Evidence of the unfolding climate crisis dominated the headlines throughout 2019, in various forms including city floods, severe fires, melting glaciers, record temperature, air pollution and extinction of species. Young people, scientists and politicians reacted in different ways.
We round up some of the most striking climate-related stories around the world as the time is running out for action to tackle the problem.
Venice sees its worst floods in 50 years
Italy’s Venice has declared a state of emergency after floods caused hundreds of millions of pounds worth of damage to the tourist hot spot and killed at least two people.
From its founding in the Middle Ages, Venice has had a fraught relationship with the sea, dependent on it for food and trade, yet always threatened by changing environmental conditions.
This year, wind and water lashed the palaces and churches with alarming frequency. An estimated 85 percent of the city is underwater. The flooding has damaged hundreds of ancient buildings. Residents and tourists navigated streets in waist-high waters.
Exceptionally high tides similar to this one have taken place in the city roughly once every five years or so. But this year’s disastrous flooding is the worst it’s been since 1966. It’s the result of a confluence of risk factors including a changing climate. As ice melts and raises sea levels, high tides put Venice at greater risk.
More than 2,000 koalas die in Australian bush fires
More than 2,000 koala bears have tragically died and more are feared dead as the Australian bush fires continue to rip through New South Wales.
Experts said the blaze has ravaged koala habitat so rapidly that “we will probably never find the bodies”, after thousands of hectares of habitat were destroyed.
Nearly 100 wildfires are burning across New South Wales, scorching more than 5.3 million acres of land and shrouding Sydney beneath a potentially deadly cloak of toxic smog. The bush fires are largely enhanced by climate-change-driven drought and increasing temperatures.
A number of the most serious fires have merged into a larger fire complex with a fire front about 35 to 40 miles northwest of Sydney. Fires in the northern part of the complex are “out of control.”
Worst drought in over a century devastates animals in South African town
Devastating images of dead animals and cracked land show the impact a four-year drought is having on the Karoo region of South Africa.
The area has been hit with the worst dry spell in more than a century, with millions of people having to choose between whether to flush their toilets or not, or to keep livestock alive or let them die. These bleak choices could soon be faced by other people on a warming planet.
As the dry spell entered its fourth year, tap water turned brown and “smelled like rotting fish”.
When the water behind the Nqweba Dam dried up, depositing tens of thousands of dead fish onto cracked earth, queues began forming at municipal bore holes and farm animals died in their hundreds.
Data from the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Karoo faced an abnormally hot summer with rainfall 75 percent below average.
The United Nations said drought is contributing to the 45 million people facing hunger in South Africa. Images show bushes and trees withering and turning grey, while eerie signs mark rivers that are now dry beds.
Amazon deforestation rate hits highest level in over a decade
The rate of deforestation in the Amazon rainforest has risen to its highest level in 11 years, according to Brazilian government data.
About 9,762 square kilometers of rainforest were lost for the 12 months through July 2019, according to the release from The National Institute for Space Research (INPE). That’s a 29.5 percent increase over the previous 12 months and is the highest rate of loss since 2008, INPE said.
Brazilian Environment Minister Ricardo Sales said the increasing levels of deforestation were caused by illegal activities such as cattle grazing, agriculture, wood extraction and trade and illegal mining. The number of fires detected by satellites in the region is the highest it’s been since 2008.
According to the Federation of American Scientists, global warming is both a cause and effect of deforestation. As temperatures rise and rain patterns change, rain forest ecosystems have trouble adapting. In some areas, rainfall has decreased and triggered a phenomenon scientists call “desertification,” whereby forest area slowly turns into grassland.
This process actually triggers a feedback loop, because forests work to suck carbon out of the atmosphere. Reductions in forest land lead to more carbon in the atmosphere, causing more reductions in forest land.
Experts: Mont Blanc glacier could collapse
Experts warned that a massive glacier on the Italian side of Mont Blanc, the tallest mountain in Europe, is melting at an accelerated rate and is close to collapse.
Authorities attributed this year’s intense summer heat as the reason behind the melting glacier close to the northern Italian town of Courmayeur.
“With the anomalous summer heat recorded in August and the first half of September, the glacier is melting at an average of 35 centimeters (13.7 inches) per day, with peaks of 50/60 centimeters on some days,” said Moreno Vignolini, Courmayeur’s town spokesman.
Mont Blanc, located in the Alps between Italy and France, has become a symbol of climate change as its glaciers continue to rapidly melt in response to the warming of the Earth.
As the ice melts and falls, it creates a dangerous hazard for both locals and the millions of tourists who visit the site annually while also drying up fresh water supplies, said geologists.
India experiences worst air pollution in 3 years
Air pollution in New Delhi and northern Indian states peaks in the winter of 2019 as farmers in neighboring agricultural regions set fire to clear land after the harvest and prepare for the next crop season. The pollution in the Indian capital also peaks after Diwali celebrations, the Hindu festival of light, when people set off fireworks.
An “odd-even” scheme will restrict private vehicles with odd-number license plates to driving on odd dates while even-numbered plates are allowed on even-numbered dates. It was begun days after authorities began emergency control measures and ordered the closure of schools as pollution levels reached a three-year high.
World Health Organization data released in 2018 gave India the dubious distinction of having the world’s 10 most polluted cities.
Meanwhile, India’s Supreme Court sought accountability from state governments over the deteriorating air quality, saying the capital was choking every year, which “could not be allowed in a civilized country.”
One million species are at risk of extinction
Up to one million animal and plant species are being threatened with extinction due to human activity, some within decades, according to a United Nations report on the state of biodiversity and ecosystems published in May.
More than 40 percent of amphibians, nearly 33 percent of coral reefs and about a third of marine mammals are threatened, according to the report. An estimated 10 percent of the insect population is being threatened.
According to the UN report, the unprecedented and accelerating decline of global biodiversity has been driven by changes in land and sea use, exploitation of living beings, climate change, pollution and invasive species.
The rich variety of nature provides us with the food we eat, the water we drink and the air we breathe, and countless moments of personal inspiration spent in forests and mountains, exploring beaches and rivers, or even listening to a simple birdsong in a quiet moment.
We have all assumed that nature would always be here for us and our children. However, our boundless consumption, shortsighted reliance on fossil fuels and our unsustainable use of nature now seriously threaten our future.
Europe heat wave: 12 countries experience record-breaking temperatures
A ferocious heat wave smashed records across Europe in the summer that has seen at least 12 countries experience record-breaking temperatures, with the temperature in France surpassing 45 degrees Celsius for the first time on record.
The country, along with Spain, Italy and parts of central Europe were particularly hit by the soaring temperatures. Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands all saw new temperature records as well.
The extreme temperature caused about 1,500 more deaths than usual in France over June and July, up 9.1 percent on average for the period according to the country’s health ministry. Half of those who died were aged over 75.
The World Meteorological Organization said the heat wave in Europe was “absolutely consistent” with extremes linked to the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.
July 2019 hottest month on record for the planet
July 2019 has replaced July 2016 as the hottest month on record, with meteorologists saying that global temperatures marginally exceeded the previous record.
The European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Programme, which analyzes temperature data from around the planet, said that July 2019 was around 0.56 °C warmer than the global average temperature between 1981-2010.
That’s slightly hotter than July 2016, when the world was in the throes of one of the strongest El Nino events on record.
El Nino events are characterized by warming of the ocean waters in the Pacific Ocean and have a pronounced warming effect on the Earth’s average temperature.
Nine of the 10 hottest Julys have occurred since 2005 – with the last five years ranking as the five hottest. July 2019 was also the 43rd consecutive July and 415th consecutive month with above-average global temperatures.
World leaders condemn US decision to quit climate deal
US President Donald Trump faced a chorus of global disapproval after his decision to pull the US out of the Paris Agreement on climate change, with allies and rivals uniting to accuse him of failing future generations.
The Trump administration notified the international community in November of 2019 that it plans to officially withdraw from the historic Paris climate accord, a move that will take effect one year later, on Nov 4, 2020.
Following Trump’s announcement, the leaders of France, Germany and Italy put out a joint statement in which they pledged to implement the Paris climate agreement notwithstanding the withdrawal of the US.
The three leaders called on their allies to speed up efforts to combat climate change and promise to do more to help developing countries adapt.
The Paris agreement, which has now been signed by nearly every nation on earth, seeks to limit global temperature increases to less than two degrees Celsius, with each country setting its own nonbinding emission targets and reporting on its progress to reduce them.
Climate strike protests take to the streets around the world
Climate change demonstrators took to the streets across the globe to implore leaders to tackle climate change in the past year. People – mainly young people – walked out of school and work in a massive youth-led movement to draw attention to climate crisis.
Marches, rallies and demonstrations were held from Canberra to Kabul and Cape Town to New York, and German police reported that more than 100,000 turned out in Berlin.
The climate strike movement is just over a year old. It started with 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, who began striking alone every Friday in August in 2018 outside of the Swedish Parliament building in Stockholm to call attention to climate change.
In the year since, the movement has spurred hundreds to thousands of kids to strike regularly. Other climate movements, most notably Extinction Rebellion in the UK and the Sunrise Movement in the US, have tapped into growing frustration about a lack of climate action.
Scientists endorse a global ‘climate emergency’ declaration
More than 11,000 scientists have confirmed it is happening: the whole world is in the midst of a climate emergency. And they believe the threats are accelerating faster than previously expected.
Pointing to their “moral obligation” to share knowledge of impending danger, scientists from 153 countries released a declaration of a climate crisis they said would lead to “untold suffering”.
They have called on governments to cut pollution, introduce carbon taxes and stop giving a helping hand to the fossil fuel industry.
Individuals and families are also told to take responsibility: regularly eating meat, and an obsession with cash and flash fashion, are among the factors scientists have flagged as contributing to the planet’s demise.