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‘A gentle calm’: France’s streets once again echo to sound of working horses

Dispar, a Breton draft horse, pulls refuse collectors in Hennebont, Brittany.
Dispar, a Breton draft horse, pulls refuse collectors in Hennebont, Brittany. Photograph: Thomas Louapre/The Guardian

Towns say they are not driven by nostalgia as they opt for horsepowered bin collections and school runs

The clip-clop of hooves marked the start of the morning rubbish collection in the Brittany town of Hennebont, as Dispar, a Breton draft horse, pulled a small cart towards the waste bins on a central street.

“This job is so much nicer with an animal,” said Julien, 38, who usually worked emptying bins on to a motorised rubbish-truck in another town but was training in horse-drawn techniques. “People see you differently, they say hello instead of beeping. This is the future, it saves on pollution, petrol and noise. And it makes people smile. Normally, I’d be constantly breathing in exhaust fumes behind my lorry, so this feels much healthier.”

Faced with climate breakdown, the energy crisis, and modern stress levels, there is a growing movement in French towns to bring back the horse and cart as an alternative to fossil fuels and a way to slow down urban life.

Florence, an estate agent in Hennebont, always stepped out of her office to watch the horse-drawn bin cart pass. “When I hear the sound of the hooves it’s just total happiness to me,” she said. “It brings a kind of gentle calm in these frantic times. It brings a bit of poetry into daily life, a reminder that things can be more simple. If I could live in a world without cars, I would.”

Since the first trials to reintroduce draft horses for municipal tasks in the mid-1990s, the number of French towns and urban areas using them has multiplied by almost 20 and continues to rise

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Big agriculture warns farming must change or risk ‘destroying the planet’

Food companies and governments must come together immediately to change the world’s agricultural practices or risk “destroying the planet”, according to the sponsors of a report by some of the largest food and farming businesses released on Thursday.

Photograph: Jeff McIntosh/AP

Photograph: Jeff McIntosh/AP© Provided by The Guardian

The report, from a task force within the Sustainable Markets Initiative (SMI), a network of global CEOs focused on climate issues established by King Charles III, is being released days before the start of the United Nation’s Cop27 climate summit in Egypt.

Related: Waterlogged wheat, rotting oranges: five crops devastated by a year of extreme weather

Many of the world’s largest food and agricultural businesses have championed sustainable agricultural practices in recent years. Regenerative farming practices, which prioritize cutting greenhouse gas emissions, soil health and water conservation, now cover 15% of croplands.

But the pace of change has been “far too slow”, the report finds, and must triple by 2030 for the world to have any chance of keeping temperature rises under 1.5C, a level that if breached, scientists argue, will unleash even more devastating climate change on the planet.

The report is signed by Bayer, Mars, McCain Foods, McDonald’s, Mondelez, Olam, PepsiCo, Waitrose and others. They represent a potent political and corporate force, impacting the food supply chain around the world. They are also, according to critics, some of those most responsible for climate mismanagement with one calling the report “smoke and mirrors” and unlikely to address the real crisis.

Food production is responsible for a third of all planet-heating gases emitted by human activity and a number of the signatories have been accused of environmental misdeeds and “greenwashing”…

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World close to ‘irreversible’ climate breakdown, warn major studies

Key UN reports published in last two days warn urgent and collective action needed – as oil firms report astronomical profits

The climate crisis has reached a “really bleak moment”, one of the world’s leading climate scientists has said, after a slew of major reports laid bare how close the planet is to catastrophe.

Collective action is needed by the world’s nations more now than at any point since the second world war to avoid climate tipping points, Prof Johan Rockström said, but geopolitical tensions are at a high.

He said the world was coming “very, very close to irreversible changes … time is really running out very, very fast”.

Emissions must fall by about half by 2030 to meet the internationally agreed target of 1.5C of heating but are still rising, the reports showed – at a time when oil giants are making astronomical amounts of money.

On Thursday, Shell and TotalEnergies both doubled their quarterly profits to about $10bn. Oil and gas giants have enjoyed soaring profits as post-Covid demand jumps and after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The sector is expected to amass $4tn in 2022, strengthening calls for heavy windfall taxes to address the cost of living crisis and fund the clean energy transition.

All three of the key UN agencies have produced damning reports in the last two days. The UN environment agency’s report found there was “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place” and that “woefully inadequate” progress on cutting carbon emissions means the only way to limit the worst impacts of the climate crisis is a “rapid transformation of societies”.

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Climate crisis: UN finds ‘no credible pathway to 1.5C in place’

Failure to cut carbon emissions means ‘rapid transformation of societies’ is only option to limit impacts, report says

A firefighter sets fire to land in an attempt to prevent wildfires from spreading in Gironde, south-west France.
A firefighter sets fire to land in an attempt to prevent wildfires from spreading in Gironde, south-west France. A rise in global temperature of 1C to date has already contributed to climate disasters. Photograph: Thibaud Moritz/AFP/Getty Images

There is “no credible pathway to 1.5C in place”, the UN’s environment agency has said, and the failure to reduce carbon emissions means the only way to limit the worst impacts of the climate crisis is a “rapid transformation of societies”.

The UN environment report analysed the gap between the CO2 cuts pledged by countries and the cuts needed to limit any rise in global temperature to 1.5C, the internationally agreed target. Progress has been “woefully inadequate” it concluded.

Current pledges for action by 2030, if delivered in full, would mean a rise in global heating of about 2.5C and catastrophic extreme weather around the world. A rise of 1C to date has caused climate disasters in locations from Pakistan to Puerto Rico.

If the long-term pledges by countries to hit net zero emissions by 2050 were delivered, global temperature would rise by 1.8C. But the glacial pace of action means meeting even this temperature limit was not credible, the UN report said.

Countries agreed at the Cop26 climate summit a year ago to increase their pledges. But with Cop27 looming, only a couple of dozen have done so and the new pledges would shave just 1% off emissions in 2030. Global emissions must fall by almost 50% by that date to keep the 1.5C target alive.

Inger Andersen, the executive director of the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), said: “This report tells us in cold scientific terms what nature has been telling us all year through deadly floods, storms and raging fires: we have to stop filling our atmosphere with greenhouse gases, and stop doing it fast.

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Animal populations experience average decline of almost 70% since 1970, report reveals

Huge scale of human-driven loss of species demands urgent action, say world’s leading scientists

Australian sea-lions
There was a 64% reduction of Australian sea lion pups between 1977 and 2019 due to hunting, entanglement in fishing gear or other marine debris and disease. Photograph: Brad Leue/Alamy

Earth’s wildlife populations have plunged by an average of 69% in just under 50 years, according to a leading scientific assessment, as humans continue to clear forests, consume beyond the limits of the planet and pollute on an industrial scale.

From the open ocean to tropical rainforests, the abundance of birds, fish, amphibians and reptiles is in freefall, declining on average by more than two-thirds between 1970 and 2018, according to the WWF and Zoological Society of London’s (ZSL) biennial Living Planet Report. Two years ago, the figure stood at 68%, four years ago, it was at 60%.

Many scientists believe we are living through the sixth mass extinction – the largest loss of life on Earth since the time of the dinosaurs – and that it is being driven by humans. The report’s 89 authors are urging world leaders to reach an ambitious agreement at the Cop15 biodiversity summit in Canada this December and to slash carbon emissions to limit global heating to below 1.5C this decade to halt the rampant destruction of nature.

The Living Planet Index combines global analysis of 32,000 populations of 5,230 animal species to measure changes in the abundance of wildlife across continents and taxa, producing a graph akin to a stock index of life on Earth.

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Liz Truss warned of mass bankruptcies if firms left in limbo over energy bills

Prime minister to lead nation in a minute’s silence to honour the Queen’s legacy ahead of funeral.

Liz Truss is facing a political and economic baptism of fire this week with warnings of mass bankruptcies across the economy – even as the new prime minister prepares to lead the nation in a minute’s silence on Sunday night to honour the Queen’s legacy.

Before the Queen’s funeral at Westminster Abbey on Monday and her burial at St George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle, Truss will appear on the steps of No 10 on Sunday night at 8pm as part of a final national “moment of reflection” on the monarch’s life and legacy.

Downing Street is hoping that people will take part in their homes and on their doorsteps across the UK. Sailors, soldiers and air crews from the armed forces stationed overseas will also pause, including on ships and in bases, in what government officials believe could become a global event.

But with the period of national mourning ending after the funeral, when Truss will fly to New York to attend the UN general assembly, and with MPs returning to Westminster on Wednesday or Thursday, the transition back to normal politics will be sudden and potentially bruising for a prime minister who had only been in office for two days before the Queen’s death.

On Saturday night, leading UK business organisations were renewing pressure on ministers for “absolute clarity” on what help government would offer them with their energy bills and warning of dire consequences if they continued to be left in limbo over the level of support in the medium term.

The new business secretary, Jacob Rees-Mogg, will make an announcement on support for business on Wednesday to be followed by a mini-budget by the new chancellor, Kwasi Kwarteng, on Friday.

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‘Soon the world will be unrecognisable’: is it still possible to prevent total climate meltdown?

Globe with steam rising from it. North and South America in view.
Record high temperatures and extreme weather events are being recorded around the world. Photograph: Ian Logan/Getty Images

Blistering heatwaves are just the start. We must accept how bad things are before we can head off global catastrophe, according to a leading UK scientist

The publication of Bill McGuire’s latest book, Hothouse Earth, could not be more timely. Appearing in the shops this week, it will be perused by sweltering customers who have just endured record high temperatures across the UK and now face the prospect of weeks of drought to add to their discomfort.

And this is just the beginning, insists McGuire, who is emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London. As he makes clear in his uncompromising depiction of the coming climatic catastrophe, we have – for far too long – ignored explicit warnings that rising carbon emissions are dangerously heating the Earth. Now we are going to pay the price for our complacency in the form of storms, floods, droughts and heatwaves that will easily surpass current extremes.

The crucial point, he argues, is that there is now no chance of us avoiding a perilous, all-pervasive climate breakdown. We have passed the point of no return and can expect a future in which lethal heatwaves and temperatures in excess of 50C (120F) are common in the tropics; where summers at temperate latitudes will invariably be baking hot, and where our oceans are destined to become warm and acidic. “A child born in 2020 will face a far more hostile world that its grandparents did,” McGuire insists.

Bill McGuire.
Bill McGuire is emeritus professor of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London and was also an adviser to the UK government.

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Brent crude rises above $120 a barrel as UK fuel prices hit record highs

Price increases on global oil markets and at UK forecourts add to concerns about rising inflation and its impact

Car being refuelled
Diesel prices in the UK hit a record 182.7p a litre on Saturday, taking the cost of filling up a 55-litre diesel car above £100 for the first time. Photograph: salarko/Alamy

The global oil price has risen above $120 (£94.90) a barrel as record high petrol and diesel prices in the UK add to concerns about the inflationary pressure that families and businesses are facing.

Brent crude, the international benchmark, rose on Monday to $120 a barrel for the first time since late March, lifted by the easing of Covid-19 restrictions in Shanghai and Beijing, a move that could lead to higher demand for energy from China.

The possibility of a European ban on Russian oil imports also pushed up crude prices. European leaders have met to discuss next package of EU sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

Analysts said rising oil prices could stir further inflation fears as the world economy absorbed the impact of the war. A sustained rise may also fuel higher profits for energy firms, coming after the UK government announced a £5bn windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas producers to help fund financial support for households struggling with the cost of living.

Jeffrey Halley, a senior analyst at the financial trading firm OANDA, said: “Markets pricing in peak virus in Beijing and Shanghai are behind the rally in oil prices today, with a China reopening likely leading to increased oil consumption.

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Saudi Aramco to increase oil production to meet global demand

Saudi Arabia’s state oil company said it would increase spending on oil production to meet rising global demand, as it reported a doubling of profits in 2021.Photograph: Ahmed Jadallah/Reuters© Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Ahmed Jadallah/ReutersSaudi Aramco – the world’s largest oil exporter and one of the world’s most profitable companies – said its net profit increased by 124% to $110bn (£83bn) in 2021, compared with $49bn a year earlier.

The company said its profits had soared as a result of higher crude oil prices as demand for oil rebounded after the pandemic, and also because of increased margins for its refining and chemicals business.

Brent crude oil rocketed to $139 a barrel, a 14-year high, earlier this month but have since dropped to closer to $100. In early December, a barrel of crude was priced below $70.

Aramco expects demand for oil to keep climbing, and said “substantial new investment” is required to meet this demand, in a move likely to dismay climate campaigners.

It said it is increasing its capital expenditure for 2022 by about half to between $40 and $50bn, with further growth expected until the middle of the decade.

The state-owned oil firm’s capital expenditure came in just below $32bn in 2021, an 18% increase from 2020.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have been asked in recent days by western governments to pump more oil to replace reliance on supplies from Russia.

The Gulf countries are the only two leading oil producers that have immediate spare capacity able to offset the shortfall in Russian-produced energy. However, the International Energy Agency (IEA) said in a recent report that Saudi Arabia and the UAE are so far “showing no willingness to tap into reserves”.

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France to build up to 14 new nuclear reactors by 2050, says Macron

French president says ‘renaissance’ of atomic energy industry will help end country’s reliance on fossil fuels

Emmanuel Macron
Emmanuel Macron made his announcement during an visit to the eastern industrial town of Belfort. Photograph: Jean-François Badias/AFP/Getty Images
Emmanuel Macron has announced a “renaissance” for the French nuclear industry with a vast programme to build as many as 14 new reactors, arguing that it would help end the country’s reliance on fossil fuels and make France carbon neutral by 2050.

“What our country needs … is the rebirth of France’s nuclear industry,” Macron said in a speech in the eastern industrial town of Belfort, in which he lauded the country’s technological prowess.

The centrist French president, who is expected to announce his campaign for re-election this month, is conscious of a growing debate about energy ahead of this spring’s presidential vote as costs to consumers rise. Environmental issues are also a growing concern among French voters.

Atomic energy provides about 70% of French electricity, and low-cost nuclear power has been a mainstay of the French economy since the 1970s, but recent attempts to build new-generation reactors to replace older models have become mired in cost overruns and delays.

Presidential candidates on the right have supported more nuclear power plants saying France should have “sovereignty” over its electricity, while detractors on the left have warned of the cost and complexity of building new reactors. Environmentalists have raised safety concerns over radioactive waste that remains deadly for tens of thousands of years.

Macron said French nuclear regulators were “unequalled” in their rigour and professionalism and that the decision to build new nuclear power plants was a “choice of progress, a choice of confidence in science and technology”.

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West accused of ‘climate hypocrisy’ as emissions dwarf those of poor countries

Average Briton produces more carbon in two days than Congolese person does in entire year, study finds

The Democratic Republic of Congo and London, UK.
The Democratic Republic of Congo and London, UK. The Center for Global Development study highlights the energy inequality between rich and poor countries. Photograph: Getty/AFP

In the first two days of January, the average Briton was already responsible for more carbon dioxide emissions than someone from the Democratic Republic of the Congo would produce in an entire year, according to analysis by the Center for Global Development (CGD).

The study, which highlights the “vast energy inequality” between rich and poor countries, found that each Briton produces 200 times the climate emissions of the average Congolese person, with people in the US producing 585 times as much. By the end of January, the carbon emitted by someone living in the UK will surpass the annual emissions of citizens of 30 low- and middle-income countries, it found.

Euan Ritchie, a policy analyst at CGD Europe, said his work was prompted by the “climate hypocrisy” of western countries, including the UK and the US, that have pledged to stop aid funding to fossil fuel projects in developing states.

“At Cop26 there was lots of hand-wringing by rich countries about the extent to which aid and other development finance should finance fossil fuels in poorer countries,” said Ritchie. “The hypocrisy of this caught my attention.”

“Our analysis shows that in just a few days, the average person in the UK produces more climate emissions than people in many low-income countries do in an entire year. It would be a cruel irony if the countries that have least contributed to this problem won’t be able to have access to energy infrastructure.”

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Chemical pollution has passed safe limit for humanity, say scientists

Study calls for cap on production and release as pollution threatens global ecosystems upon which life depends

Firefighters take part in an emergency drill against winter chemical hazards and accidents in China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region.
Firefighters take part in an emergency drill against winter chemical hazards and accidents in China’s Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region. Photograph: Xinhua/Rex/Shutterstock

The cocktail of chemical pollution that pervades the planet now threatens the stability of global ecosystems upon which humanity depends, scientists have said.

Plastics are of particularly high concern, they said, along with 350,000 synthetic chemicals including pesticides, industrial compounds and antibiotics. Plastic pollution is now found from the summit of Mount Everest to the deepest oceans, and some toxic chemicals, such as PCBs, are long-lasting and widespread.

The study concludes that chemical pollution has crossed a “planetary boundary”, the point at which human-made changes to the Earth push it outside the stable environment of the last 10,000 years.

Chemical pollution threatens Earth’s systems by damaging the biological and physical processes that underpin all life. For example, pesticides wipe out many non-target insects, which are fundamental to all ecosystems and, therefore, to the provision of clean air, water and food.

“There has been a fiftyfold increase in the production of chemicals since 1950 and this is projected to triple again by 2050,” said Patricia Villarrubia-Gómez, a PhD candidate and research assistant at the Stockholm Resilience Centre (SRC) who was part of the study team. “The pace that societies are producing and releasing new chemicals into the environment is not consistent with staying within a safe operating space for humanity.”

Dr Sarah Cornell, an associate professor and principal researcher at SRC, said: “For a long time, people have known that chemical pollution is a bad thing. But they haven’t been thinking about it at the global level. This work brings chemical pollution, especially plastics, into the story of how people are changing the planet.”

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Hottest ocean temperatures in history recorded last year

Ocean heating driven by human-caused climate crisis, scientists say, in sixth consecutive year record has been broken

An oil platform stands offshore as cargo shipping container ships wait in the Pacific Ocean to enter the port of Los Angeles.
An oil platform stands offshore as cargo shipping container ships wait in the Pacific Ocean to enter the port of Los Angeles. Photograph: Patrick T Fallon/AFP/Getty Images

The world’s oceans have been set to simmer, and the heat is being cranked up. Last year saw the hottest ocean temperatures in recorded history, the sixth consecutive year that this record has been broken, according to new research.

The heating up of our oceans is being primarily driven by the human-caused climate crisis, scientists say, and represents a starkly simple indicator of global heating. While the atmosphere’s temperature is also trending sharply upwards, individual years are less likely to be record-breakers compared with the warming of the oceans.

A firefighter sprays water as a house burns in the Dixie fire in the Indian Falls area of Plumas County, California.
Climate crisis: last seven years the hottest on record, 2021 data shows
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Last year saw a heat record for the top 2,000 meters of all oceans around the world, despite an ongoing La Niña event, a periodic climatic feature that cools waters in the Pacific. The 2021 record tops a stretch of modern record-keeping that goes back to 1955. The second hottest year for oceans was 2020, while the third hottest was 2019.

“The ocean heat content is relentlessly increasing, globally, and this is a primary indicator of human-induced climate change,” said Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado and co-author of the research, published in Advances in Atmospheric Sciences.

Warmer ocean waters are helping supercharge storms, hurricanes and extreme rainfall, the paper states, which is escalating the risks of severe flooding. Heated ocean water expands and eats away at the vast Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets, which are collectively shedding around 1tn tons of ice a year, with both of these processes fueling sea level rise.

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Vaclav Smil: ‘Growth must end. Our economist friends don’t seem to realise that’

Vaclav Smil

The scientist and author on his latest book – an epic, multidisciplinary analysis of growth – and why humanity’s endless expansion must stop.

Vaclav Smil is a distinguished professor emeritus in the faculty of environment at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. Over more than 40 years, his books on the environment, population, food and energy have steadily grown in influence. He is now seen as one of the world’s foremost thinkers on development history and a master of statistical analysis. Bill Gates says he waits for new Smil books the way some people wait for the next Star Wars movie. The latest is Growth: From Microorganisms to Megacities.

You are the nerd’s nerd. There is perhaps no other academic who paints pictures with numbers like you. You dug up the astonishing statistic that China has poured more cement every three years since 2003 than the US managed in the entire 20th century. You calculated that in 2000, the dry mass of all the humans in the world was 125m metric tonnes compared with just 10m tonnes for all wild vertebrates. And now you explore patterns of growth, from the healthy development of forests and brains to the unhealthy increase in obesity and carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Before we get into those deeper issues, can I ask if you see yourself as a nerd?
Not at all. I’m just an old-fashioned scientist describing the world and the lay of the land as it is. That’s all there is to it. It’s not good enough just to say life is better or the trains are faster. You have to bring in the numbers. This book is an exercise in buttressing what I have to say with numbers so people see these are the facts and they are difficult to dispute.

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Global supply chain crisis could last another two years, warn experts

As some bottlenecks ease others are just starting, meaning the post-pandemic economy ‘won’t return to normal any time soon’

China’s Ningbo Zhoushan port in Zhejiang province
China’s Ningbo Zhoushan port in Zhejiang province, a key shipping hub. A new Covid outbreak in the region has raised fears of further delays in the global shipping system. Photograph: China Stringer Network/Reuters

In Britain it’s alcohol, in Canada it’s maple syrup, while in Australia it’s a crucial additive for diesel trucks, and in New Zealand it’s brown sugar. These are just some of the many shortages affecting consumers and businesses around the world as industry experts warn that the supply chain crisis prompted by the coronavirus pandemic could last for many more months and even up to two years.

Although there are signs that some bottlenecks are easing, the onset of the Omicron Covid variant could lead to new shutdowns, sending another disruptive spasm through the global system.

The gravest appears to be an outbreak of Covid this week in the Chinese manufacturing hub of Zhejiang, which is home to the world’s largest cargo port, Ningbo-Zhoushan. Tens of thousands are in quarantine under China’s strict zero-Covid policy and some local authorities have urged workers not to travel home “unnecessarily” for lunar new year festival in February. “Further supply chain disruption is a significant possibility,” economic analysts at Capital Economics said in a note.

Industry experts and economists believe the problems could persist as the finely calibrated network of world trade, already weakened by months of shipping backlogs, labour shortages and geopolitical tensions, remains “discombobulated”.

Maersk, one of the big three shipping companies, said the worst delays were still on the US west coast where ships were waiting four weeks to unload due to the lack of workers on land.

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