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Act now and avert a climate crisis. Nature joins more than 250 media outlets in Covering Climate Now, a unique collaboration to focus attention on the need for urgent action

Nature has joined Covering Climate Now, a collaboration between the world’s media organizations. For one week, starting on 15 September, Nature and more than 250 other outlets — with a combined audience of more than one billion — have committed to a week of intensive climate coverage (scroll down to see a list of our coverage, which will be updated throughout the week).

Along with many other journals, Nature and other publications in the Nature family have reported the science and policy of climate change for decades. Our reporters covered the first meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in Geneva, Switzerland, in 1988, and our journalism, expert commentary and research continues to reveal the consequences of a warming planet and explore options for how humanity could adapt.

An urgent situation demands urgent solutions, and new ideas continue to emerge. Across the world, lawmakers are coalescing around Green New Deal plans — including massive public investment in decarbonizing all economic sectors, not just energy. The Green New Deal is ambitious, not least because it promises a swift end to fossil fuels and requires the state to reclaim those parts of the economy — notably energy and infrastructure finance — in which the public sector of many countries has been less active for something approaching 40 years.

Individuals and organizations worldwide, including Springer Nature, Nature’s publisher, are wrestling with how to cut their carbon emissions, through travel and other means. Biologists Olivier Hamant, Timothy Saunders and Virgile Viasnoff lay out a seven-point plan for making conferences more sustainable, including a recommendation for organizers to consider holding fewer, longer and more in-depth meetings. They also have advice for principal investigators: take slower forms of transport, and let younger colleagues travel instead.

Last month, teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg did just that by sailing into New York harbour after a two-week transatlantic crossing to attend the UN climate summit. One sail featured the phrase ‘Unite Behind the Science’. Along with our colleagues in Covering Climate Now, we are united with all those who stand behind the consensus view of researchers. But there can be no more delay. The time to act is now.

Among the latest ones:

African nations push UN to improve drought research. Early-warning systems to identify areas at risk top countries’ wishlist. (News)

Scientists from African countries are asking the United Nations to help them with research and data collection so that they can better identify — and prepare for — drought. Delegates from the continent made the call as the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) concluded its two-week annual meeting, in New Delhi.

“More than 70% of Africa is impacted by drought. It is the most serious problem,” says Tariq Ibrahim from Sudan’s National Centre for Research in Khartoum.

Early warning signs

Scientists in developing countries say they need to be able to spot when another such human tragedy could be coming, and build the necessary technological infrastructure for drought early-warning systems. “The priority is to mitigate drought and improve water resources and water management,” says Ibrahim.

The UN is starting to develop such measures, says Carl Fiati, director of natural resources at Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency in Accra, who chaired the meeting’s science and technology committee. He says that the UNCCD has only begun to prioritize drought in the past four years, and that for the previous 20 years it was not a top concern.

Barron Joseph Orr, lead scientist for the desertification convention, told the meeting that the secretariat is developing three indicators that countries would find useful in identifying the risk of drought. The first is a measure of drought hazard that calculates what proportion of a given land area is under drought; the second tracks the proportion of people exposed to drought. The third — known as a drought vulnerability indicator — tracks the degree to which communities and ecosystems are at risk from drought.

The convention secretariat, based in Bonn, Germany, has also published what it calls a “drought tool box”, a website with data and maps designed to help countries to develop their drought monitoring and mitigation plans.

Delegates also discussed progress against the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal of combating land degradation — land that has become unproductive because of intensive farming or deforestation, or from the effects of climate change. More than 100 countries have signed up to targets to combat land degradation. However, funding remains insufficient and delegates urged world leaders to dig deep.

Ibrahim Thiaw, who heads the desertification convention’s secretariat, told the meeting that 12 million hectares of land becomes degraded every year. Reversing this will require US$450 billion each year. Between 2017 and 2019, UN member states spent $6.4 billion on this problem, according to the UN’s Global Environment Facility.

“We have woken up to the fact that we will see more frequent and severe droughts, a phenomenon that will be exacerbated by climate change,” he said.

Further reading:

End the drought in drought research. Policymakers battling water shortages and land degradation need independent scientific advice.

A decade from now, up to 700 million people will be compelled to leave their homes because they will not have enough water, the United Nations estimates. This is a staggering figure. And yet, as Nature reports, drought is relatively under-researched.

The area is so neglected that scientists from Africa last week urged the UN to provide more support for early-warning systems to improve predictions of when a drought might be imminent. This call must be heeded. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned last month that the number of droughts in dryland regions has been increasing since 1961. Two years ago, a drought across Africa and the Middle East brought 20 million people close to starvation.

Articles from Nature as part of Covering Climate Now, a global collaboration of media outlets to highlight the issue of climate change from 15 to 23 September. This list will be updated through the week. 

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