E.P.A. Approved Toxic Chemicals for Fracking a Decade Ago, New Files Show

The presence of PFAS in oil and gas extraction threatens to expose oil-field employees and emergency workers handling fires and spills as well as people who live near, or downstream from, drilling sites to a class of chemicals that has faced increasing scrutiny for its links to cancer, birth defects, and other serious health problems.

A class of man-made chemicals that are toxic even in minuscule concentrations, for decades PFAS were used to make products like nonstick pans, stain-resistant carpeting and firefighting foam. The substances have come under scrutiny in recent years for their tendency to persist in the environment, and to accumulate inside the human body, as well as for their links to health problems like cancer and birth defects. Both Congress and the Biden administration have moved to better regulate PFAS, which contaminate the drinking water of as many as 80 million Americans.

Industry researchers have long been aware of their toxicity. But it wasn’t until the early 2000s, when the environmental attorney Rob Bilott sued Dupont for pollution from its Teflon plant in Parkersburg, W.Va., that the dangers of PFAS started to be widely known. In settlements with the E.P.A. in the mid-2000s, Dupont acknowledged knowing of PFAS’s dangers, and it and several other chemical manufacturers subsequently committed to phase out the use of certain kinds of the chemical by 2015.

Kevin A. Schug, a professor of analytical Chemistry at the University of Texas at Arlington, said the chemicals identified in the FracFocus database fell into the PFAS group of compounds, although he added that there was not enough information to make a direct link between the chemicals in the database to the ones approved by the E.P.A. Still, he said it was clear “that the approved polymer, if and when it breaks down in the environment, will break down into PFAS.”

The findings underscore how, for decades, the nation’s laws governing various chemicals have allowed thousands of substances to go into commercial use with relatively little testing. The E.P.A.’s assessment was carried out under the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act, which authorizes the agency to review and regulate new chemicals before they are manufactured or distributed.

But for years, that law had gaps that left Americans exposed to harmful chemicals, experts say. Furthermore, the Toxic Substances Control Act grandfathered in thousands of chemicals already in commercial use, including many PFAS chemicals. In 2016, Congress strengthened the law, bolstering the E.P.A.’s authority to order health testing, among other measures. The Government Accountability Office, the watchdog arm of Congress, still identifies the Toxic Substances Control Act as a program with one of the highest risks of abuse and mismanagement.

In recent days, whistle-blowers have alleged in the Intercept that the E.P.A. office in charge of reviewing toxic chemicals tampered with the assessments of dozens of chemicals to make them appear safer. E.P.A. scientists evaluating new chemicals “are the last line of defense between harmful — even deadly — chemicals and their introduction into U.S. commerce, and this line of defense is struggling to maintain its integrity,” the whistle-blowers said in their disclosure, which was released by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, a Maryland-based nonprofit group.

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More Power Lines or Rooftop Solar Panels: The Fight Over Energy’s Future

The nation is facing once in a generation choices about how energy ought to be delivered to homes, businesses and electric cars — decisions that could shape the course of climate change and determine how the United States copes with wildfires, heat waves and other extreme weather linked to global warming.

On one side, large electric utilities and President Biden want to build thousands of miles of power lines to move electricity created by distant wind turbines and solar farms to cities and suburbs. On the other, some environmental organizations and community groups are pushing for greater investment in rooftop solar panels, batteries and local wind turbines.

There is an intense policy struggle taking place in Washington and state capitals about the choices that lawmakers, energy businesses and individuals make in the next few years, which could lock in an energy system that lasts for decades. The divide between those who want more power lines and those calling for a more decentralized energy system has split the renewable energy industry and the environmental movement. And it has created partnerships of convenience between fossil fuel companies and local groups fighting power lines.

At issue is how quickly the country can move to cleaner energy and how much electricity rates will increase.

senators from both parties agreed to in June. That deal includes the creation of a Grid Development Authority to speed up approvals for transmission lines.

Most energy experts agree that the United States must improve its aging electric grids, especially after millions of Texans spent days freezing this winter when the state’s electricity system faltered.

“The choices we make today will set us on a path that, if history is a barometer, could last for 50 to 100 years,” said Amy Myers Jaffe, managing director of the Climate Policy Lab at Tufts University. “At stake is literally the health and economic well-being of every American.”

The option supported by Mr. Biden and some large energy companies would replace coal and natural gas power plants with large wind and solar farms hundreds of miles from cities, requiring lots of new power lines. Such integration would strengthen the control that the utility industry and Wall Street have over the grid.

batteries installed at homes, businesses and municipal buildings.

Those batteries kicked in up to 6 percent of the state grid’s power supply during the crisis, helping to make up for idled natural gas and nuclear power plants. Rooftop solar panels generated an additional 4 percent of the state’s electricity.

become more common in recent years.

Some environmentalists argue that greater use of rooftop solar and batteries is becoming more essential because of climate change.

After its gear ignited several large wildfires, Pacific Gas & Electric began shutting off power on hot and windy days to prevent fires. The company emerged from bankruptcy last year after amassing $30 billion in liabilities for wildfires caused by its equipment, including transmission lines.

Elizabeth Ellenburg, an 87-year-old cancer survivor in Napa, Calif., bought solar panels and a battery from Sunrun in 2019 to keep her refrigerator, oxygen equipment and appliances running during PG&E’s power shut-offs, a plan that she said has worked well.

“Usually, when PG&E goes out it’s not 24 hours — it’s days,” said Ms. Ellenburg, a retired nurse. “I need to have the ability to use medical equipment. To live in my own home, I needed power other than the power company.”

working to improve its equipment. “Our focus is to make both our distribution and transmission system more resilient and fireproof,” said Sumeet Singh, PG&E’s chief risk officer.

But spending on fire prevention by California utilities has raised electricity rates, and consumer groups say building more power lines will drive them even higher.

Average residential electricity rates nationally have increased by about 14 percent over the last decade even though average household energy use rose just over 1 percent.

2019 report by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, a research arm of the Energy Department, found that greater use of rooftop solar can reduce the need for new transmission lines, displace expensive power plants and save the energy that is lost when electricity is moved long distances. The study also found that rooftop systems can put pressure on utilities to improve or expand neighborhood wires and equipment.

Texas was paralyzed for more than four days by a deep freeze that shut down power plants and disabled natural gas pipelines. People used cars and grills and even burned furniture to keep warm; at least 150 died.

One reason for the failure was that the state has kept the grid managed by the Electric Reliability Council of Texas largely disconnected from the rest of the country to avoid federal oversight. That prevented the state from importing power and makes Texas a case for the interconnected power system that Mr. Biden wants.

Consider Marfa, an artsy town in the Chihuahuan Desert. Residents struggled to stay warm as the ground was blanketed with snow and freezing rain. Yet 75 miles to the west, the lights were on in Van Horn, Texas. That town is served by El Paso Electric, a utility attached to the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, a grid that ties together 14 states, two Canadian provinces and a Mexican state.

$1.4 million, compared with about $1 million to Donald J. Trump, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

In Washington, developers of large solar and wind projects are pushing for a more connected grid while utilities want more federal funding for new transmission lines. Advocates for rooftop solar panels and batteries are lobbying Congress for more federal incentives.

Separately, there are pitched battles going on in state capitals over how much utilities must pay homeowners for the electricity generated by rooftop solar panels. Utilities in California, Florida and elsewhere want lawmakers to reduce those rates. Homeowners with solar panels and renewable energy groups are fighting those efforts.

Despite Mr. Biden’s support, the utility industry could struggle to add power lines.

Many Americans resist transmission lines for aesthetic and environmental reasons. Powerful economic interests are also at play. In Maine, for instance, a campaign is underway to stop a 145-mile line that will bring hydroelectric power from Quebec to Massachusetts.

New England has phased out coal but still uses natural gas. Lawmakers are hoping to change that with the help of the $1 billion line, called the New England Clean Energy Connect.

This spring, workmen cleared trees and installed steel poles in the forests of western Maine. First proposed a decade ago, the project was supposed to cut through New Hampshire until the state rejected it. Federal and state regulators have signed off on the Maine route, which is sponsored by Central Maine Power and HydroQuebec.

But the project is mired in lawsuits, and Maine residents could block it through a November ballot measure.

set a record in May, and some scientists believe recent heat waves were made worse by climate change.

“Transmission projects take upward of 10 years from conception to completion,” said Douglas D. Giuffre, a power expert at IHS Markit. “So if we’re looking at decarbonization of the power sector by 2035, then this all needs to happen very rapidly.”

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Offshore Wind Farms Show What Biden’s Climate Plan Is Up Against

A constellation of 5,400 offshore wind turbines meet a growing portion of Europe’s energy needs. The United States has exactly seven.

With more than 90,000 miles of coastline, the country has plenty of places to plunk down turbines. But legal, environmental and economic obstacles and even vanity have stood in the way.

President Biden wants to catch up fast — in fact, his targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions depend on that happening. Yet problems abound, including a shortage of boats big enough to haul the huge equipment to sea, fishermen worried about their livelihoods and wealthy people who fear that the turbines will mar the pristine views from their waterfront mansions. There’s even a century-old, politically fraught federal law, known as the Jones Act, that blocks wind farm developers from using American ports to launch foreign construction vessels.

Offshore turbines are useful because the wind tends to blow stronger and more steadily at sea than onshore. The turbines can be placed far enough out that they aren’t visible from land but still close enough to cities and suburbs that they do not require hundreds of miles of expensive transmission lines.

approved a project near Martha’s Vineyard that languished during the Trump administration and in May announced support for large wind farms off California’s coast. The $2 trillion infrastructure plan that Mr. Biden proposed in March would also increase incentives for renewable energy.

The cost of offshore wind turbines has fallen about 80 percent over the last two decades, to as low as $50 a megawatt-hour. While more expensive per unit of energy than solar and wind farms on land, offshore turbines often make economic sense because of lower transmission costs.

“Solar in the East is a little bit more challenging than in the desert West,” said Robert M. Blue, the chairman and chief executive of Dominion Energy, a big utility company that is working on a wind farm with nearly 200 turbines off the coast of Virginia. “We’ve set a net-zero goal for our company by 2050. This project is essential to hitting those goals.”

rely on European components, suppliers and ships for years.

Installing giant offshore wind turbines — the largest one, made by General Electric, is 853 feet high — is difficult work. Ships with cranes that can lift more than a thousand tons haul large components out to sea. At their destinations, legs are lowered into the water to raise the ships and make them stationary while they work. Only a few ships can handle the biggest components, and that’s a big problem for the United States.

Government Accountability Office report published in December. That is far too small for the giant components that Mr. Eley’s team was working with.

So Dominion hired three European ships and operated them out of the Port of Halifax in Nova Scotia. One of them, the Vole au Vent from Luxembourg, is 459 feet (140 meters) long and can lift 1,654 tons.

Mr. Eley’s crew waited weeks at a time for the European ships to travel more than 800 miles each way to port. The installations took a year. In Europe, it would have been completed in a few weeks. “It was definitely a challenge,” he said.

The U.S. shipping industry has not invested in the vessels needed to carry large wind equipment because there have been so few projects here. The first five offshore turbines were installed in 2016 near Block Island, R.I. Dominion’s two turbines were installed last year.

Had the Jones Act not existed — it was enacted after World War I to ensure that the country had ships and crews to mobilize during war and emergencies — Dominion could have run European vessels out of Virginia’s ports. The law is sacrosanct in Congress, and labor unions and other supporters argue that repealing it would eliminate thousands of jobs at shipyards and on boats, leaving the United States reliant on foreign companies.

Demand for large ships could grow significantly over the next decade because the United States, Europe and China have ambitious offshore wind goals. Just eight ships in the world can transport the largest turbine parts, according to Dominion.

200 more turbines by 2026. Dominion spent $300 million on its first two but hopes the others will cost $40 million each.

For the last 24 years, Tommy Eskridge, a resident of Tangier Island, has made a living catching conchs and crabs off the Virginia coast.

One area he works is where Dominion plans to place its turbines. Federal regulators have adjusted spacing between turbines to one nautical mile to create wider lanes for fishing and other boats, but Mr. Eskridge, 54, worries that the turbines could hurt his catch.

The area has yielded up to 7,000 pounds of conchs a day, though Mr. Eskridge said a typical day produced about half that amount. A pound can fetch $2 to $3, he said.

Mr. Eskridge said the company and regulators had not done enough to show that installing turbines would not hurt his catch. “We just don’t know what it’s going to do.”

who died in 2009, and William I. Koch, an industrialist.

Neither wanted the turbines marring the views of the coast from their vacation compounds. They also argued that the project would obstruct 16 historical sites, disrupt fishermen and clog up waterways used by humpback, pilot and other whales.

the developer of Cape Wind gave up in 2017. But well before that happened, Cape Wind’s troubles terrified energy executives who were considering offshore wind.

Projects up and down the East Coast are mired in similar fights. Residents of the Hamptons, the wealthy enclave, opposed two wind development areas, and the federal government shelved the project. On the New Jersey shore, some homeowners and businesses are opposing offshore wind because they fear it will raise their electricity rates, disrupt whales and hurt the area’s fluke fishery.

Energy executives want the Biden administration to mediate such conflicts and speed up permit approval.

“It’s been artificially, incrementally slow because of some inefficiencies on the federal permitting side,” said David Hardy, chief executive of Orsted North America.

Renewable-energy supporters said they were hopeful because the country had added lots of wind turbines on land — 66,000 in 41 states. They supplied more than 8 percent of the country’s electricity last year.

Ms. Lefton, the regulator who oversees leasing of federal waters, said future offshore projects would move more quickly because more people appreciated the dangers of climate change.

“We have a climate crisis in front of us,” she said. “We need to transition to clean energy. I think that will be a big motivator.”

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Tasked to Fight Climate Change, a Secretive U.N. Agency Does the Opposite

LONDON — During a contentious meeting over proposed climate regulations last fall, a Saudi diplomat to the obscure but powerful International Maritime Organization switched on his microphone to make an angry complaint: One of his colleagues was revealing the proceedings on Twitter as they happened.

It was a breach of the secrecy at the heart of the I.M.O., a clubby United Nations agency on the banks of the Thames that regulates international shipping and is charged with reducing emissions in an industry that burns an oil so thick it might otherwise be turned into asphalt. Shipping produces as much carbon dioxide as all of America’s coal plants combined.

Internal documents, recordings and dozens of interviews reveal what has gone on for years behind closed doors: The organization has repeatedly delayed and watered down climate regulations, even as emissions from commercial shipping continue to rise, a trend that threatens to undermine the goals of the 2016 Paris climate accord.

One reason for the lack of progress is that the I.M.O. is a regulatory body that is run in concert with the industry it regulates. Shipbuilders, oil companies, miners, chemical manufacturers and others with huge financial stakes in commercial shipping are among the delegates appointed by many member nations. They sometimes even speak on behalf of governments, knowing that public records are sparse, and that even when the organization allows journalists into its meetings, it typically prohibits them from quoting people by name.

Homes are washing away. Much of the nation could become unlivable in the coming decade.

was almost denied a seat. International Registries, which represented the Marshall Islands on the I.M.O., initially refused to yield to the foreign minister, Mr. Woodroofe recalled.

United Nations climate meetings, countries are typically represented by senior politicians and delegations of government officials. At the maritime organization’s environmental committee, however, one in four delegates comes from industry, according to separate analyses by The New York Times and the nonprofit group Influence Map.

Representatives of the Brazilian mining company Vale, one of the industry’s heaviest carbon polluters and a major sea-based exporter, sit as government advisers. So does the French oil giant Total, along with many shipowner associations. These arrangements allow companies to influence policy and speak on behalf of governments.

Connections can be hard to spot. Luiz Gylvan Meira Filho sat on the Brazilian delegation in 2017 and 2018 as a University of Sao Paulo scientist. But he also worked at a Vale-funded research organization and, during his second year, was a paid Vale consultant. In an interview, he described his role as mutually beneficial: Brazilian officials relied on his expertise, and Vale covered his costs.

“Sometimes you cannot tell the difference. Is this actually the position of a nation or the position of the industry?” said David Paul, a Marshallese senator who attended an I.M.O. meeting in 2018.

Hundreds of other industry representatives are accredited observers and can speak at meetings. Their numbers far exceed those of the approved environmental groups. The agency rejected an accreditation request by the Environmental Defense Fund in 2018.

Industry officials and the maritime organization say such arrangements give a voice to the experts. “If you don’t involve the people who are actually going to have to deliver, then you’re going to get a poor outcome,” said Guy Platten, secretary general of the International Chamber of Shipping.

openly opposed strict emissions regulation as a hindrance to economic growth. And an informal bloc of countries and industry groups helped drag out the goal-setting process for three years.

Documents show that China, Brazil and India, in particular, threw up repeated roadblocks: In 2015, it was too soon to consider a strategy. In 2016, it was premature to discuss setting targets. In 2017, they lacked the data to discuss long-term goals.

a Cook Islands diplomat.

The I.M.O. almost never puts environmental policies to a vote, favoring instead an informal consensus-building. That effectively gives vocal opponents blocking power, and even some of the agency’s defenders acknowledge that it favors minimally acceptable steps over decisive action.

So, when delegates finally set goals in 2018, Mr. de Brum’s ambition had been whittled away.

The Marshall Islands suggested a target of zero emissions “by the second half of the century” — meaning by 2050. Industry representatives offered a slightly different goal: Decarbonization should occur “within” the second half of the century, a one-word difference that amounted to a 50-year extension.

Soon, though, the delegates agreed, without a vote, to eliminate zero-emissions targets entirely.

What remained were two key goals:

First, the industry would try to improve fuel efficiency by at least 40 percent. This was largely a mirage. The target was set so low that, by some calculations, it was reached nearly the moment it was announced.

Second, the agency aimed to cut emissions at least in half by 2050. But even this watered-down goal is proving unreachable. The agency’s own data say emissions may rise by 30 percent.

When delegates met last October — five years after Mr. de Brum’s speech — the organization had not taken any action. Proposals like speed limits had been debated and rejected.

What remained was what several delegates called the “refrigerator rating” — a score that, like those on American appliances, identified the clean and dirty ships.

European delegates insisted that, for the system to work, low-scoring ships must eventually be prohibited from sailing.

China and its allies wanted no such consequence.

So Sveinung Oftedal of Norway, the group’s chairman, told France and China to meet separately and compromise.

Delegates worked across time zones, meeting over teleconferences because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Shipping industry officials said they weighed in through the night.

The Marshallese were locked out.

“We’re always being told ‘We hear you,’” Mr. Ishoda said. “But when it comes to the details of the conversation, we’re told ‘We don’t need you to contribute.’”

Ultimately, France ceded to nearly all of China’s requests, records show. The dirtiest ships would not be grounded. Shipowners would file plans saying they intended to improve, would not be required to actually improve.

German delegates were so upset that they threatened to oppose the deal, likely triggering a cascade of defections, according to three people involved in the talks. But European Union officials rallied countries behind the compromise, arguing that Europe could not be seen as standing in the way of even limited progress.

“At I.M.O., that is as always the choice,” said Damien Chevallier, the French negotiator. “We have the choice to have nothing, or just to have a first step.”

All of this happened in secret. The I.M.O.’s summary of the meeting called it a “major step forward.” Natasha Brown, a spokeswoman, said it would empower customers and advocacy groups. “We know from consumer goods that the rating system works,” she said.

But the regulation includes another caveat: The I.M.O. will not publish the scores, letting shipping companies decide whether to say how dirty their ships are.

Ms. Kabua, the Marshallese minister, is under no illusions that reclaiming the diplomatic seat will lead to a climate breakthrough.

But if it works, she said, it might inspire other countries with private registries to do the same. Countries could speak for themselves rather than through a corporate filter.

Regardless of the outcome, the political winds are shifting. The European Union is moving to include shipping in its emissions-trading system. The United States, after years of being minor players at the agency, is re-engaging under President Biden and recently suggested it may tackle shipping emissions itself.

Both would be huge blows to the I.M.O., which has long insisted that it alone regulate shipping.

Suddenly, industry officials say they are eager to consider things like fuel taxes or carbon.

“There’s much more of a sense of momentum and crisis,” said Mr. Platten, the industry representative. “You can argue about, ‘Are we late to it,’ and all the rest. But it is palpable.”

Behind closed doors, though, resistance remains. At a climate meeting last winter, recordings show that the mere suggestion that shipping should become sustainable sparked an angry response.

“Such statements show a lack of respect for the industry,” said Kostas G. Gkonis, the director of the trade group Intercargo.

And just last week, delegates met in secret to debate what should constitute a passing grade under the new rating system. Under pressure from China, Brazil and others, the delegates set the bar so low that emissions can continue to rise — at roughly the same pace as if there had been no regulation at all.

Delegates agreed to revisit the issue in five years.

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Shell Must Reduce Emissions, Dutch Court Rules

A Dutch court ruled Wednesday that Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s largest oil company, must accelerate its efforts to reduce carbon dioxide emissions to tackle climate change.

The District Court in The Hague ruled that Shell was “obliged” to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions of its activities by 45 percent at the end of 2030 compared with 2019. Shell is based in The Hague but is a global producer and supplier of oil and natural gas and other energy.

Shell has already adopted targets for emissions reduction, but the court requirements are likely to represent a substantial acceleration of the process of reducing emissions-producing fuels like oil and gas.

The ruling applies only in the Netherlands. Still, the defeat of an oil giant in a case brought by Milieudefensie, an environmental group, and other activists appeared to represent a kind of breakthrough in terms of a court’s willingness to dictate to a major business what it must do globally to protect the climate.

on the court website.

“But the court believes that the consequences of severe climate change are more important than Shell’s interests,” she added.

The court appeared to have accepted the environmentalists’ argument that not taking drastic measures on climate change would put lives in jeopardy.

“Severe climate change has consequences for human rights, including the right to life. And the court thinks that companies, among them Shell, have to respect those human rights,” Ms. Honée said.

A Shell spokesman said that the company expected “to appeal today’s disappointing court decision.”

The company said that it already had an extensive program to deal with climate change including billions of dollars of investment in low carbon energy including hydrogen, renewables like wind and solar and electric vehicle charging.

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Even Amid a Pandemic, More Than 40 Million People Fled Their Homes

Storms, floods, wildfires — and to a lesser degree, conflict — uprooted 40.5 million people around the world in 2020. It was the largest number in more than a decade, according to figures published Thursday by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, a nonprofit group based in Geneva that tracks displacement data annually.

It was all the more notable as it came during the worst global pandemic in a century.

Extreme weather events, mainly storms and floods, accounted for the vast majority of the displacement. While not all of those disasters could be linked to human-induced climate change, the Center’s report made clear that global temperature rise, fueled by the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, “are increasing the intensity and frequency of weather-related hazards.”

Last May, Cyclone Amphan alone displaced five million people in Bangladesh and India, as it whipped across the Bay of Bengal, downed trees and power lines, and destroyed thousands of buildings. In Bangladesh, weeks later, torrential rains upstream swelled rivers, submerging a quarter of the country and taking away the assets of its people — their homes built of mud and tin, their chickens and livestock, their sacks of rice stored for the lean times.

two ferocious hurricanes, Eta and Iota, pummeled Central America in quick succession, washing away bridges, uprooting trees and causing widespread flooding and deadly mudslides. The 2020 hurricane season was the most active Atlantic hurricane season on record, with 30 named storms, 13 of them hurricanes.

In the United States, rising temperatures and sea level rise have made flooding more frequent, particularly along the coast of the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico, and the rate of that flooding is quickening, according to United States government researchers. At many locations, “floods are now at least five times more common than they were in the 1950s,” according to figures published recently by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Last year’s displacement numbers come as this year’s Atlantic hurricane season approaches. Scientists have projected the season will see above-normal storm activity.

Climate change has led to wetter storms because warmer air holds more moisture. And while the links between climate change and hurricanes are complex, recent research suggests that warming has made stalled Atlantic storms more common. That can be more destructive because they linger in one place for a longer period of time.

The largest numbers of displaced people, mostly weather-related, were in Asia, with five million in China, roughly 4.4 million each in Bangladesh and the Philippines, and 3.9 million in India. The United States recorded 1.7 million displacements. Conflict-related displacement was highest in the Democratic Republic of Congo at 2.2 million and Syria at 1.8 million.

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