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Climate change did not have a statistically significant impact on the wildfires that hit Chile earlier this month, according to a new rapid attribution study by the World Weather Attribution service (WWA).

In early February, a series of wildfires broke out across the coast of Chile. Within just days, they burned more than 29,000 hectares of land, destroying more than 7,000 homes and killing more than 130 people.

“The wildfires were the world’s deadliest since the 2009 Australia bushfires,” according to the WWA.

The authors warn that “global warming will likely increase the risk of fire conditions in central Chile” if temperatures rise by 2C above pre-industrial temperatures. Moreover, it is already making the country hotter and drier – both risk factors for wildfires.

The study finds that climate change had made the observed fire conditions more likely, but this result was not statistically significant, meaning it could have occurred by chance.

The findings are also subject to fairly wide uncertainty. One reason is that coastal Chile is seeing a slight local cooling effect, the researchers say, due to shifting weather patterns.

In addition, the study notes that changes in land use – such as the growth of informal settlements in forest zones and widespread conversion towards non-native species and monoculture plantations – are making many regions of Chile “significantly more vulnerable” to wildfires.

’Perfect storm’

Forest fires in the Valparaíso region in central Chile started on 2 February. They then “spread rapidly through mountainous forests near Viña del Mar, Quilpué and Villa Alemana… [and] moved extremely quickly into the outskirts of cities”, WWA says in a press release, leaving more than 29,000 hectares burned since 4 February.

Chilean president Gabriel Boric described the fires as “the biggest tragedy we have experienced as a country since the earthquake of 27 February 2010”, according to La Tercera

The most up-to-date death toll remains at 132, Chile’s La Tercera reported, while El Mercurio reported on the mental health impacts of the fires, with affected people suffering from anxiety and stress. 

According to Diálogo Chino, Boric said that evacuating people had been made difficult by the speed at which the fires were spreading – in some areas at more than 10km per hour, faster than most people can walk.

The map below, taken from the attribution study, shows the burned area across the Viña del Mar-Valparaíso sector, highlighted in red. The yellow circles show active fires on 2 February.

This shows a map of wildfires in Chile. The extent of the wildfires is shown in red and non-affected vegetation in green.
The extent of the wildfires is shown in red and non-affected vegetation in green. Active fires on 2 February 2024 are indicated by yellow circles. The map also displays the urban limits, main roads and meteorological conditions. Source: WWA (2024)

In an article by the NASA Earth Observatory, NASA research scientist Dr Elizabeth Wiggins suggested the wildfires “were the product of a perfect storm of conditions”, adding that “they occurred during a heatwave, drought and high-wind event borne from a combination of El Niño and climate change”.

Hot, dry and windy

The attribution study assesses the role of climate change on Chile’s fires between 31 January and 4 February, as these were the “highest fire intensity” days, when most of the impacts occurred, according to the study authors.

The intensity of a wildfire is influenced by a wide range of factors, such as atmospheric moisture, wind speed and fuel availability. The authors of this study focus on the “hot dry windy index” (HDWI) – a measure which combines maximum temperature, relative humidity and wind speed.

The study notes that this index does not take into account factors – such as the build-up of fuel – as other more “complex” indices do. However, the authors say the index is “an effective hazard metric for estimating threat to communities and difficulty of containment”.

The map below shows the maximum of average four-day HDWI between 31 January and 4 February 2024. Darker red indicates a higher HDWI, signifying hotter, windier and less humid conditions. The blue box indicates the study area.

The maximum of average four-day HDWI that occurred between 31 January 31 and 4 February 2024, using the ERA5-Land reanalysis dataset.
The maximum of average four-day HDWI that occurred between 31 January 31 and 4 February 2024, using the ERA5-Land reanalysis dataset. The blue box indicates the study area. Source: WWA (2024).

To put the wildfire into its historical context and determine how unlikely it was, the authors analyse a timeseries of HDWI. They find that the hot, dry and windy conditions that drove the wildfires of February 2024 are a one-in-30 year event in today’s climate.

To assess the role that climate change played in creating these weather conditions, the scientists use climate models to compare HDWI in this coastal region of Chile in the world as it is today, with a “counterfactual” world without human-caused climate change.

This is one approach to attribution, the fast-growing field of climate science that aims to identify the “fingerprint” of climate change on extreme-weather events.

The study finds a “small increase” in the HDWI due to climate change, but says that the trend is not “statistically significant”. (A statistically significant result would mean that an HWDI index as high as that seen during the wildfires in Chile is unlikely to be explained by chance.)

The authors also assess the individual components of the HDWI – maximum temperature, relative humidity and wind speed – but again find no “significant” trend due to climate change.

The study also uses two different indices to assess the extent whether the natural climate phenomenon El Niño had any impact on the dangerous fire weather conditions, but again finds “no significant influence”.

Finally, using the same models, the authors assess whether the fire would be more likely in a warmer world. Although the impact of climate change on fire weather in this year’s Chilean wildfires is “not yet significant”, they find that “global warming will likely increase the risk of fire conditions in central Chile if warming reaches 2C” above pre-industrial temperatures.

(These findings are yet to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. However, the methods used in the analysis have been published in previous attribution studies.)

Coastal cooling

It is “not surprising” that climate change did not have a statistically significant impact on Chile’s wildfires, the study says.

The authors explain that the coast of Chile is one of the few places in the world where climate change is causing a slight local cooling effect, due to a high-pressure year-round weather system in the south-east Pacific Ocean called the “South Pacific High”.

The study explains:

“Climate change is causing the South Pacific High to move southwards, leading to stronger southerly winds that are pushing deep, cold water to the coast of Chile. These cold waters replace warm, superficial water in a process called ‘upwelling’, which causes low temperatures along the coast, unlike inland Chile and the rest of South America.”

Tomás Carrasco Escaff, a researcher at the University of Chile’s Climate and Resilience Research Center (CR2) and author on the study, told a press briefing that this shift in the South Pacific High results in “coastal cooling”, which drives down HDWI. However, he adds that it also causes “competing” effects of “greater dryness” and “intensification of wind”, both of which act to increase HDWI.

Coastal cooling is also tricky for climate models to capture accurately – especially as the fires broke out on the “transition between the coast, which is cooling, and the inland part of the country which has a warming trend”, explained Dr Joyce Kimutai,  a research associate at Imperial College London.

This, combined with the limited observational data available, means that there is a “relatively large degree of uncertainty” in the results of the study.

Contributing factors

Local media has also reported on the potential drivers of the fires. Citing a recent study, La Tercera said that climate change and El Niño have made the country more prone to “megafires” – those spanning more than 200 hectares. 

The research noted that megafires – such as the ones registered in the summer of 2017 and 2023 – were influenced by both the high temperatures driven by El Niño and more frequent and intense heatwaves. It also showed that the central regions from El Maule to Araucanía – to the south of the Valparaíso region – have been the most affected by megafires between 2014 and 2023.

Diálogo Chino cited a 2020 study from CR2, which found that “since 2010, forest fires in south-central Chile have increased in terms of occurrences and area burned, compared to the previous three decades, while the average duration of the fire season has also become longer”.

The article noted that the “fire-affected south-central zone of Chile has been transformed by vast forest plantations of exotic species, especially pine and eucalyptus, introduced for timber and pulp production”. The CR2 study found that “exotic plants can modify the dynamics of forest fires, increasing the speed of spread, as well as their extent, frequency, intensity and seasonality”, the article said.

Diálogo Chino also said that infrastructure in Valparaíso “is another factor explaining the scale of the fires”. It added:

“Some of the burned areas are densely populated, with their expansion having often taken place without planning permission. Additionally, many houses there are informal dwellings that may have been constructed with flammable materials such as wood.”

This aligns with the findings of the attribution study, which notes:

“Fire risk is increasing notably due to current land management practices, such as the expansion of Wildland-Urban Interface areas (including the growth of informal settlements in forest zones) and widespread conversion from native to foreign and monoculture plantations.”

In addition, Diálogo Chino reported that Chile’s minister of the interior and public security Carolina Tohá claimed at least some of the recent fires may have been started intentionally.

Analysis Chile’s National Forest Corporation (CONAF) found that the main cause of 64% of fires in Chile from August 2023 to January 2024 is “negligence”, followed by intentional and accidental fires, and then 0.5% directly started by lightning. Negligence is driven by agricultural burning, which contributed the most to the fires, forestry work and the poor condition of power lines, the analysis found. 

New draft law

The fires caused widespread destruction, with BioBioChile reporting that 7,000 houses had been damaged or destroyed. The government has estimated the reconstruction cost at up to $1bn, the outlet noted. Of those homes, 70% were in informal settlements, the attribution study notes. 

BioBioChile also reported on the deaths of wildlife – including owls, thrushes, foxes, partridge and chinchilla mice – as a result of the fires.

Pedro Álvarez, forest engineer and forest chair at Reforestemos, a Chilean civil society organisation that implements forest restoration and fire prevention projects, travelled to the affected area. He tells Carbon Brief that some of the ecosystems harmed were native forests – home to native species such as the Chilean palm – and sclerophyllous forests, which are composed of shrubs and trees.

Native Chilean palms.
Native Chilean palms, Jubaea chilensis, at La Campana National Park, Chile. Credit: Chris Gomersall / Alamy Stock Photo

Due to the scale of the fires, a new bill is being discussed in Chile’s congress, and – according to a CONAF press release – the minister of agriculture, Esteban Valenzuela, has urged that this is finalised by April this year.

The draft law aims to prevent forest and rural fires – for example, by implementing spatial planning instruments to set up “measures to manage landscape” and creating preventative management plans on forest land, such as fuel-cutting belts and clearance of combustible material.

Álvarez tells Carbon Brief that the biggest challenge facing Chileans and the state right now is rebuilding the area. He suggests that public policies should focus on preventing fires, enhancing spatial planning and restoring key regions for ecosystem services and biodiversity.

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No ‘statistically significant’ link between climate change and Chile’s wildfires

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Revealed: UK ‘double counting’ £500m of aid for war-torn countries as climate finance 



The UK government has reclassified nearly £500m of aid for war-torn and impoverished countries as “climate finance”, in a bid to meet its international commitments under the Paris Agreement.

This follows reports that the UK’s pledge to spend £11.6bn on climate aid between 2021-22 and 2025-26 is slipping out of reach, due to government cuts.

A freedom-of-information (FOI) request by Carbon Brief reveals how, after the reclassification, money for humanitarian work in nations including Afghanistan, Yemen and Somalia is now being double-counted as climate finance to help the UK hit its goal.

The projects being double-counted include work to provide food and basic necessities that have no explicit link to climate action, Carbon Brief’s analysis reveals. Some of their internal reports even state clearly that they are not climate-finance projects.

This is part of a wider revision of climate-finance accounting, introduced by the government in 2023 to ensure the UK achieves its £11.6bn target. 

By redefining existing funds pegged for development banks, investment in foreign businesses and humanitarian aid as “climate finance”, the government expects to add £1.72bn to its total.

Experts tell Carbon Brief it is “problematic” and “unjust” to relabel existing funds as climate finance rather than providing new money. One says the UK could meet its target, at least in part, by “double counting development and climate finance”.

The chair of the Least Developed Countries (LDC) group at UN climate talks says the UK’s actions are a “clear deviation from the path to climate justice”.

‘Moving the goalposts’

The UK government has committed to spending £11.6bn on international climate finance (ICF) between 2021-22 and 2025-26. This is the nation’s contribution to climate action in developing countries, which it is obliged to provide under the Paris Agreement

Developed countries, such as the UK, have committed to sending “new and additional” climate finance to developing countries. This is generally interpreted as spending extra money on top of existing foreign aid.

The UK government itself has described the £11.6bn goal as “dedicated ring-fenced funding that is distinguishable from non-climate [aid]”.

However, reports began to emerge in 2023 that the government was not on track to meet its target.

Experts attributed this to the government cutting its overall foreign aid budget. In November 2020, the government suspended a target to give 0.7% of national income as overseas aid – reducing it to 0.5% as a “temporary measure”. 

The government is also spending more of the remaining funds on supporting refugees within the UK. The latest figures show that in 2023, the UK spent more of its aid budget on supporting asylum seekers and refugees in the country than on overseas projects.

In order to remain on track for the £11.6bn goal, development minister Andrew Mitchell announced in October 2023 that the government was changing the way it calculated ICF spending.

This immediately sparked concerns that the government was inflating its climate-finance figures without providing any new aid money for developing countries. Mitchell provided limited details of how the government was getting its target back on track.

More information came in a report released in February by the Independent Commission for Aid Impact (ICAI). It concluded that, by “moving the goalposts”, the government had reclassified £1.72bn of spending as climate finance between 2021-22 and 2025-26.

This figure includes four tranches of funding that had not previously been considered ICF:

  • £746m from assuming that a share of the “core” funding the UK gives to the World Bank and other multilateral development banks (MDBs) will be assigned to climate-related projects.
  • £497m from automatically labelling 30% of the humanitarian aid spent in the 10% of countries that are most vulnerable to climate change as ICF.
  • An estimated £266m from defining more payments into British International Investment (BII), the UK’s overseas development finance institution, as ICF.
  • £215m from civil servants “scrubbing” the aid portfolio – namely, going back over existing projects and adding any climate-relevant funding they had previously missed.

The figures cited by ICAI are based on unpublished government analysis, which Carbon Brief has now obtained via FOI.

The analysis includes the annual contributions each of these sources are expected to provide over the period from 2021-22 to 2025-26, which can be seen in the coloured sections of the chart below.

The UK government has reclassified £1.7bn of development aid as climate finance
Annual UK ICF spending, £bn, by financial year for the period 2011/12 to 2025/26. The grey area indicates ICF spending under the original accounting methodology used until October 2023. Beyond 2022/23 the figures are forecasts, with the light grey area indicating the upper bound and the darker grey indicating the lower bound. The coloured areas indicate the funding newly reclassified as counting towards ICF, following methodology changes introduced in October 2023. For multilateral development bank contributions, Carbon Brief understands that the UK will pledge £495m to the World Bank in 2025/26, and the remaining contributions that make up the £746m total are spread evenly across the 2011/12-2025/26 period. Source: UK government.

As the chart indicates, even with the methodology changes, the £11.6bn target is still “backloaded”, with a significant uptick in ICF spending required beyond 2023-24 to meet it.

ICAI notes that, since the government cut its aid spending from the UN-backed benchmark of 0.7% to 0.5% of gross national income (GNI), “serious concerns remain over whether the heavily backloaded spending plan can be delivered”.

Core funding

The largest tranche of redefined ICF – some £740m – comes from the government starting to assume that a share of its “core” MDB funding counts as climate finance.

This is money that the UK government already hands to these organisations to distribute according to their own priorities, primarily through loans. None of this money has previously been counted by the UK government as ICF, even though some went towards climate action.

MDBs, including the World Bank, the African Development Bank (AfDB) and others have placed a growing emphasis on climate change in recent years. The World Bank, for example, has a target of spending 35% of its finance on climate-related projects.

Following the reclassification, the UK government will simply assume that 35% of the money it gives to the World Bank – some £495m of £1.4bn total due in 2025/26 – counts as ICF.

It will use a similar approach for its funding of other MDBs, with these changes adding a total of £740m to the amount of the UK’s aid spending that is classified as ICF.

This move will not result in the UK providing any new funds for climate action, as it was already planning on distributing this money. In fact, the government has cut its spending on MDBs in recent years, due to the overall cut in the UK’s foreign aid budget.

Humanitarian aid

The second-largest tranche of newly reclassified climate finance is from projects in climate-vulnerable countries, an additional £497m of which is being counted as ICF.

The government dataset obtained by Carbon Brief via FOI reveals the 28 humanitarian projects and five more general, country-specific funds that will contribute to this additional £497m.

The projects are based in some of the poorest and most war-torn countries in the world – Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Somalia, Sudan, Uganda, Yemen and Zimbabwe.

They largely focus on essential provisions, such as food and basic infrastructure.

Prior to the recent changes, these programmes would have contributed just £47.5m to ICF, according to the government data released to Carbon Brief.

By automatically counting 30% of their spend as ICF, this figure has now multiplied more than 10 times. The chart below shows, in red, these additional ICF funds.

The UK government has reclassified £497m of humanitarian aid as climate finance
Annual UK ICF spending, £m, sourced from humanitarian aid projects for the 10% most climate-vulnerable countries, as defined by the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Initiative. Blue columns indicate the ICF spending that was expected from these projects prior to the methodology change, and red columns indicate ICF spending from these projects after the change. Source: UK government.

For the 23 of the 28 projects with documentation available online, Carbon Brief assessed the relevant sections of their “business case and summary” documents for evidence that they were related to climate action.

Many of the project documents reference climate change and say they will provide climate benefits. For example, all four projects in Somalia, a nation that has faced devastating drought and floods in recent years, mention the importance of climate resilience in their work.

However, some of the projects explicitly state that they are not intended to provide climate-finance.

The summary document for the Assurance and Learning Programme (ALP) in Afghanistan, published in 2021, states: “The programme will not be eligible for ICF nor will it monitor ICF funded programmes.”

Similarly, the Congo Humanitarian, Resilience and Protection (CHRESP) Programme summary document, also published in 2021, notes “we do not anticipate that any of our programming under this programme will be eligible as ICF”.

Another project, titled Yemen: Access, Logistics, Liaison, and Accountability, will provide “few opportunities” to address climate change, according to the summary document. A further four project documents do not contain any reference to climate change. 

Despite this, following the government’s reclassification, these seven projects will collectively contribute £166.9m of UK climate finance in the coming years.

Euan Ritchie, a senior development finance policy advisor at the thinktank Development Initiatives, says blanket approaches to assigning climate finance are “problematic”. He tells Carbon Brief:

“Just because humanitarian aid is going to a country that is vulnerable to climate change doesn’t mean it addresses that vulnerability. And these projects have already been screened for their climate focus.”

He points to one of the projects, the Somalia Humanitarian and Resilience Programme, as an example. Ritchie says, based on International Aid Transparency Initiative data, that officials had already decided around 12% of this programme’s spending was ICF, and asks:

“So what rationale is there for bumping it up to 30%? Were officials wrong the first time?”

Fatuma Hussein, a programme manager at the thinktank Power Shift Africa, tells Carbon Brief such an approach is “unfair and unjust” as it “risks conflating” the “distinct needs” of climate aid and other humanitarian objectives.

In its guidance for categorising what counts as climate finance, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Development Assistance Committee recommends scoring many humanitarian projects “zero”, indicating programmes that “generally do not qualify” as climate aid.

More private investment

The third-largest tranche of reclassified development aid relates to state-backed private sector investment under British International Investment (BII).

The UK government will also now count more of its payments into BII as climate finance, amounting to around an extra £266m by 2025-26. Unlike aid spending, these are investments in the private sector and are expected to yield a financial return for the UK.

Previously, the government counted a fixed 30% of BII spending as climate finance. It now intends to include a higher percentage to reflect a growing focus on climate investments.

The new approach to BII investments assesses the share of each project that should count towards UK climate finance case-by-case, rather than using a blanket 30% share.

It will record 100% of investments in a programme covering the Philippines, Indonesia and other parts of south-east Asia as ICF, as part of the government’s “Indo-Pacific tilt”. Investments in other regions also contribute a higher share of ICF – rising as high as 46% in 2022-23.

The chart below shows the extra BII investment money (red) that now counts as ICF.

The UK government has reclassified £266m of state-backed private sector investment as climate finance
Annual UK ICF spending, £m, from British International Investment (BII) contributions. Blue columns indicate the ICF spending that was expected from BII prior to the methodology change and red columns indicate ICF spending from BII after the change. Source: UK government.

The figure above shows that the government expects private sector investment via BII to play an increasingly large role in its climate finance in the future.

Many observers have expressed concerns about the government leaning more on private investment through BII to boost its ICF spending. 

A report last year by the parliamentary international development committee criticised BII’s investment in, among other things, fossil fuels and “high-net-worth individuals”.

BII prioritises loans and projects in middle-income nations where there is money to be made, rather than the nations that are most in need of climate finance. 

ICAI highlighted this in its review of the UK’s climate finance commitments earlier this year, stating that private investment “is not always the most appropriate, realistic or preferred form of climate finance in the poorest and most fragile contexts”.

Not new, not additional

Developing countries will require trillions of dollars of investment in the coming years to meet their climate goals. 

To help achieve this, developed countries, such as the UK, are expected to provide finance under the UN climate system that is “new and additional”. Discussions around a new climate finance goal will take centre stage this year at the COP29 climate summit in Baku.

Experts tell Carbon Brief that the UK government’s changes to its ICF undermine the notion that it is providing new, “ring-fenced” funding. Regarding the “arbitrary” labelling of humanitarian funds as ICF, Ritchie says:

“If the UK is counting a fixed share of projects as ICF it can no longer claim that ICF is distinguishable from non-climate [aid].”

Gideon Rabinowitz, director of policy and advocacy at the international development network Bond, tells Carbon Brief:

“The change of definition means they will be able to reach the target by spending less money than they would have done otherwise through double counting development and climate finance.”

Development NGOs say the best way for the UK to scale up its climate finance would be to return its foreign aid budget to 0.7% of GNI. However, with an election looming, neither the ruling Conservatives nor their Labour challengers have indicated a willingness to do this.

There will be considerable pressure on developed countries in the coming months to commit to providing plentiful, high-quality climate finance in the run up to COP29.

Evans Njewa, the chair of the LDC group, to which nearly all of the UK’s humanitarian aid ICF recipients belong, tells Carbon Brief:

“Reclassifying existing donor aid as climate finance is a clear deviation from the path to climate justice, and closing the finance gap cannot be achieved this way.”

Climate-finance reporting has been described as a “wild west”, with countries announcing figures based on vastly different definitions. This has led to nations counting money for coal, hotels and films in their totals, as there is no binding international standard to guide them.

The UK government noted last year that its changes are in line with other countries’ methods. But experts point out that the UK was previously viewed as setting a high standard for other countries to reach. 

In contrast, the new approach “risks breeding cynicism and mistrust because you are going to find programmes that have very little to do with climate change, but end up being reported in the pot as climate finance”, Rabinowitz says.

Hussein agrees, telling Carbon Brief:

“This not only highlights the disparity between western countries’ rhetoric on climate finance and their actual financial commitments to developing countries but also risks undermining trust that underpins global climate action.”

She argues that nations should agree on common definitions and accounting methodologies for climate finance to ensure that governments cannot backslide as the UK has.

Responding to Carbon Brief’s questions about the government’s methodology changes, a spokesperson from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) said:

“Since 2011, UK funding has helped more than 100 million people cope with the effects of climate change, given 70 million people access to clean energy and reduced or avoided over 86m tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions.

“The UK remains on track to meet the £11.6bn international climate finance commitment.”

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Revealed: UK ‘double counting’ £500m of aid for war-torn countries as climate finance 

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Climate change ‘bait and switch’ threatens sharks and rays



Cold-blooded sea creatures seeking refuge from warming ocean waters may find themselves at increasing risk of deadly cold shocks due to changes in ocean currents, new research warns.

Climate change is pushing species to higher latitudes in an attempt to stay within their range of comfortable temperatures, but this migration can come with unforeseen consequences.

The new study, published in Nature, documents a mass mortality event in March 2021 that saw at least 260 dead sea creatures wash up on the shores of South Africa.

Using satellite data, ocean observations and data on the movements of bull sharks, the researchers link the event to a sudden influx of cold water coming up from the deeper ocean.

They also show that such events have been increasing in frequency over the past three decades and forecast that this trend may continue into the future as the world continues to warm.

One of the study authors tells Carbon Brief that “we predict this is going to become a more regular phenomenon and could impact a lot of different species”.

Marine migration

As the Earth warms, many species that are able to do so are migrating to higher latitudes, allowing them to maintain their place within their “thermal niche” – the set of temperatures at which they can comfortably survive.

Nowhere is this effect more pronounced than in the global oceans, where there are fewer barriers to migration than there are on land. On average, highly mobile marine species have been moving polewards by nearly 60km per decade since the 1950s, according to the latest report on climate impacts from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

But this migration comes with its own risks.

These shifting ranges due to climate change can introduce species to new, unfamiliar stressors – such as shipping lanes or fisheries, says Dr Natalie Posdaljian, a bioacoustician at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, California, who was not involved in the study. 

One of these risks is what the researchers describe as a temperature “bait and switch” – where creatures seeking warmer waters can instead be trapped by a sudden cold event. Posdaljian tells Carbon Brief that the new study is the first time that she’s seen evidence of this hazard.

Mass mortality

On 2 March 2021, dead sea creatures started washing up on the south-eastern shores of South Africa between Port Elizabeth and East London. In all, more than 250 individual organisms and 82 separate species were found, including large, migratory species such as manta rays and bull sharks.

In deducing what had happened, the team of researchers examined the temperature data in the days leading up to the event. Using satellite and other observational data, they found that the temperature of the surrounding ocean had dropped by up to 9.2C in less than 24 hours.

The cold event persisted for seven days and had “severe physiological consequences” for the marine organisms there, including hypothermia, malfunction and death, the paper says.

Natasha Booty on X: Giant manta rays and other rare fish are washing up on South Africa's beaches

Similar cold shocks have previously occurred in south-eastern South Africa, dating back to at least 1989 and affecting a wide array of creatures, according to the study. But this instance was “probably the biggest cold-water shock [mass mortality event]” ever recorded, Dr Ryan Daly, a marine scientist at the Oceanographic Research Institute in Durban, South Africa, tells Carbon Brief. Daly is one of the authors of the new study.

The influx of cold water was due to a process called “upwelling”, which carries cold, nutrient-rich water from the ocean depths to its surface.

The study identifies three factors that make rapid upwelling events likely to happen: strong currents interacting with the continental shelf, strong winds blowing from the east to the west and meanders in the current. Such winds occur predominantly during the southern hemisphere’s summer, between October and April. They often act as a harbinger of temperature drops occurring in the coming 0-72 hours, the study notes. 

All three of these factors are characteristic of both the south-eastern coast of South Africa and the eastern coast of Australia, where strong currents known as the Agulhas and the East Australian Current, respectively, run up against the continental shelf.


Dr Camrin Braun, an ocean ecologist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, finds it surprising that even large, migratory species such as rays and bull sharks were killed by the cold snap. Braun, who was not involved in the new research, tells Carbon Brief that these animals “can move really far and really fast”. 

Daly says that this surprised the research team as well. But it’s possible, he says, that the onset of the cold temperatures was quick enough and large enough that the animals got “trapped” instead of being able to escape.

To underscore this, the researchers use data on bull shark movements and ocean temperatures from tags attached to sharks before, during and after the event. 

Bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) at the Protea Banks dive site in Margate, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa.
Bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas) at the Protea Banks dive site in Margate, KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

They find that the sharks consistently demonstrate “attempted avoidance” of lower temperatures – moving closer to the surface while swimming through upwelling areas and only travelling at deeper depths once they reach warmer waters.

The team also observe one shark taking up residence in a sheltered bay during one upwelling event to escape the cold waters. The researchers write that these actions “probably represent behavioural strategies to avoid/survive intense temperature declines”.

On its own, the shark-movement data is “kind of limited” and does not “make a very convincing case”, Braun says. But combining it with other data “really up[s] the ante on the importance” of the research, he adds.

Climate patterns

The researchers also look at several decades’ worth of sea surface temperature and wind data to understand whether these upwelling events are changing in frequency or intensity.

They identify clear increasing trends in the proportion of winds that favour upwelling events across three sites in South Africa. (Previous research has shown a similar increase in such winds in south-eastern Australia.) 

Then, for the three South African sites and three Australian sites, they compare temperature data from three locations: “inshore”, defined as between 0-15km from the shore, “midshelf”, which is 15-30km from the shore and “offshore” – located within the warm “core” of the current. The inshore and midshelf locations fall within the upwelling zone, but the offshore ones do not.

If, as they hypothesised, upwelling events were becoming more frequent, the number of cold events inshore would increase over time, while the number of such events offshore would stay the same. Similarly, an upwards trend in the intensity of cold snaps would be revealed in the inshore and midshelf, but not the offshore, data.

The chart below shows that the proportion of upwelling-favourable winds (top left) at three sites in South Africa has been steadily increasing since the “upwelling season” – the period of upwelling-favourable winds stretching from October to April – of 1988-89.

The other three charts show increasing trends in the number of cold events (top right), the average intensity of cold events (bottom left) and the average rate of onset of such cold events (bottom right) for a single site, Port Alfred, over the same period. All three characteristics increase over time for the inshore (blue) and midshelf (pink) locations, but not the offshore (green) one, supporting the idea that the cold snaps are linked to upwelling. 

Percentage of winds favouring upwelling (top left) at three sites in South Africa
Percentage of winds favouring upwelling (top left) at three sites in South Africa: Plettenberg Bay (orange), Port Alfred (blue) and Port Elizabeth (red) over the period 1988-2021. Over the same period, the number of cold events (top right), the average intensity of cold events, in degrees Celsius (bottom left) and the average rate of onset, in degrees Celsius per day (bottom right) for inshore (blue), mid-shelf (pink) and offshore (green) locations at Port Alfred. Source: Lubitz et al. (2024)

These increases persist over long enough time periods, the authors argue, to be clear evidence of long-term trends, rather than natural variation. Furthermore, the study points to previous research – dating back more than 30 years – that shows evidence of climate change increasing upwelling intensity due in part to increasingly strong winds driven by the land warming faster than the ocean

This trend analysis is one of the most valuable contributions of the new study, Posdaljian says. She tells Carbon Brief:

“It’s often hard to be able to have that kind of concrete evidence about how something could be increasing in intensity or frequency over time.”

The idea that climate change could lead to an increase in cold snaps may seem counterintuitive. But those increased temperatures “mean more energy in the climate [system] too”, Daly says. He explains:

“This wind-driven upwelling, linked to climate change, is essentially an extreme event – just like we might have more flooding and stronger cyclones and hurricanes.

“If you think about equivalent on land, that might be fires being fuelled by more intense wind. It takes an existing natural phenomenon and basically supercharges that to become [more] intense.”

He adds:

“Going forward, we predict that this is going to become a more regular phenomenon and could impact a lot of different species.”

The researchers “did a really good job of creating this foundational understanding” of how such cold events could hit marine ecosystems in future, Posdaljian says.

Looking ahead, she adds that she would like to see more work focusing on projecting future trends in cold snaps and perhaps even being able to predict them. She tells Carbon Brief:

“A lot of these animals are not just dealing with one stressor from climate change…We can’t necessarily mitigate these [extreme events], but what we can do is maybe reduce the other stressors that we can control.”

The post Climate change ‘bait and switch’ threatens sharks and rays appeared first on Carbon Brief.

Climate change ‘bait and switch’ threatens sharks and rays

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DeBriefed 12 April 2024: ‘Historic’ European court victory; Climate migration explained; K-pop and climate change



Welcome to Carbon Brief’s DeBriefed. 
An essential guide to the week’s key developments relating to climate change.

This week

‘Historic’ court victory

FIRST-EVER RULING: The European Court of Human Rights this week ruled that insufficient action to tackle climate change is a violation of human rights, DeSmog reported. In a “historic” judgement, the court ruled that Switzerland’s inadequate action on cutting emissions breached the rights to respect for family and private life of some of its most vulnerable citizens, DeSmog said. The case was brought by a group of 2,000 older Swiss women, BBC News reported.

PORTUGUESE CASE: The same court also dismissed a climate case brought by six Portuguese young people, finding the group had not exhausted legal action through the national courts, the Financial Times reported. Gerry Liston, the lawyer for the Portuguese youths, said that, despite the judges dismissing the case, the court’s ruling on the Swiss women’s action was “a massive win for all generations”, added the outlet. 

INDIAN COURT: Also this week, India’s Supreme Court expanded the “right to life” to include “protection against adverse effects of climate change”, adding that “climate change threatens ‘constitutional guarantees of equality and health’, impacting factors such as air pollution, disease, and food security”, the Independent reported. An editorial in the Indian Express described the decision as a “call to action”, adding that the significance of the ruling “cannot be overstated”. 

Heat goes on

ROASTING MARCH: March 2024 was the “tenth straight month to be the hottest on record”, reported the Associated Press. March temperatures averaged at 14.14C – 1.68C warmer than in the late 1800s, when the fossil fuel era began, according to AP. It added that “climate scientists attribute most of the record heat to human-caused climate change from carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane emissions produced by the burning of coal, oil and natural gas”.

HEAT-TRAPPING GASES: Atmospheric levels of the three most important heat-trapping gases – CO2, methane and nitrous oxide – reached record highs again last year, the Guardian reported. The global concentration of CO2 rose to an average of 419 parts per million (ppm) in 2023, while methane rose to an average of 1,922 parts per billion (ppb) and nitrous oxide climbed slightly to 336ppb, the outlet said.

‘RAISE VOICES’: Amid the records, UN climate chief Simon Stiell urged “ordinary people everywhere” to “raise their voices” over climate change in a speech in London, the Financial Times reported. Stiell warned that humanity has just two years left to “save the world”, adding “we still have a chance… but we need these stronger [national climate] plans, now”, reported the Associated Press

Around the world

  • EU INVESTIGATION: The EU launched an investigation to examine “whether Chinese companies participating in wind parks across Europe may have benefited from state support from Beijing”, said the Financial Times.
  • BIGGEST ICEBERG: BBC News tracked the world’s biggest iceberg – more than twice the size of Greater London – which has “begun to drift at pace once more” after a “few weeks loitering on the fringes of Antarctica”.
  • BIGGEST ECONOMIES: G20 countries and “the multilateral development banks they fund” put £112bn into overseas fossil fuel development over 2020-2022, the Guardian reported. Despite pledging in 2022 to halt such financing, oil and gas funding “has continued at a strong pace”, the outlet added.
  • UK POLITICS: Politico reported that the UK’s rightwing populist party Reform, the brainchild of Brexiteer Nigel Farage, has plans to make scrapping climate policies a central part of its campaigning in the next general election.
  • SEVERE FLOODING: Russia and Kazakhstan have ordered more than 100,000 people to evacuate after melting snow swelled rivers beyond bursting point, leading to the worst flooding in the area for at least 70 years, reported Reuters.
  • CHINA COAL: China accounted for 95% of the world’s new coal power construction activity in 2023, according to the latest annual report from Global Energy Monitor covered by Carbon Brief.

1.37m km

The total length of “ghost roads” uncovered by researchers studying deforestation in the Asian Pacific, according to Carbon Brief. 

Latest climate research

  • A new study in Nature Climate Change warned that meteorites holding potential clues to life’s origins or the prospect of alien existence are fast disappearing from Antarctica because of climate change. 
  • Geoengineering methods that change the planet’s radiative forcing – aiming to reduce the amount of energy that reaches the surface of the Earth – could increase the incidence of fires in the Arctic, when combined with very high greenhouse gas emissions, new research in Communications Earth & Environment suggested. 
  • A new study in npj Climate Action found that “Roman Catholics are less likely to believe in man-made climate change as compared to evangelical Christians”. However, the more positive a respondent’s view of Pope Francis, the more likely they are “to acknowledge the effect of human activity on global warming”, it said.

(For more, see Carbon Brief’s in-depth daily summaries of the top climate news stories on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday.)


Floods and storms are the greatest drivers of internal climate-related displacement. Climate related-displacement, millions of recorded cases. DeBriefed.

Carbon Brief has just published a two-part miniseries on the complex topic of climate migration. Carbon Brief’s explainer looked into the main drivers of why people move. Using data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), Carbon Brief analysis showed that most climate-linked internal displacement is due to floods and storms (see above). The series also includes a special report on climate-driven migration in rural Thailand. Carbon Brief’s science journalist Ayesha Tandon also produced a video on her investigation into climate-driven migration in Thailand.


K-pop fans campaign for climate change

Dayeon Lee is a Tokyo-based South Korean student.

This week, Carbon Brief speaks to K-pop fans about their efforts to tackle climate change. 

Dayeon Lee is a Tokyo-based South Korean student, and before discovering and joining climate campaigns, she was a “guilty” K-pop fan.

“K-pop” is a term for popular music from South Korea. K-pop has witnessed an explosion in popularity since the term first appeared internationally in the 2000s.

“I think people have the stereotype of K-pop fans, thinking we are just a group of crazy girls being obsessed with boys, but we are more than that, we are also a group of young people who care about the planet,” Lee told Carbon Brief.

“Korean entertainment companies produce a lot of album covers and we as fans buy hundreds of albums to support our idols. The companies don’t care about the environmental cost and waste, but we bear the guilt.”

Looking to make a change, Lee joined the campaign group Kpop4planet in 2021. The group, which is managed by K-pop fans, launched the campaign “No K-pop on a Dead Planet”, urging the industry to “make K-pop sustainable” and produce more eco-friendly albums. 

“We had K-pop fans returning hundreds of albums to the major entertainment companies in South Korea to make sure they are aware of the issue. Although they didn’t officially respond to us, they started to introduce digital albums with purchasing code fans can scan,” said Lee.

The online campaign has in total attracted more than 100,000 people to join and they hope to inspire more.

There are an estimated 178m active K-pop fans worldwide. Kpop4planet’s campaigns cover a wide range of environmental issues, from reducing the high cost of fashion worn by K-pop singers, to protecting a beach featuring in K-pop songs and zero-emissions concerts

“Since K-pop stars are involved with so many industries…that need to become more sustainable, we want to motivate and gather the power and influence of K-pop fans and the youth… to change the companies that are heavily polluting the environment by using fossil fuels,” said Lee.

Lee told Carbon Brief that K-pop entertainment agencies have already listened to their concerns, with some of them, such as South Korean record label JYP, committing to use 100% renewable electricity to power its operation.

‘Drop coal’

Recently, Kpop4planet decided to target the Korean motor company, Hyundai, which had signed a deal with an Indonesian company to source aluminium from a coal-powered smelter in North Kalimantan, Indonesia. 

“Hyundai has a good image in Indonesia because they use the image of Korean band BTS as ‘their face’,” said Lee, adding that Kpop4planet hopes to leverage their K-pop fan stance to convince the company to “drop coal”.

Another campaigner Nural Sarifah, based in Indonesia, told Carbon Brief that the group has undertaken a “series of activities” to campaign against Hyundai’s decision, including delivering a signed petition “with a touch of K-pop dance” outside the Hyundai Motor Studio in Jakarta.

On 2 April, Reuters reported that Hyundai and its Indonesian supplier had “ended an aluminium supply agreement after calls by a climate campaigner backed by K-pop fans not to procure supplies of the metal produced using coal power”.

Hyundai announced in a statement that it had “decided to explore other opportunities independently” in Indonesia, according to the news agency. Lee told Carbon Brief:

“This move is a victory for thousands of K-pop fans who took action. We are glad that Hyundai is now exploring options to acquire transparent and sustainable sourcing materials in Indonesia.”

Lee added that their campaign will not stop there:

“Ultimately, we would like to use our collective power to [make] change. We want to secure the future that K-pop fans and the youth will inherit.”

Watch, read, listen

CHINESE SOLAR: The Financial Times published a Lex opinion piece saying “Chinese solar companies are paying a high price for victory” in a battle with European solar firms.

HAWAII’S CRISIS: CBS News released a documentary on YouTube about the water-related crisis on the Hawaiian islands.  

GREEN FUNERAL: The Anti-dread Climate Podcast explored the carbon costs of traditional burial and looked for more climate-friendly alternatives.  

Coming up

Pick of the jobs

DeBriefed is edited by Daisy Dunne. Please send any tips or feedback to
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The post DeBriefed 12 April 2024: ‘Historic’ European court victory; Climate migration explained; K-pop and climate change appeared first on Carbon Brief.

DeBriefed 12 April 2024: ‘Historic’ European court victory; Climate migration explained; K-pop and climate change

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