Trouble in Paradise: Climate Change in the Canary Islands

Written by Michele Ivon, 18/08/2021

The Canary Islands is a Spanish archipelago located in the Atlantic Ocean, composed by eight main islands (Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro and La Graciosa). They are part of the European Union and one of the main holiday destinations for many northern European tourists, who are driven by the island’s idyllic landscapes, natural beauty, and climate. This last factor is in fact the key to their success.

Las Canteras Beach-Gran Canaria (Canary Islands, Spain), credit: Michele Ivone

Las Canteras Beach-Gran Canaria (Canary Islands, Spain), credit: Michele Ivone

Temperatures are mild all year round, with little precipitation and plenty of sunlight. This is partially thanks to the geographical location, orography and trade-winds that act over the islands. Despite this, global average surface temperatures warmed by 0.85ºC between 1880 and 2012, with human interference being one of the main factors behind that rise according to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report. Many regions across the globe have already experienced a greater regional-scale warming and are far from staying below the 1.5ºC target agreed in the Paris Agreement. The Canary Islands are not an exception, changes are starting to be seen in the so called “Fortunate Islands”.

How is the climate changing, and what are the impacts?

Temperatures have risen about 0.09ºC per decade since 1944 in the two capital islands (Gran Canaria and Tenerife), and since 1970 this figure has changed towards a 0.17ºC raise per decade. In addition, precipitations follow a decreasing trend according to scientists, nevertheless there are many variations. Thus, this pattern cannot be considered statistically significant. In terms of snowfalls, these are now almost non-existent. Historic records show there used to be six months of snow every year on Tenerife’s Pico del Teide (mountain peak).

Although these changes don’t seem extremely severe, they are already affecting the whole social, economic and environmental aspects of the islands. In fact, a study conducted by a diverse range of experts revealed the main consequences of climate change in the archipelago according to observed tendencies and future predictions.

An increase of average land surface temperature, increase in extreme warm temperatures, decrease in precipitations, ocean acidification, sea level rise, increase in wildfires frequency or increase in dust intrusions from the Sahara are some of the many changes that are starting to be seen, and will probably intensify in the next decades.

How is it impacting ecosystems?

With increasing temperatures and heatwaves, not only the inhabitants of the archipelago are at risk, but also the entire array of ecosystems that span over the eight islands. Forest fires are more common and will gain intensity in the future, diminishing the territories precious green cover. In 2007, one of the biggest forest fires took place simultaneously in the islands of Gran Canaria and Tenerife, burning more than 30,000 ha. Related to ascending temperatures, changes in the distribution of flora are predicted to reduce forest cover as climate change will push plant species to higher altitudes. This will result in less space available and more competition, leading to a decrease in species richness and canopy cover. One of the main affected forest types will be the subtropical forests of Laurisilva which hold the greatest endemic biodiversity in the Canary Islands, as well as being one of the most biodiverse spots of the template region in the Northern Hemisphere. Another consequence of temperature rise is the appearance of invasive species, which are normally introduced by transport mechanisms due to the strategic position of the islands and high touristic occupancy. With changing physical conditions on land and sea, these species will have more opportunities to adapt to the current ecosystems and might cause enormous ecological damage through predation and competition with native species.

What can we do?

It is clear the effects of human-induced climate change are already occurring and, as stated in the 2021 AR6 report of the IPCC “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land”. The Canary Islands are being affected by it and so are all the other countries around the world. Climate change will not have an even impact, with some nations paying higher costs. There is an extreme urgency to address this problem and be prepared to adapt to the consequences that will unfold from a changing climate. Nations must come together and seriously commit to avoid surpassing the 1.5ºC target that was set in 2015 during the Paris Agreement. There is still time to change directions, but the clock will not stop. We as citizens have the duty to protect our planet and we can do so by pressuring our governors to take adequate measures and taking local action. Small responses such as cycling or using public transport instead of the private cars can have a beneficial impact on the environment. Buying local and sustainable products when possible, recycling (reusing is even better), joining a local environmental NGO, rising awareness for the environmental problems in your community. In short, there are many things that you can do to protect what sustains our life on Earth.

This year COP26 will happen in Glasgow. It will be a milestone for the fate of our planet. Global leaders will come together to discuss and find solutions to the climate crisis, which will be decisive for our future. Our current situation might seem helpless right now, but there is still hope. Wherever you are, be it the Canary Islands like me, or anywhere else in the world – you must remember one thing: You might not have the political power to enact policy change, but you do have a voice to be heard. Fight for our future, not just for yourself, but for the future generations to come. 

Greenwashing: Beyond the Promises

Written by Lara Hauge and Alex Reeves-Bonoldi     23/02/2021

As we become more environmentally conscious, brands are under pressure to market their products according to our goals to live sustainably. Whether it’s a clothing, food or technology company, all businesses are desperate to profit from our ever-growing wish to help the environment. But are all these companies as green as they seem? The short answer, unfortunately, is no.

What’s the problem?

Greenwashing is a major issue in the fight against environmental damage, as it counteracts the power of ordinary citizens to make lifestyle changes which could make a real difference. As consumers become more environmentally conscious, brands wish to capitalise on our desire to help without committing the resources necessary to change their business model. Therefore, they market their product as more environmentally friendly than it is. By compromising the consumer’s ability to choose environmentally better products, greenwashing stops ordinary people from shaping the market for the better. By highlighting the good points and ignoring the trade-offs, greenwashed environmentally detrimental products often outcompete more sustainable, transparent brands with less resources to spare on advertising. Greenwashing can also lead to serious human rights issues being hidden from consumers, including pesticide poisoning and the use of dangerous chemicals in toiletries and makeup products.

How can I spot greenwashing?

Learning to spot greenwashed products allows us to avoid them, giving our custom to brands which are genuinely better for the planet. Over time this will reward and encourage these positive brands. The less people fall for greenwashed products, the less reward companies will gain from this advertising, so the less it will occur.

There are 5 types of greenwashing to be aware of:

- Environmental imagery: Leaves, animals or green packaging are often used to give the idea of a product being ‘green’. More eco-friendly products usually use simpler images and plain packaging.

- Misleading labels: For example, ‘100% organic’ with no supportive information.

- Hidden trade-offs: Companies may use natural or recycled materials whilst their product is developed through exploitative conditions.

- Irrelevant claims: Companies may add positive statements under an environmental headline on their website, which are not related to the environment.

- Lesser of two evils: Just because a product or method is better than an alternative doesn’t mean it’s good.

Do your research:

Researching examples of greenwashing can help you to practice identifying these tell-tale signs. The Guardian reported on the company Chevron’s People Do advertisement campaign which is viewed by many environmentalists as a prime example of greenwashing. It made irrelevant claims as many of the environmental programs it advertised were mandated by law. They were also cheaper than the advertisement campaign which promoted them, another red flag for greenwashing. There were also hidden trade-offs within the campaign, as it ignored their own violation of the clean air act and oil spills into wildlife refuges. Finally, the campaign showed Chevron employees helping a variety of cute animals in a classic example of using environmental imagery to manipulate potential customers into believing a company is environmentally beneficial when in reality, their practices are detrimental to our planet in many ways.

Practice makes perfect:

Looking out for the 5 key greenwashing signs, reading the small print on product descriptions, and researching the manufacturer can lead to the discovery that a product isn’t as environmentally friendly as it first appears. However, it’s important to remember that avoiding greenwashed products takes practice. Some companies spend millions of dollars on greenwashed advertising campaigns, so don’t be discouraged if you find out that something you have bought isn’t as green as it seemed. The important thing is that you keep trying, because every time you avoid a greenwashed product, you make the lie a little less profitable.

Spreading the word:

The more people who are aware of greenwashing, the less profit made by companies utilising this shady technique. This makes it more likely that there will be a movement towards genuinely more sustainable products, so the more you can spread the word, the better. Another great way of combating greenwashing is to email your MP addressing the issue or even start a petition to get words such as ‘green’ and ‘eco’ legally defined so that they can’t be used to fool customers. It can also be useful to contact companies who you feel are greenwashing and explain the issues you have spotted and why they are a problem. Ultimately, knowing that people care encourages companies to change.

The need to incorporate migrants into climate change discussions.

Written by Nina Monju

Just like the financial crisis of 2008 and the refugee crisis of 2015hit Europe and the world at large, so too is the climate change crisis.  The impact of this man-made crisis has extensively affected every human settlement. Climate change is a reality and the scientific basis for climate change has already been well recognized. However, the science behind climate change is so complex, that its effect on people and society at large is hard to predict.

Who is at risk?

One of the groups of people who face the harsh realities of these unpredictable events are “migrants”. Migrants are being faced with the decision of moving out of their countries because of environmental led factors. Climate change factors are often the root causes of both local and global migration autonomously of the nature and harshness of global climate change. In most developing countries, the effects of drought on large land masses has become more severe, rendering those lands nonarable and other times unproductive, forcing and pushing people to move to other places in search for greener pastures. Emigration to them is seen as the only viable solution. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 17.2 million people had to leave their homes last year, because of disasters that negatively affected their lives. This is why there is a need for us to incorporate migrants into climate discussions. As Ms. Dina Ionesco, who is the head of the Migration Environment and Climate Change Division at the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM), explains, “there is a strong possibility that more people will migrate in search of better opportunities, as living conditions get worse in their places of origin".

Has anything been done?

Despite the reality of climate change, no international agreement or protection framework exists to plan for or address the expected dramatic increase in migration. Current international refugee, environmental, and human rights law does not account for climate change-induced displacement and migration, creating legal gaps in protection. However Ms. Ionesco states that “the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the main UN authority on climate science, has repeatedly said that the changes brought on by the climate crisis will influence migration patterns. The World Bank has put forward projections for internal climate migration amounting to 143 million people by 2050 in three regions of the world, if no climate action is taken.”

What then, is the solution?

Is incorporating migrants into the climate change discussions the solution? No. But it is starting point. There is no one single solution to combat the challenge of environmental migration, but there are many solutions that tackle different aspects of this complex equation. Nothing meaningful can ever be achieved without the strong involvement of civil society actors and the communities themselves who usually know what is best for them and their ways of life.