Stephen Leahy

Stephen Leahy is an environmental journalist based in Uxbridge, Ontario.

His writing has been published in dozens of publications around the world including New Scientist, The London Sunday Times, Maclean's Magazine, The Toronto Star, Wired News, Audubon, BBC Wildlife, and Canadian Geographic.

For the past few years he has been the science and environment correspondent for Inter Press Service News Agency (IPS), a wire service headquartered in Rome that covers global issues, and its Latin American affiliate, Tierramerica, located in Mexico City.

Stephen Leahy graciously allows Straight Goods to reprint his articles. However, he earns very little compensation for his valuable work. His solution is Community Supported Journalism.

If you'd like to invest in environmental journalism, contributions can be made safely and easily via PayPal or Credit Card online or by mail:
Stephen Leahy, 50 Enzo Crescent, Uxbridge, ON L9P 1M1

Please contact Stephen if you have any questions. This article previously appeared on the InterPress Service wire. Website:

Jan 302013

Post-hurricane, New Yorkers relied on drinking water from protected Catskills watershed.

by Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Jan 18,  2013 (IPS) — After Hurricane Sandy swept through the northeast of the United States late October 2012, millions of New Yorkers were left for days without electricity.  But they still had access to drinking water, thanks to New York City’s reliance on protected watershed areas for potable water.

Continue reading »

Jan 162013

Most major economies have progressed in addressing climate change; only Canada has regressed.

by Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, January 15, 2013 (IPS) — A majority of major economies have made significant progress in addressing climate change, with countries like South Korea and China taking aggressive action so they can benefit from energy- and resource-efficient economies, a new report released Monday found.

The study by GLOBE International and Grantham Research Institute profiled 33 major economies in an annual examination of climate and energy legislation. Thirty-two of them, including the United States, made significant progress in 2012, while only Canada regressed.

“The study reveals a major trend is underway. More and more countries are acting on climate,” said Adam Matthews, secretary general of GLOBE International, an organisation of legislators.

The political reality, Matthews said, is that local and national climate regulations and legislation must come first.

Although major international climate conferences such as the Conference of the Parties (COP) held in Doha in November and December 2012 have made little progress, at the local level cities, states and national governments around the world are taking action.

The political reality, Matthews told this reporter, is that local and national climate regulations and legislation must come first. “An environment minister in Doha couldn’t commit his country to an ambitious carbon reduction target unless the country has already decided to chart a new economic course,” he said.

Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, agreed with Matthews’ analysis. Countries do not have the “political space” to move at the international level unless they have already moved at the domestic level, she said in a statement.

“Domestic legislation is critical because it is the linchpin between action on the ground and…international agreement,” she said.

Wide-ranging discussion at local, regional and national levels will be needed before countries can draft and pass legislation that will actually shift their economies onto a low-carbon pathway.

Canada was the only country to reverse course by abandoning its climate obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. “Canada has clearly gone backwards. It is a great shame,” Matthews said.

In many parts of the world, these discussions are already taking place, with the study reporting significant progress in this area by 18 of 33 countries in 2012. Nearly all of the 18 countries are emerging economies such as South Korea, Mexico and China.

“What’s happening in South Korea is really impressive. They are striving to be the leader in the shift to a low-carbon economy,” Matthews said.

In 2012, South Korea passed legislation to begin emissions trading in 2015, while Japan introduced a carbon tax. Mexico passed The General Law on Climate Change to reduce its emissions by 30 percent by 2020. Bangladesh passed the Sustainable and Renewable Energy Development Authority Act. Kenya developed its Climate Change National Action Plan.

China has begun to draft its national climate change law, and local legislation was passed in the city of Shenzhen to manage greenhouse gas emissions.

China doesn’t get nearly the credit it deserves for its efforts to reduce carbon emissions, Matthews said. “Careers are being made there on making those reductions,” he added.

The United States made some progress with a regulation change that allowed the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate carbon emissions. Although the fossil fuel industry appealed, courts upheld the decision in late December.

Canada was the only country to reverse course by abandoning its climate obligations under the Kyoto Protocol. “Canada has clearly gone backwards. It is a great shame,” Matthews said.

Countries that take action on climate change understand that their national and local economies will benefit from improved energy efficiency and security, reduced costs and increased competitiveness, said Terry Townshend, co-author of the report.

“There is a major shift in the dynamic around climate. Countries are now seeing great opportunities for their national interests by taking action now,” Townshend said in an interview.

National climate-related legislation has surged in the past three or four years, although these laws aren’t always designated as climate legislation and instead are measures to improve energy use or reduce air pollution.

National climate-related legislation has surged in the past three or four years. Although these laws aren’t always designated as climate legislation and instead are measures to improve energy use or reduce air pollution, they do have positive impacts on the climate, Townshend said.

At the last UN climate conference in Doha, nations confirmed details for a new negotiation process with the goal of a new global climate treaty ready for ratification in 2015 and entering into force in 2020. If a new international climate treaty is to be ready by 2015, many countries will need to have national legislation in place or pending, Townshend added.

But this upcoming timetable may not take action soon enough. Climate scientists have warned that global carbon emissions must begin to decline before 2020 in order for a two-degree (Celsius) limit on climate heating to remain a reasonable possibility. Many countries, especially the least-developed ones and small island states, want the global target to be less than 1.5 degrees Celsius.

National legislation has a long way to go in order to keep a global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius, Townshend said. In order to help countries, the first GLOBE Climate Legislation Summit is being held this week in London, where senior legislators from 33 countries are meeting to share their experiences of putting domestic climate legislation into place.

“There’s a lot of experience, sample legislation and lessons learned to be shared,” he said. Between now and the end of 2015, GLOBE International hopes to facilitate more bilateral and multilateral meetings in order to help more countries become involved with domestic climate legislation.

“There is an awful lot of work to do, but this is a very positive development,” said Townsend.

Jan 032013

To stall climate change, world must shut down 65 percent of existing coal-fired power plants.

by Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, December 17 2012 (IPS) — The most important number in history is now the annual measure of carbon emissions. That number reveals humanity’s steady billion-tonne by billion-tonne march to the edge of the carbon cliff, beyond which scientists warn lies a fateful fall to catastrophic climate change.

Continue reading »

Dec 102012

USA, Canada cited as major obstructions to climate change agreement.

by Stephen Leahy

DOHA, Qatar, December 10 2012 (IPS) — The United Nations climate talks in Doha went a full extra 24 hours and ended without increased cuts in fossil fuel emissions and without financial commitments between 2013 and 2015.

Continue reading »

Dec 062012
Anti-nuclear-power march

Koch brothers, 50 wealthiest persons blocking climate change action.

by Stephen Leahy

DOHA, Qatar, Dec 5 2012 (IPS) — While the Philippines copes with the aftermath of powerful super-typhoon Bopha, which killed more than 300 people this week, tempers flared at the UN climate summit here.

Developing countries are angry the US and European Union and other rich industrialised countries refuse to increase their carbon emission reduction targets or agree to additional financing here at COP18.

Continue reading »

Dec 032012
Fossil fuels have received more money in subsidies than forms of renewable energy.

A two-degrees increase remains technically and economically feasible if we start now.

by Stephen Leahy

DOHA, Qatar, November 30 2012 (IPS) — A new scientific report shows that global warming can be kept well under two degrees C, but only if most of the known deposits of coal, oil and gas remain in the ground.

The problem is no country is doing anywhere near enough to keep fossil fuels in the ground, according to the Climate Action Tracker released Friday on the sidelines of the UN climate change negotiations here in Doha, Qatar.

Continue reading »

Dec 032012
photo by Stephen Leahy

Civil society is increasingly being phased out of this process.

by Stephen Leahy

DOHA, Qatar, December 3, 2012, (IPS) — Beatrice Yeung, a youth delegate at the United Nations climate talks, travelled all the way from Hong Kong to Doha, Qatar to bring her generation’s message that “we will live in the world you are creating for us.”

But Yeung is not allowed inside. We met in a hallway outside the “security zone” at the Qatari National Conference Center (QNCC), where this reporter was ordered by UN police not to take any photographs.

For no obvious reason, security at the meeting known as COP 18 is very strict.

Continue reading »

Nov 292012

New REDD program(Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation) is also being negotiated.

by Stephen Leahy

DOHA, November 26 2012 (IPS) — The upcoming United Nations climate talks may have a renewed sense of urgency with a new World Bank report warning that the planet is on a dangerous path to four degrees Celsius of global warming by 2100.

Turn Down the Heat: Why a 4ºC Warmer World Must be Avoided, released on November 19, was prepared for the World Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research and Climate Analytics.

Continue reading »

Nov 152012

Business report calls climate change an urgent economic issue.

by Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, November 6 2012 (IPS) — A new international business report warns fossil fuel use is pushing humanity towards a catastrophic overheating of the planet, with temperature increases of four or even six degrees Celsius. No major developed or developing country is doing anything close to what’s needed to prevent large parts of the planet from becoming uninhabitable, the report found.

Continue reading »