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This is the year that all countries are due to update their climate targets under the 2015 Paris Agreement, and all eyes are on the world’s biggest industrialized countries: Will they strengthen their targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions?
On Monday, amid the global coronavirus pandemic, Japan became the first of the world’s richest countries to submit its new plan. Except there was nothing new in it at all. Japan said it would effectively stick to the target it set five years ago, which was to reduce its emissions by 26 percent from 2013 levels.
That’s important because Japan is the world’s fifth-largest emitter of planet-warming greenhouse gases. So, what Japan does to reduce its emissions is vital to the world’s overall efforts to stave off the worst effects of climate change.
The World Resources Institute said bluntly that Japan’s unchanged target “puts the world on a more dangerous trajectory.”
Naoyuki Yamagishi, head of the climate and energy group at World Wildlife Fund Japan, said the country had “sent a completely wrong signal to the international society implying it is OK not to enhance ambition at this crucial moment.”
Japan’s announcement was also important in that it could send a signal to other countries, particularly the biggest emitters, whose decisions will, to a large degree, determine whether the world as a whole can avert climate shocks like widespread droughts, wildfires and the inundation of coastal cities.
The most important announcements from other global capitals are yet to come and it remains to be seen whether the economic fallout from the pandemic will shape those decisions in the months to come. In theory, all countries have until the end of the year to submit their targets.
The European Commission is expected to announce in September its updated targets to its member states; a final decision is not expected until later in the year. Neither China, which is currently the world’s biggest emitter, nor India, which ranks fourth, have signaled whether they intend to announce more ambitious climate targets.
The biggest wild card is also the biggest emitter in history: the United States. The Trump administration has quit the global accord and rolled back vital environmental protections, including on auto emissions standards. The presidential elections in November will decide which way the United States goes. Mr. Trump’s Democratic rivals have pledged to rejoin the Paris accord.
Making the most of the quiet
By Brad Plumer
As cities worldwide shut down in response to the coronavirus pandemic, the streets have gotten quieter. And many readers have likely noticed that it’s become easier to hear birds chirping in their neighborhoods — a rare bright spot in an otherwise grim time.
At a moment when everyone’s in lockdown, bird watchers say it’s a good opportunity to pay closer attention to the rich avian wildlife in our cities. For one thing, the lull in traffic makes it easier to detect birds that often get drowned out. Also, it’s spring, when birds start filling the air with songs for mating season and many migratory species head north, making stops in North American and European cities.
“Street trees always have attracted birds. Now people stand a much better chance of hearing them,” said David Barrett, who runs the Manhattan Bird Alert Twitter account. “Northern Mockingbirds, Red-bellied Woodpeckers, and Downy Woodpeckers, for example, visit street trees. Small parks tucked into formerly loud urban areas also will be markedly quieter now, and these parks attract a great variety of migrants, including warblers.”
Some scientists even wonder whether the recent decline in city noise could have unintended effects on bird behavior.
To compete with human-caused noise in urban areas, many birds have had to alter their songs as they struggle to be heard by potential mates, and some have even fled city life altogether. “As cities get quieter, it would be reasonable to imagine that we might see effects on birds’ willingness to sing or even on population densities,” said John Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
But, Dr. Fitzpatrick cautions, researchers still need hard data. Cornell’s scientists often look at data from eBird, an app for people to log bird sightings, which could help track any changes. In Europe, scientists recently launched a project called Silent Cities, asking volunteers to record urban landscapes, to study how wildlife sounds might shift during the pandemic.
If you go out looking for birds, remember that social distancing remains critically important during the coronavirus outbreak. That means it’s best to avoid parks when they’re crowded with other people. Fortunately, there’s still plenty to see and hear from an apartment window, backyard, or on a walk to the store.
David Lindo, a British birding expert known as the Urban Birder, has been staying inside in Mérida, Spain, for the past few weeks. But from his terrace, he’s already been able to spot 31 species, including a “gorgeous” flock of Eurasian spoonbills overhead and a family of house martins nesting on his balcony.
“You don’t need to be an expert to get started,” Mr. Lindo says. Smartphone apps like Merlin can help pick out birds in your area. Cornell’s researchers also developed an app, BirdNET, that identifies bird songs, but it’s available only on Android for now.
The best times to watch are early morning, when migratory birds land to stock up on food after traveling all night, as well as in the afternoon, when birds of prey hitch a ride on updrafts of warm air rising from the city.
“You can see a lot just looking out your window,” Mr. Lindo says. “You might start to notice, over there is where the white-throated sparrow hangs out, and over there is where the blue jay hangs out. Every day is different. It can be a calming activity during a stressful time.”
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