Photo: NRDCCross-posted from the Wonk Room.
As the world’s environmental ministers arrive in Cancun, Mexico, for the 19th year of negotiations to address global warming pollution, new climate disasters are killing people across the planet. The slow-moving climate talks are hobbled by insufficient amibition, and uncertainty over whether the United States or China — the world’s largest climate polluters — will follow through with their Copenhagen Accord commitments. The Obama administration’s stated commitment to cut pollution by 17 percent by 2020 from 2005 levels, after Republican climate deniers killed cap-and-trade legislation, now depends on whether the Environmental Protection Agency’s planned greenhouse standards survive a polluter onslaught.
Meanwhile, the building heat trapped by billions of tons of fossil fuel pollution is fueling catastrophic changes in the world’s climate system predicted years ago by scientists:
- The worst wildfires in Israel’s history, fueled by record warmth and drought, “have destroyed large sections of Israel’s northern area” and killed 41 people. Four days of intense battle during the celebration of Hanukkah, with assistance from Greece, Cyprus, Egypt, Jordan, Turkey, Russia, France, Britain, Switzerland, Spain, U.S., Germany, Bulgaria, Italy, Azerbaijan, and others, have finally begun to bring the devastation under control.
- Forty-two separate wildfires are burning in neighboring Lebanon, which has the same tinderbox conditions.
- Dynamic winter-storm systems driven by the rapidly warming Arctic have plunged much of Europe into killer cold weather for the second year in a row, months after a summer of record heat and precipitation. Up to 30 people have frozen to death in Poland, and 30 more were killed in the rest of Europe.
- Floods have hit Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, and Serbia after “three weeks of torrential rains,” forcing the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.
- Thousands of people have been evacuated amid catastrophic floods in Australia that have already destroyed $500 million in crops, with rivers still rising.
Thunderstorms, high winds and tornadoes ripped through the southern United States, injuring at least 30 people, destroying buildings, toppling trees, flooding highways, and forcing schools to close.
- New Zealand is facing an intense heatwave and its third consecutive summer of drought.
- “The death toll from the incessant rains in Venezuela has risen to 34,” with “more than 70,000 people who have been affected” by the catastrophic floods.
- “As many as 200 people may have been buried in a landslide Sunday that swept over 10 houses near Medellin, Colombia’s second largest city,” as the country “has been lashed in recent weeks by heavy rains that have left at least 176 people dead and 225 injured, as well as 1.5 million people homeless nationwide.”
- In India, “more than 150 people have died following heavy rains in the coastal districts of Tamil Nadu over the past few days.”
- A “massive wildfire in Tibet‘s Sichuan province killed 22 people, including Chinese soldiers during a rescue operation” on Sunday.
Speaking at the funeral of a teenage volunteer firefighter, President Shimon Peres said the wildfire “disaster taught us that all of us, Jews, Arabs, Druze, and other peoples, share the same fate.” If the climate negotiators in Cancun can find the same sense of solidarity in crisis shown in their home countries, there could be reason for hope.