Seahorse Summaries April 2019

Seahorse Summaries is a new monthly round-up of the top environmental news stories. Launched in April 2019, it provides you with a Seahorse insight on what we’ve seen and heard in the news, covering both the important and the intriguing.

April 2019 has been an incredible month for environmental media coverage, specifically climate change coverage. Yet this has been no coincidence. April provided a perfect setting for climate change to grab headlines because of the Brexit hiatus; with national news dominated by Brexit for so long, there was resultant media lull when Parliamentary recess began. Love it or hate it, Extinction Rebellion cleverly used this media space and made it its own.

Climate Change

Although it seems worlds ago when Extinction Rebellion held its underwhelming naked protest in the House of Commons, it happened in April and the media reported it with such satire. Fast forward just a few weeks and climate change has been mentioned the most this April in the past five years (!). Extinction Rebellion’s mass protests, lasting from 15th April to 25th April, mobilised support from previously disinterested groups and placed climate change right in the headlines. It generated divisive op-eds, ranging from the Telegraph’s disdain to the Guardian’s support. Meanwhile, business leaders voiced their support, stating that ‘future costs imposed on our economies by climate change will be many orders of magnitude greater [than the costs Extinction Rebellion is imposing at the moment from the protests]’. We are indeed approaching a new public narrative.

climate change media mentions graph.PNG

And now political action follows – or so it seems as first glance. The SNP, the Welsh Government and Labour have all committed to a climate emergency, placing the parties on a pedestal for UK climate leadership, until you delve deeper and see that Labour has backed a new coal mine, the SNP continue to be committed to oil and gas, and the Welsh Government continues to invest in high-carbon infrastructure. Meanwhile, Extinction Rebellion achieved another one of its goals by meeting with Michael Gove, though recent news has shown that Extinction Rebellion is frustrated at the outcome and will not stop until the Government properly meets its demands.

With no signs of Extinction Rebellion quietening down and the CCC’s advice that the UK should commit to achieving net zero emissions by 2050, Seahorse can’t wait for what is to come in May.

Air Pollution

Earlier on in the month, London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) came into force on 8th April. At the time, this generated fairly extensive media coverage (although trumped later by Extinction Rebellion) and unsurprisingly, divisive views: some bemoaned that the ULEZ is a form of stealth tax; several charities argued it will hinder their operations into central London; and British Lung Foundation and British Heart Foundation commended it for its predicted positive impact on health. Others, however, disagreed and said it doesn’t go far enough. Regardless, a survey found that almost 72% of Londoners welcomed the charge. 

Interestingly, recent coverage has shown that 70% of the 91,000 vehicles entering the ULEZ every day are meeting the standard, evidencing initial success - although it should be mentioned that the figures may not be entirely representative due to lighter traffic from school holidays and Extinction Rebellion protests. We expect the debate around clean air zones to continue not only because of the relentless research published that outlines the terrifying impact air pollution has on our health, but also as other cities keep a close eye on the public reaction as they begin to finalise plans for their own clean air zones.

Environmental Collapse

Only five weeks after Cyclone Idai devastated Mozambique, Cyclone Kenneth hit the country on 25th April. It was predicted to be the strongest ever storm on record to make landfall in the country, but thankfully its intensity eased when it hit land. However, it is not normal that Idai and Kenneth hit in such quick succession; there is no previous record of two storms of such power hitting Mozambique in the same season, with climate change expected to be the reason.

Kenneth and Idai are further reminders that climate change hits the world’s poorest the hardest. Mozambique is the world’s sixth poorest country and the damage caused by  Cyclone Idai has killed hundreds and left a trail of devastation, costing the country $773 million. Africa contributes the least to climate in absolute and per capita carbon emissions, yet it pays the highest price. Stories like this further evidence that climate change continues to be a problem of injustice.

And finally, after Twitter celebrated World Penguin Day on 24th April, the media reported on a new study revealing that the world’s second largest emperor penguin colony is facing collapse. The colony has experienced three years of almost total breeding failure after 10,000 chicks died in a storm in 2016. The authors of the paper have said that the breeding failure, caused by habitat loss, is unprecedented, and it is unusual that these penguins are still vulnerable since the initial collapse three years ago. Tragic events like this are a stark reminder that environmental collapse remains an overarching threat for all life on Earth.

If you want to know more about the aims of Extinction Rebellion and the UK School Climate Network, read our latest insight piece here: https://bit.ly/2vggiLr