [email protected]

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