Tiempo Climate Newswatch
News Archive 2007
The Blue Carbon Portal brings together the latest knowledge and resources on the role of oceans as carbon sinks.
WalkIt provides walking routes between user-defined points in selected British cities, with an estimate of the carbon savings.
Joto Afrika is a series of printed briefings and online resources about adapting to climate change in sub-Saharan Africa.
The CoolClimate Art Contest presents iconic images that address the impact of climate change.
About the Cyberlibrary
The Tiempo Climate Cyberlibrary was developed by Mick Kelly and Sarah Granich on behalf of the Stockholm Environment Institute and the International Institute for Environment and Development, with sponsorship from the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency.
While every effort is made to ensure that information on this site, and on other sites that are referenced here, is accurate, no liability for loss or damage resulting from use of this information can be accepted.
"We now have a roadmap, we have an agenda and we have a deadline. But we also have a huge task ahead of us and time to reach agreement is extremely short, so we need to move quickly," said Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, as the United Nations Climate Change Conference 07, held in Bali, Indonesia, ended. Within days, the United States had underlined just how much distance would have to be covered as the White House announced that it had "serious concerns" about the Bali agreement. The United States came in for severe criticism for the stance it took at the Bali meeting, with agreement only reached after a last-minute U-turn by the American delegation. "The Bush administration - dragging Canada, Japan and Russia in tow - has thrown away the compass and is trying to force us all to take the journey in a gas-guzzling 4x4, not the solar-powered speedster that the world urgently needs," commented Antonio Hill, senior climate change policy adviser at Oxfam.
China announced that it was satisfied with the plan, but called on the United States to do more. "The United States is an important contributor of emissions both in total and on a per-capita basis. It has both advanced technology and ample funds," said Yu Qingtai, China's climate change ambassador. "So on the issue of tackling climate change, America should display a more positive, more constructive role," he continued. On the precise nature of any emissions control commitments taken on by the major developing nations, such as China, in a post-Kyoto agreement, and the related issue of technological assistance to developing nations, the Bali meeting rehearsed what may prove to the key debate, if not deal-breaker, in the next stage of the negotiations. The United States has long stressed the need for the leading developing nations to accept some curb on emissions growth and, for their part, developing nations underline the historic emissions responsibility of the industrialized world.
The United Nations (UN) aims to become climate neutral, offsetting emissions by investing in Adaptation Fund credits. Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), said that "offsetting emissions by supporting the soon-to-be operational adaptation fund sends a clear signal that climate proofing vulnerable economies has - like the UN's action on climate change generally - risen to the top of the organization's agenda in 2007." UNEP will become climate neutral in January 2008.
An increasing number of nations are unilaterally adopting the goal of climate neutrality. New Zealand's climate change minister David Parker said recently that his country's "plan to become climate neutral involves a goal of generating 90 percent of our electricity from renewable sources by 2025, and halving our per capita transport emissions by 2040 by introducing electric cars and a requirement to use bio fuels." An emissions trading scheme is being introduced. New Zealand will be the main host for UN World Environment Day, with the slogan "CO2, Kick the Habit". Costa Rica will become climate neutral as part of the new presidential initiative Peace with Nature. Norway plans to become climate neutral by the year 2050, and will go beyond its current commitment under the Kyoto Protocol. UNEP is establishing an internet-based climate neutral network.
George Bush, United States president, has signed an energy bill setting a new fuel-economy standard of 35 miles per gallon by the year 2020. Fuel producers must use at least 36 billion gallons of biofuel in 2022. To ensure the bill was approved, renewable incentives and a national renewable-energy standard had been removed. Citing the bill, the United States Environmental Protection Agency has ruled that individual states cannot set their own greenhouse gas emissions standards. California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has said that he will challenge the decision.
European car manufacturers face steep fines for failure to meet tough emissions standards under new legislation adopted by the European Union (EU). "This will send a strong signal to the world about the determination of the European Union to take bold measures on climate change," said environment commissioner Stavros Dimas, noting that voluntary curbs had failed. The proposed legislation, which now goes before the Council of EU member governments and the European parliament, was criticized from all sides. German environment minister Sigmar Gabriel termed the measures a "competition war" against the German car industry, aimed at favouring French and Italian rivals. Environmentalists accused the EU of a sell-out for phasing in the fines over four years, with no ambitious long-term goal.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference 07 ended with a compromise agreement on a "Bali Roadmap," which sets the agenda for defining an agreement to succeed the Kyoto Protocol when its commitment period expires in 2012. "Parties have recognized the urgency of action on climate change and have now provided the political response to what scientists have been telling us is needed," said Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat. Whether or not to include specific emissions reduction targets had proved a serious source of contention during the meeting. The European Union favoured an explicit goal of a 25 to 40 per cent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by the year 2020, but this was strenuously, and successfully, opposed by the United States. The final text of the Roadmap only refers to the need for "deep cuts in global emissions." But, with this compromise, the United States will play a role in developing the post-Kyoto regime. The Roadmap commits negotiators to pursue means of encouraging developing nations to curb emissions growth. The negotiators will consider "nationally appropriate mitigation actions by developing country Parties in the context of sustainable development, supported by technology and enabled by financing and capacity-building, in a measurable, reportable and verifiable manner." Negotiations on the post-Kyoto agreement will be finalized by 2009.
Agreement was also reached on the future of the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries (REDD) scheme, with a commitment to "early action" ahead of the successor to the Kyoto Protocol coming into force in 2012. Methodological work will focus on assessments of changes in forest cover and associated greenhouse gas emissions, methods to demonstrate reductions of emissions from deforestation and the estimation of the amount of emission reductions from deforestation. The ultimate aim is that credits will accrue from avoided deforestation, as from renewable energy projects under the Clean Development Mechanism. "Every previous attempt to have a forest convention bombed because it tended to be a bunch of developed countries telling developing countries what to do," commented John Lanchbery of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. "This was a developing country proposal. It was very cleverly done and avoids all the nasty pitfalls of previous attempts. It is nice and simple. It's about reducing carbon emissions and climate people can understand that," he continued. The initiative was a favoured project of the conference hosts, Indonesia. In a separate development, the World Bank recently announced a new pilot scheme for entering forest-based carbon credits into the global trading market.
The Kyoto Protocol's Adaptation Fund will be managed by a new body, answerable to the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework on Climate Change, rather than being run independently by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). "This is a major victory," said Amjad Abdullah, chair of the Least Developing Countries negotiating group. "The African countries, small island states and least developed countries stuck together and fought for a dedicated secretariat with a representative governance board that has special places for the most vulnerable nations."
The GEF will provide the Fund's secretariat, which will report to a board consisting of representatives of all the world's major regions, in addition to the countries most vulnerable to climate change. The majority of members will come from developing countries and, if decisions require a vote, this will be on the basis of one country one vote. The arrangement will give "developing countries a more direct and equitable voice in how funds are prioritized and spent," commented South African environment minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk. The GEF's role will be reviewed after three years. The decision was taken at the United Nations Climate Change Conference 07 in Bali, Indonesia.
Al Gore and, on behalf of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Rajendra Pachauri collected the Nobel Peace Prize on Monday, 10th December, in Oslo. "Without realizing it, we have begun to wage war on the earth itself," Gore said. "It is time to make peace with the planet. We must quickly mobilize our civilisation with the urgency and resolve that has previously been seen only when nations mobilized for war," he continued. He called for understanding of the "connections between the climate crisis and the afflictions of poverty, hunger, HIV-Aids and other pandemics. As these problems are linked, so too must be their solutions," he concluded.
Pachauri paid tribute to the "thousands of experts and scientists who have contributed to the work of the Panel over almost two decades of exciting evolution and service to humanity." Citing the "sterile outcome of previous sessions in recent years", he called on those attending the United Nations Climate Change Conference 07 in Bali, Indonesia, to provide some positive results. "Will those responsible for decisions in the field of climate change at the global level listen to the voice of science and knowledge, which is now loud and clear," he asked. The ceremony was transmitted live to the Bali meeting.
The United Nations Climate Change Conference 07 needs to deliver "a breakthrough in the form of a roadmap for a new international agreement on enhanced global action to fight climate change in the period after 2012," when the first commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol expires, said Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, as the Bali meeting opened. He does not believe that the conference will result in a fully negotiated and agreed climate deal, but it should set the necessary wheels in motion. de Boer believes that the negotiations will need to conclude in 2009 in order to allow time for ratification.
Just what the roadmap should cover was the subject of much debate during the early days of the conference. Japan proposed that it should exclude explicit targets, whilst the European Union's wish list included demands for industrialized countries to take the lead in approving mandatory cuts, strengthening the carbon market and boosting funding to help poor countries adapt. Meanwhile, the Pacific island nations called for swift action. Young Vivian, prime minister of Niue, said he feared the Bali conference would be "talk, talk, talk and meeting, meeting and meeting." "Maybe next year there'll be another disaster and they may still be talking," he said. Forest nations would like to see progress in developing the Reduced Emissions from Deforestation in Developing Countries (REDD) scheme. "My instinct is there will be an agreement on a phased approach where we will start with some countries that are more ready than others," said Hans Verolme of WWF's Global Climate Change Programme.
The mega-deltas of Asia are in the front line of flood risk, according to a new report from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). By the 2070s, climate change, subsidence, population growth and urbanization, and urban development could triple the world population threatened by coastal flooding to around 150 million people. The assets exposed could grow more than ten times current levels, reaching around nine per cent of global GDP. The report concludes that "the large exposure in terms of population and assets is likely to translate into regular city-scale disasters across the global scale."
Future water crises in Asia will be sparked by "continuing neglect of proper wastewater management practices" and not "actual physical scarcity of water, as many predict at present," according to Asit Biswas of the Third World Centre for Water Management. Biswas is a co-author of Asian Water Development Outlook, commissioned by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). "Virtually no country has carefully analyzed the water, land and social implications of increasing biofuel production and then made appropriate policy decisions," the ADB report warns. Though urbanization, industrialization, population growth and climate change are likely to stress the region's water resources, the report's authors conclude that Asia has the expertise and technology to ensure adequate water supplies. Major changes in water governance practices are, however, required.
The German cabinet has approved an ambitious package of measures to address the climate problem. "Germany wants to show that a developed country can reconcile economic growth with protection of the environment," commented environment minister Sigmar Gabriel. Renewable energy will account for 25 to 30 per cent of energy needs, more than double the current level, by the year 2020. Annual subsidies of up to 500 million euros will be offered to encourage the installation of environmentally-friendly heating. The aim of these and other measures is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40 per cent below the 1990 baseline by the end of the next decade.
While welcoming many aspects of the package, environmental groups did question whether it went far enough. "Much in this energy and climate programme sounds good," said Hubert Weiger of BUND/Friends of the Earth Germany. "But it avoids many burning issues... what is really necessary is to stop building coal-powered plants, to bring in a speed limit for the motorways and abolish tax breaks for large company cars," he continued. Greenpeace criticized government support for the construction of 24 coal-fired power plants that will replace phased-out nuclear reactors.
United Nations Climate Change Conference 07 is a "make or break" opportunity to reach agreement on long-term international action on the climate problem, according to Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat. Failure would result in a "loss of faith in the United Nations process being capable of delivering," he said in an interview with IPS. While he does not expect the meeting to agree on targets and finalize a regime, he does hope that Bali will "result in a first step on a long road to really come to grips with climate change."
de Boer calls on nations such as India "not to be as wasteful as the West" while recognizing that developing nations do not wish to "constrain their economic growth to solve the problem that somebody else has caused." In the run-up to the Bali meeting, Brazil has reiterated its opposition to targets being imposed on developing nations. "The principal responsibility lies with the industrialized countries," said Everton Vargas from Brazil's Ministry of External Relations. "Our offer is to adopt verifiable policies at a national level to combat climate change - we have our own targets," he continued.
The latest Human Development Report, from the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), warns that the world is drifting towards a "tipping point" that could lock the poorest countries and their poorest citizens in a downward spiral, leaving hundreds of millions facing malnutrition, water scarcity, ecological threats and a loss of livelihoods. "Ultimately, climate change is a threat to humanity as a whole. But it is the poor, a constituency with no responsibility for the ecological debt we are running up, who face the immediate and most severe human costs," concludes UNDP head Kemal Dervis.
The report calls on the industrialized nations to take a lead in cutting greenhouse gas emissions by at least 80 per cent of 1990 levels by the year 2050, through a mix of carbon taxation, more stringent cap-and-trade programmes, energy regulation and international cooperation on financing low-carbon technology transfer. It also calls on these nations to put adaptation at the centre of international partnerships on poverty reduction. "We are issuing a call to action, not providing a counsel of despair," said lead author Kevin Watkins. "Working together with resolve, we can win the battle against climate change. Allowing the window of opportunity to close would represent a moral and political failure without precedent in human history." The report's proposal for a 20 per cent cut in emissions below 1990 levels by developing nations by the year 2050 met with a strong rebuttal from India. The report "does not address the key issues of equality and equity," according to Montek Singh Ahluwalia of India's Planning Commission.
American consumers are using the savings from greater energy efficiency to buy more and bigger appliances and vehicles, hence consuming even more energy, according to a study of the "efficiency paradox" conducted by CIBC World Markets. "While seemingly perverse, improvements in energy efficiency result in more of the good being consumed - not less," says Jeff Rubin at CIBC World Markets. The study concludes that improvements in energy efficiency are essential. But, Rubin recommends, "in order for efficiency to actually curb energy usage, as opposed to energy intensity, consumers must be kept from reaping the benefits of those initiatives in ever-greater energy consumption."
Cost still limits access to solar power on the part of the 1.6 billion people in the world without electricity, concludes a report from the InterAcademy Council. A silicon cell manufacturing boom may, however, make solar technology available even to the rural poor. "Very inexpensive solar cells could be used by off-grid people to charge appliances that don't use a lot of power [such as radios, mobile phones, water purifiers and light emitting diodes] but make a world of difference," said lead author Steven Chu from the University of California, Berkeley. The report concludes that it is a "moral and social imperative," to be pursued with all means available, that the poorest people on this planet should be supplied with basic, modern energy services. The study was commissioned by the governments of Brazil and China.
The latest figures from the United Nations show that greenhouse gas emissions from the major industrialized and transition nations are approaching an "all-time high". While total emissions from these nations fell during the final decade of the 20th century, they have risen by 2.6 per cent over the period 2000 to 2005. Continuing economic growth in the industrialized nations and economic recovery in the states of Eastern Europe is held responsible for the trend reversal. Emissions growth in the transport sector has been particularly marked.
Despite the recent trend, the Kyoto Protocol goal of an overall five per cent reduction in emissions below 1990 levels by the year 2012 remains likely to be achieved. "For the totality of Kyoto signatory countries, reductions of 15 per cent are feasible should additional policies be planned and implemented," commented Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat. "But we should not hide the fact that there is continuing greenhouse gas emissions growth on the part of several countries and that they must do more to rein in their emissions," he continued.
Humpback and fin whales were observed this summer in the Beaufort and Chukchi Seas far north of their usual habitat, marking what may be a long-term shift in environmental conditions. Humpback whales were seen in the Beaufort Sea, east of Barrow. Fin whales were detected in the Chukchi Sea, 500 kilometres north of their normal range. Both species normally remain south of the Bering Strait.
Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity said the humpback sightings may be a sign of a recovering population expanding its range or could indicate a desperate search for food. "All signs point to global warming," he said. "That would be the first suspect of why the whales are there." "We now have even more compelling reasons to protect the Arctic Ocean and the species dramatically affected by climate change," concluded Deborah Williams from Alaska Conservation Solutions.
The East Asia Summit nations have issued the Singapore Declaration on Climate Change, Energy and the Environment. The Declaration endorses the United Nations response to the climate threat under the Framework Convention on Climate Change. It recognizes that rapid economic development, while contributing to sustainable development and poverty eradication, poses "new challenges in dealing with greater energy consumption, regional and global energy security concerns" and cites the increased need for environmental management given the projected doubling of Asia's 1.7 billion urban population between 2000 and 2030.
The Singapore Declaration endorses the long-term objective of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the stabilization of greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. "The climate change declaration coming out of the East Asia Summit will make the Bali meeting easier," commented Alexander Downer, Australian foreign minister. "There has been a turning of the tide in China and India's position - they're saying yes we need to do something to stabilize emissions." A proposed energy intensity goal of a 25 per cent reduction by the year 2030 was, however, dropped after objections from India. The Declaration does include a strong commitment to technological development in areas such as energy efficiency and conservation, alternative energy sources and cleaner fossil-fuel energy production. The signatories did adopt an aspirational goal of a 15 million hectare increase in regional forest cover by 2020.
Tropical Cyclone Sidr made landfall on the Bangladeshi coast on Thursday November 15th, By the following weekend, the death toll may have reached 1,100, with thousands injured. The availability of shelters, as well as an evacuation programme, may spare the country the mass casualties of previous events. "We are expecting less casualties this time because the government took early measures. We alerted people to be evacuated early," said Samarendra Karmakar, head of the Bangladesh Meteorological Department. Over half a million people were evacuated.
Mass evacuation, albeit on a much smaller scale, took place in the east of England the previous week, as gale-force winds combined with a high tide to generate a storm surge that threatened to rival the 1953 North Sea disaster. In the event, the coast escaped serious flooding, but the UK Met Office warned that the flood risk could rise by a factor of ten this century as global warming develops. "Floods that occur once in 100 years on the East Coast today may happen once every ten years by the end of the century," said Jason Lowe of the Hadley Centre.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) met in Valencia, Spain, mid-November to finalize a summary of its Fourth Assessment of climate change science. "What is produced here in Valencia is the guide that every one of the thousands of delegates attending the crucial Climate Convention meeting in Bali will be packing in their suitcases and slipping in their back pockets," said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme. After extensive debate, national representatives issued the sternest warning yet from the IPCC, agreeing that climate change could have "abrupt" and "irreversible" consequences.
Use of the word "irreversible" had been challenged by the United States as inappropriate in a scientific summary. India argued strongly that adaptation should be given greater emphasis, along with the need for financial assistance from the developed nations. The IPCC also discussed the next stage of its work. Before the meeting, World Meteorological Organization head Michel Jarraud stressed the need for more precise forecasts of areas at risk. "We need to give indications which are at the scale countries can use to make decisions," he said. "We need to come to a scale which is smaller than countries like Spain or France or the UK. You really need to come to smaller scales - 100, 200 kilometres. We are not yet there."
"OPEC [the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries] can deliver a big part of the solution to climate change," concluded Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at a high-level OPEC seminar in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. "International action on climate change is a war against emissions, not a war against oil. Oil will continue to play a pivotal role in the global energy mix for many decades to come, not least due to growing global energy demand. But oil will have to be decarbonized with adequate technologies," he continued.
The UNFCCC Secretariat has reported that the International Transaction Log (ITL) is now operational. The ITL is a computerized system that ensures that emissions trading among countries is consistent with the climate treaty rules. "This step is a key milestone and a real achievement in the implementation of the Kyoto Protocol," said de Boer. Japan was the first country to log credits under the new system. It plans to buy 100 million tonnes of carbon offsets through the scheme over the five years from April 2008 to meet its Kyoto commitments.
Jean Ziegler, United Nations independent expert on the right to food, has called the production of biofuels a "crime against humanity" because of the food shortages and price inflation that results. He recommends a five-year moratorium, by which time "it will be possible to make biofuel and biodiesel from agricultural waste" and not food crops.
Oxfam has recently criticized the European Union (EU) for mandating that transportation fuels have to be blended with ten per cent biofuels. "In the scramble to supply the EU and the rest of the world with biofuels, poor people are getting trampled," said Robert Bailey from Oxfam. In the United States, a new industry group, Renewable Fuels Now, has been formed to address what they consider misconceptions about ethanol. "The ethanol industry has been on the receiving end of a lot of hot sticks in the eye, and they have just been taking it," says spokesman Randolph Court. "They don't want to keep taking it anymore."
Atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have grown 35 per cent faster than expected since 2000, according to an international team of scientists. Three factors are held responsible: global economic growth; an increase in carbon intensity; and a deterioration in the ability of land and ocean to absorb carbon from the air.
"Fifty years ago, for every tonne of carbon dioxide emitted, 600kg were removed by land and ocean sinks. However, in 2006, only 550kg were removed per tonne and that amount is falling," said Pep Canadell of the Global Carbon Project. Collaborator Corinne Le Quéré of the University of East Anglia and British Antarctic Survey concludes that "the decline in global sink efficiency suggests that stabilization of atmospheric carbon dioxide is even more difficult to achieve than previously thought."
Environmental activists have warned that developing countries will be hampered in fighting climate change if they exploit their natural resources to cover foreign debts. "There is a need to resolve odious debts in developing countries," the declaration from a coalition of Indonesian and international non-governmental organizations states. "The repayment of debts of developing countries has for a long time been made at the expense of natural resources, leaving communities vulnerable to the impacts of climate change," it continues.
The coalition calls on rich countries to promote green lifestyles. "We can't afford to maintain a position where the lifestyles of the rich are not up for negotiation," said coalition spokeswoman Farah Sofa, deputy director of Walhi Indonesia. "We must live simply so that others may simply live." Citing the broader environmental risks, the group opposes the use of nuclear power, genetically-modified trees and biofuels in responding to global warming. The coalition's declaration was presented at a ministerial meeting on climate change in Bogor, Indonesia.
The fires that swept California recently may presage a greater frequency of such events as climate change generates heavier vegetation and fuel loads. These fires are "exactly what we've been projecting to happen, both in short-term fire forecasts for this year and the longer term patterns that can be linked to global climate change," said Ronald Neilson of Oregon State University in the United States.
A warming planet means more evaporation and greater rainfall. "That can lead, at times, to heavier vegetation loads popping up and creation of a tremendous fuel load," according to Neilson. "But the warmth and other climatic forces are also going to create periodic droughts. If you get an ignition source during these periods, the fires can just become explosive," he continued. Three consecutive heatwaves contributed to the severe forest fires over Greece this summer.
The International Carbon Active Partnership (ICAP) has been launched to accelerate the development of a global carbon market. Founding members are nine nations of the European Union, Norway, New Zealand, four states in the United States and one Canadian province, all of whom are involved in national or regional carbon market initiatives. José Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, said that ICAP "will be saying that leaders from across the developed world, leaders with vision, can work together to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; can put in place the tools at home and globally that are so essential if we are to succeed in tackling the greatest challenge of our generation."
ICAP will facilitate world-wide emissions trading by acting as a forum and information exchange for governments and public authorities. The Partnership plans to develop a set of agreed standards on emissions trading, including verifying and reporting of emissions, and flexible means of compliance. According to the ICAP Declaration, "future linking of emissions trading systems may provide emissions reductions at lower cost, and accelerate the scale of innovation. Larger trading volumes and improved market liquidity are likely to yield robust price signals. Linked systems may also stabilize investor expectations and help mobilize capital for the necessary transition to a global low-carbon economy."
"The systematic destruction of the Earth's natural and nature-based resources has reached a point where... the bill we hand on to our children may prove impossible to pay," warned Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Programme, launching GEO 4. GEO 4 is the latest report in the Global Environment Outlook series. "The fact that we are in the year 2007, with all the knowledge that we have and with all the capacity to do things differently, to present to the world at this point a report that essentially says that our response has been woefully inadequate is a very sobering realization," he observed.
On climate change, GEO 4 calls for greater progress in emissions mitigation. It concludes that "mainstreaming climate concerns in development planning is urgent, especially in sectors such as energy, transport, agriculture, forests and infrastructure development, at both policy and implementation levels." On biodiversity, the report warns that the world faces its sixth mass extinction event in 450 million years as a result of human development. Persistent problems include the decline of fish stocks, loss of fertile land, unsustainable pressure on resources, decreasing availability of fresh water and the risk that environmental damage could pass "unknown points of no return."
In the United States, the Bush administration has been accused of watering down climate change testimony to Congress. Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) says that the White House forced Julie Gerberding, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, to cut specific references to the effects of climate change, removing a statement that her organization "considers climate change a serious public health concern."
"It appears the White House has denied a congressional committee access to scientific information about health and global warming. This misuse of science and abuse of the legislative process is deplorable," said Michael McCally from PSR. The White House has denied that any serious changes were made to the draft testimony. "A number of the agencies had some concerns with the draft and I know that our scientists at the Office of Science and Technology Policy looked at the draft and wanted to make sure that it was taking advantage of the science that had been provided in the [Intergovernmental] Panel on Climate Change," commented White House spokeswoman Dana Perino.
The oceans may be taking less carbon out of the atmosphere, according to a recent study, raising concern that, if the ocean sink continues to decrease in strength, the rate of global warming may accelerate. Since the mid-1990s, levels of carbon dioxide in North Atlantic waters have fallen by over a half. It is too early to tell whether this is a short-term fluctuation or part of a long-term trend.
Study author Andrew Watson from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, United Kingdom, suspects that the process is climatically-driven. He reckons that "the sink is much more sensitive to changes in climate than we expected. Therefore, if you have a series of relatively warm winters, the ocean surface doesn't cool quite so much, you don't get so much sub-surface water formed and so the carbon dioxide is not being taken down into the deep water."
Leading cement manufacturers met in Brussels recently to discuss their industry's contribution to carbon emissions. Howard Klee, who coordinates the Cement Sustainability Initiative (CSI), noted that "most people are not even aware that making cement produces carbon dioxide. It is an incredibly low-profile business and power companies, transportation and airlines get much more attention."
Manufacturing cement involves burning large amounts of coal and, as the raw material, limestone, decomposes, carbon dioxide is released as a byproduct. "We know there is an issue. If we draw attention to ourselves then we could attract criticism, but we could also have a voice in the regulatory solutions. Otherwise we could have something thrust upon us," said Dimitri Papalexopoulos of Titan Cement.
The number of chronically-hungry people is rising by four million a year as a result of drought, conflict and rising costs, according to the United Nations. "It's a perfect storm," said Peter Smerdon of the World Food Programme. These factors "all feed into each other." The cost of cereals has risen 50 per cent over the past five years, with recent increases driven, in part, by the demand for biofuels.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) is calling for a renewed commitment to guarantee the right to food. The scourge of hunger lingers on," said Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete, president of Tanzania, at a ceremony to mark World Food Day. "There are little signs of receding. Instead hunger seems to be on the ascendancy. Estimates of this organization show that more than 850 million people in the world still live in a state of serious and permanent undernourishment. Sub-Saharan Africa alone has 206 million people... almost a quarter of the continent's population." He pointed out that the world produced enough food to feed everyone. "Ideally, no one should starve or die of hunger in the world we live in. Strangely and sadly enough, many people do. This is not fair. This is not right," he continued.
Kofi Annan, former secretary general of the United Nations, has launched a Global Humanitarian Forum, which will coordinate international efforts to counter the impact of climate change. "We need to get the world public to focus on the fact that climate change is not something down the line but is happening now, and that we have to work together to combat it," he said.
Forum board member Jan Egeland, head of the Norwegian Institute of International Affairs and former UN coordinator for emergency affairs, warned that five to seven times more people now lose their livelihoods from natural disasters linked to climate change than they do from conflict. "The world is waking up to something very threatening but we're not acting really, there's no investment in this as of yet," he said. The first high-level meeting of the Forum will take place in June 2008.
Young Vivian, premier of the Pacific island nation Niue, has called on the developing nations to act to save his nation. "It is very serious because if they [the largest polluters] don't listen now, and we don't do something now, we are gone," he said. "That is for sure, and we are scared." "To get some action out of these big countries is impossible for the little island nations to make it happen," he continued. "I think if big countries can't make other big countries behave, what power have we got?" He was speaking at the Pacific Islands Forum Leaders Meeting in Tonga.
Bharrat Jagdeo, president of Guyana, has urged Commonwealth finance ministers to exert pressure on the forthcoming climate negotiations in Bali, Indonesia, by highlighting the economic basis of deforestation. Arguing that forests are cut down by people living in the area or engaged in agriculture and business to generate profit for national development, he said that "we must square up to this reality and recognize that the way to stop deforestation is to ensure that there is an economically viable alternative." He wants financial incentives, not only for re-planting but also for the preservation of pristine forest. Jagdeo recently offered to deploy almost all his country's rainforest "in the long term service of the world's battle against climate change."
In the aftermath of Typhoon Lekima, the Red Cross estimates that ten million people have been affected by recent storm damage and flooding in Vietnam. "We estimate that there are ten million people affected by floods in July, and ten million by the most recent floods," said Winnie Romeril, a spokeswoman for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. "A lot of people were displaced twice," she continued.
The flooding has been described as the worst in 45 years. More than 134,400 houses have been destroyed or damaged and more than 160,000 hectares of rice fields and other crops have been inundated. "The mountainous regions are facing killer flash floods while in the lowlands, standing water simply refuses to drain," said Joe Lowry of the International Federation.
Rachmat Witoelar, environment minister for Indonesia is confident that significant progress will be made at the climate negotiations in Bali in December. In particular, he reckons that the United States and Australia will reach a consensus on the way forward post-2012. Following talks with national representatives, he said that "it seems they don't mean any harm. They just want to have some things rearranged."
Meanwhile, Australia's environment minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has indicated that his government might ratify an amended Kyoto Protocol. "Australia is committed to a new, environmentally effective global agreement, and if it is global and effective and involves all the major emitters we would expect to sign it," he said. "Whether this new agreement is done by amending the Kyoto Protocol or by entering into a new protocol with another name remains to be seen - but that is a question of process only," he continued.
Computer modelling indicates that human activity is the likely cause of the observed rise in the amount of moisture in the air. The study, led by Kate Willett at Yale University in the United States, reveals that the starting point is an increase in evaporation as the world warms. Then, "warmer air can hold more moisture," says co-author Nathan Gillett of the Climatic Research Unit in Norwich, United Kingdom, where the research was conducted.
The study made use of humidity measurements over land and ocean for the most recent thirty years. The observed trends were compared with the results of a climate model simulation that took account of both natural and human factors. The work complements recent findings by Benjamin Santer at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in the United States. "Natural variability in climate just can't explain this moisture change. The most plausible explanation is that it's due to the human-caused increase in greenhouse gases," comments Santer.
The Northwest Passage through the Canadian Arctic Archipelago opened completely this year for the first time in human memory. By the end of the record-breaking 2007 melt season, a standard ocean-going vessel could have sailed through without any difficulty, reports the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, in the United States.
There is concern that the opening up of the Arctic will have a negative impact on the indigenous people of the region. "There is a real sudden grab for everything up here in the Arctic," according to Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Inuit activist. "What direction are we taking as an Inuit society? How is it we are going to deal with these monumental changes?" It may be some time, though, before the Northwest Passage rivals the Panama Canal. "There are navigational challenges, so many 'ifs' and 'buts' and the idea that you are going to take merchant ships with deep draughts through icy waters that are uncharted, really means that currently it is no match for the canal," commented Simon Bennett of the International Chamber of Shipping in London.
Tavau Teii, deputy prime minister of Tuvalu, addressing the United Nations General Assembly on October 1st, called for a new legal agreement on climate change. He would like to see a pledge for new and substantial emissions reductions by current Parties to the Kyoto Protocol and a wider range of nations, including developing nations, taking on commitments, which may be voluntary.
Tavau Teii also proposed further action on adaptation. "First we must establish a whole new source of funding for adaptation and a new approach on how adaptation funding is managed. A potential new source of funding for adaptation could come from a levy on international aviation and maritime transport," he said. "Second we must establish a global insurance facility to help assist vulnerable countries recover from the impacts of climate change."
Tourism officials and executives from 100 countries have agreed that they must "rapidly respond to climate change," given the threat to the natural resources and tourist activities, and take "concrete measures" to curb greenhouse gas emissions. The declaration was the result of a three-day meeting on tourism and global warming organized by the United Nations, held in Davos, Switzerland.
"The issue of climate change is no longer an issue for the future, it is an issue for today," said Bannve Kuamaitotoya, Fijian Secretary for Tourism. "Pull out tourism and you pull out 60 to 80 per cent of activity in the country," said Michael Nalletamby of the Seychelles tourism board. "The immediate risk is that tourism is demonized for its carbon footprint and regulated because the industry doesn't act to regulate itself," warned Christopher Rodrigues of VisitBritain. Andreas Fischlin of the Institute of Integrative Biology in Zürich, Switzerland, said that "tourism has to contribute to mitigation: it's a cause of the problem and has to take up its share." Measures proposed to cut the emissions included greater energy efficiency, renewable energy, better conservation of natural areas to serve as "earth lungs," technological or design measures to avoid pollution and staff education.
Ban Ki-moon, United Nations secretary general, told a high-level meeting of heads of government in New York that "the time for doubt [over climate change] has passed." He called for a new global commitment to cut greenhouse gas emissions. "We know enough to act," he said. "If we don't act now, the impact of climate change will be devastating."
Lawrence Gonzi, prime minister of Malta, said that a mechanism was needed to devise a global strategy on climate "in a more cohesive and concerted manner," avoiding the current fragmentation and paying particular attention to the needs of small island states. "It is imperative that all actors involved in climate risk reduction take a unified stand," he said. Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Programme, welcomed the event as an example of the "unprecedented momentum of public and political pressure" on environmental issues. Citing the recent agreement on eliminating hydrochlorofluorocarbons as "just one more signal that shows that the United Nations is perfectly capable of convening international consensus if indeed Member States are willing to come to the table and work together," he said that "a qualitatively different political understanding" should now underpin the next stage of the climate negotiations to be held in December in Bali, Indonesia.
George W Bush, United States president, has called on "all the world's largest producers of greenhouse gas emissions, including developed and developing nations," to come together and "set a long-term goal for reducing" greenhouse emissions. He was speaking at a meeting of sixteen high-emission nations, the United Nations and the European Union in Washington DC that was hosted by the White House later in the week of the United Nations high-level event.
"By next summer, we will convene a meeting of heads of state to finalize the goal and other elements of this approach, including a strong and transparent system for measuring our progress toward meeting the goal we set," Bush continued. "Only by doing the necessary work this year will it be possible to reach a global consensus at the United Nations in 2009." There was scepticism regarding Bush's claim to leadership on the climate issue. "This is a total charade," said one delegate, speaking anonymously to the BBC. "The president has said he will lead on climate change but he won't agree binding emissions, while other nations will. He says he will lead on technology but then he asks other countries to contribute funds, without saying how much he'll contribute himself. It's humiliating for him - a total humiliation."
Exceptional warmth in the High Arctic has led to unprecedented changes in the local environment, according to researchers from Queen's University, Ontario, Canada. "Everything has changed dramatically in the watershed we observed [on Melville Island]," reported Scott Lamoureux, referring to slips and other changes in the landscape resulting from melting permafrost. "It’s something we’d envisioned for the future - but to see it happening now is quite remarkable."
Accompanying the warmth, the summer extent of the Arctic sea ice shrunk to a 29-year low. "The decline in the amount of thick ice that survives the summer melt season this year is quite remarkable," said Josefino Comiso at the Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, in the United States. "The 2007 sea ice record is meaningful because it is an accentuation of a steadily downward trend in ice cover that is very apparent over the past several years, commented Stephen Vavrus from the Center for Climatic Research, Madison, Wisconsin. Comiso is concerned that positive feedback is at work. "When there is less sea ice in the summer, the Arctic Ocean receives more heat," he observed. "The warmer water makes it harder for the ice to recover in the winter, and, therefore, there is a higher likelihood that sea ice will retreat farther during the summer. This process repeats itself year after year."
1.5 million people have been affected by floods that have swept across Africa since the summer months. In what has been described as the worst flooding for decades, there have been 250 fatalities and 600,000 people have been displaced. The affected area extends from Senegal in the west to Ethiopia and Kenya in the east, with Uganda, Ghana and Togo particularly badly affected. In northern Ghana, the White Volta River burst its banks.
Aid agencies have launched funding appeals. "It is evident from the scope of the disaster that a massive aid effort will be needed to help hundreds of thousands of flood victims survive the crisis and rebuild their lives," according to Niels Scott of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. The British Red Cross says that support is needed to "provide urgently needed relief, including shelter and water purification tablets, to those affected by the crisis." The Uganda Red Cross Society plans to give construction tools to those affected. "If we give them ladders, saws and hammers, they will be able to build more permanent shelters for themselves," said Catherine Ntabadde.
The European Commission intends to establish a €50 million fund to help developing nations cope with the impact of global warming. According to Louis Michel, European Union (EU) development and humanitarian aid commissioner, "climate change is a threat to all of us, but the poorest and least-developed countries are in the worst situation." He stressed that these nations, and particularly small island states, would be the "top priority" of the new funding.
Michel described the allocation as "only a startup" and called on other EU member states to add their own contributions as "other resources are necessary to respond to the scale of the needs." Oxfam has proposed that as much as US$50 billion might be needed annually to help poor countries face the "unavoidable consequences" of climate change. The EU will create a new Global Climate Change Alliance in partnership with developing nations.
Production and use of ozone-depleting hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) will be phased out ahead of schedule, following agreement at the latest Conference of the Parties to the Montreal Protocol, held in Montréal, Canada. The new phase-out deadline is 2020 for developed countries and from 2030 and to 2030 from 2040 for developing nations.
Phasing out HCFCs will also reduce global warming as these chemicals are greenhouse gases. "This is, perhaps, my most satisfying day so far in my tenure," said Achim Steiner, executive director of the United Nations Environment Programme. "Governments had a golden opportunity to deal with the twin challenges of climate change and protecting the ozone layer and governments took it," he continued. "The precise and final savings in terms of greenhouse gas emissions could amount to several billions of tonnes." The Montréal conference marked the 20th anniversary of the Montreal Protocol.
The Eighth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) was held in Madrid from the 3rd to the 14th September. The conference agreed a ten-year action plan to combat desertification but, despite negotiations over-running on the final day, no agreement on finance was reached. Japan and the United States opposed a budget increase. "This was not the outcome we had hoped for," said Spanish environment minister Cristina Narbona. "We are going to work hard to get over this sole obstacle," she continued.
The link between desertification and climate change was a major theme of the meeting. "These two issues are very intimately related in the way you can describe them as two halves of a coin," said Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). "Climate change already has had a major impact on desertification and what the scientists are telling us is that if we fail on climate change the impact in terms of desertification is going to be much worse because you'll see changes in rainfall pattern leading to more desertification," he continued.
Tavau Teii, deputy prime minister of Tuvalu, has called for urgent action to combat global warming before his nation sinks beneath the waves. "The alternative is to turn ourselves into fish and live under water," he said. "All countries must make an effort to reduce their emissions before it is too late for countries like Tuvalu."
Damage to coral reefs is threatening fish stocks. Underground fresh water supplies, at risk from drought, are being contaminated by seawater. Annual spring tides appear to be getting higher, increasing coastal erosion, and cyclones are becoming more ferocious. "We'll try and maintain our own way of living on the island as long as we can," Teii promised, but "if the time comes we should leave the islands, there is no other choice but to leave."
Meili Snow Mountain, a major tourist location in China, will be devoid of snow within 80 years if climate trends continue, warns Liu Jiaxun of the Meteorological Bureau of Diqing Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in Yunnan Province. Melting ice would have devastating effects downstream, causing floods, farmland damage and mud-rock slides. The loss of water sources would mean river shrinkage and drought.
The water storage capacity of the Yellow River in Maqu, Gansu Province, is already being affected by global warming and over-development, according to the Gansu Provincial Meteorological Bureau. The flow of the Yellow River in Maqu has dropped by 64 per cent, compared with the 1980s. Grassland and wetland areas have shrunk by 45 per cent, so "the region's function as a reservoir for the Yellow River has decreased significantly," said Zhang Qiang from the Meteorological Bureau.
"If you truly care about greenhouse gases, then you'll support nuclear power," George W Bush, president of the United States, announced ahead of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit held last weekend in Sydney, Australia. "Nuclear is a dead end, high risk technology and the proposed research and development will not realize anything for decades. It represents a great missed opportunity for real action at APEC," responded Dave Sweeney for the Australian Conservation Foundation.
The APEC members, including both developed and developing nations, reached agreement on a statement on climate change. "The world needs to slow, stop and then reverse the growth of global greenhouse gas emissions," according to the Sydney Declaration. The Declaration sets a non-binding energy intensity target - an APEC-wide reduction of at least 25 per cent from the 2005 level by the year 2030 - while acknowledging the historic responsibility of the wealthier nations for the climate problem. It also includes a commitment to increase regional forest cover by at least 50 million acres by 2020. The statement affirms that climate change negotiations should take place under the auspices of the United Nations.
"Projected changes in future sea ice conditions, if realized, will result in loss of approximately two-thirds of the world's current polar bear population by the mid 21st century," according to a recent report. Polar bears could completely disappear along the north coasts of Alaska and Russia over the next 50 years.
"There is a definite link between changes in the sea ice and the welfare of polar bears," says the lead author of the new study, Steven Amstrup of the United States Geological Survey. "As the sea ice goes, so goes the polar bear." Polar bears use the sea ice as a platform from which to hunt their main food, seals. Along with other reports, the research has been submitted to the United States Fish and Wildlife Service and will inform a forthcoming decision regarding whether or not to list the polar bear as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
The latest round of negotiations regarding the future of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the Vienna Climate Change Talks 2007, took place at the end of August. Parties agreed that the goal of global reductions in greenhouse gas emissions below 1990 levels of 25 to 40 per cent by the year 2020, proposed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, provides "useful initial parameters for the overall level of ambition of further emissions reductions." The target could act as a guide for future discussions.
UNFCC executive secretary, Yvo de Boer, felt that the Vienna meeting had made significant progress. "Countries have been able to reassess the big picture of what is needed by identifying the key building blocks for an effective response to climate change," he said. "There is a consensus that the response needs to be global, with the involvement of all countries and that it needs to give equal importance to adaptation and mitigation."
Returning greenhouse gas emissions to today's level by the year 2030 will cost more then US$200 billion annually, according to a new assessment from the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) secretariat. Scientists have warned that emissions must peak during the second decade of this century if catastrophic consequences are to be avoided.
"The study shows us that a conscious effort to shift from traditional investment to more climate-friendly alternatives will require governments to adopt new policies and change the way they use their funds. The required shift in future investment and financial flows needs a combination of actions by the intergovernmental process under the UNFCCC and national governments," said Yvo de Boer, UNFCCC executive secretary. The estimated investment flows to developing countries in 2030 stand at 46 per cent of global needs, though the consequent emission reductions would amount to 68 per cent of the global total.
Zheng Guoguang, head of China's State Meteorological Administration, has predicted that global warming means that China may need an extra ten million hectares of farmland by 2030. By that time, the nation's population is expected to peak at 1.5 billion people, a rise of 0.2 billion from today, and this alone will require an extra 100 million tons of food.
"Global warming may cause the grain harvest to fall by five to ten per cent, that is by 30-50 million tons, by 2030," Zheng said. "Warmer weather will shorten the growth period of some grains and their seeds won't have enough time to ripen," he continued. Warmer winters could mean more crop-damaging insects survive the cold season, requiring costly pest control. The challenge will be to find additional cropland as cities expand and deserts spread. China became a net importer of food in 2004.
Japan and India have agreed to cooperate on environmental protection and energy security. Recognizing the "urgent need to address the issues of global warming and climate change", they will work towards a new flexible, fair and effective framework in which all nations can participate and collaborate on greenhouse gas emissions reductions.
During discussions, Shinzo Abe, Japanese prime minister, asked his Indian counterpart, Manmohan Singh, to work with the international community to reduce global warming and sought India's support for Japan's Cool Earth 50 vision to halve greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. Singh responded that India will give "serious consideration" to post-Kyoto Protocol efforts to reduce emissions, though national efforts must not compromise economic progress. He said that social and economic growth and reducing poverty were as important as environmental issues for his country. While welcoming the Cool Earth 50 initiative, Abe had reservations about the 2050 goal.
George W Bush, president of the United States, will host a conference in Washington DC in September to discuss his plan for a technology-based approach to the climate problem. "It is important that the United States is bringing together the group of major emitters to talk about the kind of reductions they can commit to," said Yvo de Boer, who heads the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). But, he continued, "what is even more important is the United States' indication that ultimately their intention is to bring this back to the United Nations process."
Environmentalists are concerned that Bush is attempting to undermine the United Nations process. The meeting will be held three days after a high-level event at the United Nations on climate change, hosted by Ban Ki-moon, United Nations secretary-general. Martin Khor of the Third World Network reckons that the "clash of the two events is the latest sign that the United States President is planning to establish a global framework for dealing with climate change that could be inside or outside of the United Nations system."
The Bush administration has been ordered by a Federal judge to release an updated climate change research plan and an impact assessment for the United States. A year overdue, the current research plan must be updated by March 1st, following a 1990 law that calls for a revised programme every three years. The last impact assessment should have been updated in 2004.
"It's a huge victory holding the administration accountable for its attempts to suppress science," responded Kassie Siegel, representing the Center for Biological Diversity. The Center, with Friends of the Earth and Greenpeace, filed suit in November to force the release of the two reports.
Greenpeace has accused Australia and the United States of attempting to drive the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum into an "anti-Kyoto agenda". The accusation is based on a leaked outline of a statement on climate change to be released by APEC leaders at the forthcoming summit in Sydney, Australia.
The draft statement advocates an "aspirational" goal for energy efficiency that would not translate into targets for individual APEC economies and would not be legally binding or enforceable. "It’s a continuation of business as usual - coal and oil use," said Catherine Fitzpatrick of Greenpeace Australia Pacific. "We’re in a really sad situation. We have two nations writing a declaration that is 'made in the USA' and covered in a thick coating of Australian coal dust," she continued.
"I see success in fighting global warming as much of the success we need to be able to solve today's and future problems concerning our waters," said Swedish prime minister Fredrik Reinfeldt, as he opened the annual World Water Week in Stockholm. "I also see success in solving the problems with our waters as one of the keys to tackle global warming. One simply can’t be done without doing the other," he continued. Climate change was a central theme of this year's event. Reinfeldt called on the United States, China and India to commit themselves to take action on global warming in order to ensure that more people will have clean water.
The impact of biofuels on water availability was also much discussed at the meeting. "When governments and companies are discussing biofuel solutions, I think water issues are not addressed enough," argued Johan Kuylenstierna, World Water Week director. In the future "food production will need to increase, water consumption will increase dramatically in the agriculture sector and biofuels will increase. This doesn't add up for the water perspective," he warned. "Where will the water to grow the food needed to feed a growing population come from if more and more water is diverted to crops for biofuels production?" asked David Trouba of the Stockholm International Water Institute, arranger of the conference.
According to British researchers, between two and nine times more carbon emissions are avoided by trapping carbon in trees and forest soil than by replacing fossil fuels with biofuels. The analysts calculated the effect on emissions of the complete cycle of planting, extraction and conversion of biofuel crops. "Biofuel policy is rushing ahead without understanding the implications," concludes Renton Righelato of the World Land Trust. "It is a mistake in climate change terms to use biofuels."
With arable land in the industrialized nations unable to meet demand, the burden will shift onto developing countries. "Brazil, Paraguay, Indonesia among others have huge deforestation programmes to supply the world biofuel market", said collaborator Dominick Spracklen of the University of Leeds. When replacing tropical forests with biofuel crops such as maize and sugarcane, "you immediately release between 100 and 200 tonnes of carbon [per hectare]," Righelato says. To compensate for this initial release would take between 50 and 100 years of burning biofuels instead of gasoline. The study concludes that increasing the efficiency of fossil fuel use and moving to carbon-free alternatives such as renewable energy is a more acceptable response to the climate problem.
The Society for Ecological Restoration International (SER) has issued a position statement on global climate change calling attention to the vital role played by terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems in supporting humanity and the need to protect and restore these habitats in order to address the impact of global climate change. "The loss of vital ecosystem functions and services reduces biological resilience and adaptability, further increasing our vulnerability to the adverse impacts of global climate change," warned Keith Bowers, outgoing Chair of SER.
"Unless checked, global climate change will destroy people, places, and life as we know it. Ecological restoration offers hope in two key areas: by reconnecting fragmented ecosystems allowing animals and plants to migrate in response to such change; and, by capturing carbon through the restoration of forests, peat-forming wetlands, and other ecosystems that act as carbon sinks," commented George Gann, incoming SER Chair. SER is urging local, regional, and national governments, international development banks and non-governmental organizations as well as private institutions to plan, finance, and coordinate ecological restoration projects and programmes as part of a comprehensive global strategy for mitigating climate change.
In a week when flooding affected millions of people around the world, the United Nations deputy humanitarian coordinator Margareta Wahlstrom warned that the economic toll of flooding on a community's housing, health and infrastructure remains devastating, despite improvements in early warning systems. "The great risk is that large numbers of people are living in the most vulnerable areas in the world," she said. The inundation of homes and farmland affects some 500 million people a year.
The current flooding in the Indian state of Bihar is said to be the worst in living memory, with around ten million people affected. Over 500 people have died through drowning, disease and snakebites. More than 50,000 people are suffering from diarrhoea in Bangladesh. John Holmes, the United Nation's under secretary general for humanitarian affairs, said that nations should examine ways to protect vulnerable populations. "It's the worst we've seen for 50, 60, 70 years and we're beginning to see a pattern of flooding around the world," he warned. "There is an enormous problem because climate change is a reality already... We need to anticipate it and not just respond to it." "If you invest in disaster risk reduction, and what that means is not building on flood plains, having shelters for people to go to, recognizing the problems before they happen and anticipating them, that investment is one of the best investments you can make, he continued."
Scientists predict that the planet's temperature will plateau for two years before increasing rapidly to the year 2014. During at least half the years after 2009, global temperatures will exceed the current record, which was set in 1998. The current break in the warming trend is the result of natural cooling in the Southern Ocean and tropical Pacific.
The forecast is the result of a new modelling experiment by Doug Smith and colleagues at the Hadley Centre, located in Exeter in the United Kingdom. The experiment takes account of short-term causes of climate variability as well as longer-term factors such as global warming. "Occurrences of El Niño, for example, have a significant effect on shorter-term predictions," said Smith. "By including such internal variability," he said, "we have shown a substantial improvement in predictions of surface temperature."
Climate change could be reducing the growth rate of trees in tropical rainforest by as much as a half, according to a recent study. The analysis was based on data extending back to 1981 from hundreds and thousands of trees in Panama and Malaysia. "If we're correct and the temperature is driving these changes, this is something we're going to see in a lot more places," said the study's lead author Ken Feeley of Harvard University's Arnold Arboretum in Boston in the United States.
Feeley acknowledges that, under increasing carbon dioxide alone, the growth rate will increase, but, he says, "there are lots of factors - it's naïve to think of any one in isolation." He reckons the effect may occur because photosynthesis is impaired if the temperature rises over a certain point. The finding has "very important implications," he warns. "We may need to look elsewhere for our excess carbon sink."
The first ever United Nations General Assembly meeting devoted to climate change, Climate Change as a Global Challenge, ran an extra day as delegates needed more time to express their concerns about the likely impact of the climate problem and to demand urgent action. Mohamed Latheef, United Nations ambassador for The Maldives, said that his country "is threatened not by invading armies but by rising sea levels." A projected temperature increase of two degrees Celsius "is more than we can bear," he continued. According to Britain's ambassador, Emyr Jones Parry, "never has the challenge we face from climate change been so well understood, or so evident. We face a shared dilemma, developed and developing countries alike. Collective international action by us all... is imperative. It is not a choice."
The Group of 77 called on the next climate treaty negotiating session, to be held in Bali in December 2007, to take "fully into account the needs and concerns of all developing countries." Makhdoom Faisal Saleh Hayat, environment minister for Pakistan, said that the Bali conference should agree "a comprehensive and clear timeframe" to achieve a post-Kyoto accord. "With the clock continuing to click, we need to move fast and act before climate change turns into a climate crisis," he said. Opening the meeting, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that he is "convinced that this challenge, and what we do about it, will define us, our era, and ultimately, our global legacy. It is time for new thinking. We all need to shoulder this responsibility, not just for ourselves, but for our children and their children." He is convening a high-level meeting on climate change on September 24th, a day before the General Assembly's annual ministerial meeting, "to build on existing momentum" and "galvanize political will."
Parts of Europe are experiencing the warmest summer for many decades as heatwave conditions persist. Hungary reported that the weather may have been responsible for as many as 500 "early" deaths. Wild fires are causing serious problems in southern Europe. On the Canary Islands, twelve thousand people had to evacuate their homes as fire swept over 12,000 hectares of land. The Portuguese government has asked Nato to provide water-carrying helicopters and equipment to assist in fire control. Croatia is suffering the worst drought for 50 years; its main river, the Sava, is at its lowest level for 160 years. In France, over half the country's departments have requested state assistance for farmers affected by drought.
Elsewhere in Europe, the United Kingdom is counting the cost of the recent flooding. A series of disasters in June and July has resulted in insurance claims totalling around £4 billion. A spokeswoman for Aviva reported, on behalf of insurance company Norwich Union, that "there will be an increase in premiums as the flooding is one of the elements causing claim inflation. The increase will on average be ten per cent." The British government will "put together the strongest case possible," according to floods recovery minister, John Healey, in seeking up to £125 million support from the European Commission's European Union Solidarity Fund. England suffered its wettest July on record.
Global warming may already be affecting rainfall patterns across the world, according to a recent assessment. More rain- and snowfall is occurring over northern Europe, Canada and northern Russia but less rainfall over much of sub-Saharan Africa, southern India and Southeast Asia. These trends "may have already had significant effects on ecosystems, agriculture and human regions that are sensitive to changes in precipitation, such as the Sahel," report Francis Zwiers, at Environment Canada, and his collaborators.
The analysts compared hindcasts for the past century from fourteen different climate models with observed rainfall data for bands of latitude. "Over the 20th century, we now detect the signal [in rainfall changes] that is predicted by climate models," Zwiers said. "If you're able to reproduce the past, you also have greater confidence for predictions of the future." The observed changes, though, were greater than the models suggested should have occurred. For all regions, the model predictions indicated an increase in extremes - floods and droughts. "As humans, our activities are much more constrained by limits of water than by temperature," Zwiers warns. "In places where agriculture is marginal, it will become more marginal in the future."
Forty per cent of Swaziland's one million people face food and water shortages, according to the United Nations (UN). The international donor community has been asked to mount an urgent response to avert a full-scale humanitarian crisis. The United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) reports that "new data emphasize the high background vulnerability of children in Swaziland, which will only be exacerbated by the current drought emergency." It is estimated that one third of the adult population of Swaziland is HIV positive.
John Holmes, UN emergency relief coordinator, warned of "severe malnutrition [in Swaziland] if we don't act now," as he launched a US$15.6 million appeal. Elsewhere in southern Africa, he noted the drop in Zimbabwe's cereals harvest last year, which will result in one third of the population needing food assistance by early next year. Another immediate concern is the Democratic Republic of the Congo, which, Holmes said, faces a "long-running humanitarian crisis" due to food insecurity, limited basic services and problems brought about by conflict, communicable diseases and natural disasters.
The Business Roundtable, a group of 160 executives representing American companies, has released a policy statement on climate change, acknowledging that global warming is a "potentially serious and far-reaching" issue and that human activity is partly to blame for the problem. The statement stresses the need to improve production efficiency and supports a 25 per cent reduction in energy intensity. Policy tools, such as carbon taxes and cap-and-trade (emissions trading) programmes, are cited as possible solutions. "Some of our members like the idea of a cap-and-trade," said John Castellani, president of the Roundtable. "Some members like a tax approach. We don't know which works best, so at this point we're calling for flexibility."
"The thinking of US CEOs on climate change is evolving significantly," commented Charles Holliday, chairman and chief executive of DuPont and member of the Business Roundtable. "A growing number of CEOs view it as a major issue for their companies." The Sierra Club, though, dismissed the statement as little more than an attempt to appear environmentally sensitive. "Businesses understand that any regulation that is going to pass this Congress and get signed by this president is going to be something very weak," said Sierra Club spokesman Josh Dorner. "It's no coincidence that a lot of huge emitters are tripping over themselves to call for some action on climate change."
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has announced that India is to re-plant 15 million acres of deforested land to combat global warming. He has set a November deadline for the creation of a comprehensive roadmap for energy efficiency and sustainable development. Speaking at the first meeting of India's Council on Climate Change, he said that the programme would formally launch on India's 60th Independence Day, August 15th.
Reforestation is on track to increase forest cover to 20 per cent of the Chinese land mass by 2010, according to the latest government estimates. Jia Zhibang, head of the State Forestry Administration, reports that forested land is increasing by 1.2 per cent a year, absorbing eight per cent of the carbon dioxide emitted nationally. Responsibility for caring for new plantations has shifted from the government to local communities. The government plans to expand bio-energy production, with trees and crops planted to produce biodiesel, ethanol and other biomass fuels.
One of the most comprehensive analyses of the global energy challenge in decades warns of "accumulating risks" to energy production, including growing constraints on carbon dioxide emissions. Conducted by the National Petroleum Council (NPC), which represents the American oil industry, the draft review calls on the government to "provide an effective, global framework for carbon management, including the establishment of a transparent, predictable, economy-wide cost for carbon dioxide."
The NPC assessment breaks with the dominant petroleum industry view in the United States that technological advances and fresh discoveries will make oil a reliable energy source for some time. To tackle the challenge of meeting projected energy demand, the report also recommends moderating demand growth by "increasing efficiency in transportation, residential, commercial and industrial uses," expanding and diversifying energy production, integrating energy in all other related policy areas, including trade, economic, environmental, security and foreign policy, and boosting R&D efforts. "The world will need better energy efficiency and all economic, environmentally responsible energy sources available to support and sustain future growth," the review concludes.
Small glaciers and ice caps, as they thaw, may account for as much as 60 per cent of the sea-level rise at present, according to Mark Meier of the University of Colorado-Boulder and collaborators. "We think the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) substantially under-estimated the contribution of small glaciers and ice caps, and may have over-estimated the contribution of the Greenland ice sheet," reported Meier. The new study predicts a worst-case scenario of a sea-level rise close to one metre by the year 2100, double the IPCC estimate.
There is a "widely held view that the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets will be the principal causes of sea-level rise," Meier said, "but we show that it is the glaciers and ice caps, not the two large ice sheets, that will be the big players in sea rise for at least the next few generations." The main contribution will come from the glaciers of Alaska, Canada, Russia and Scandinavia because of rapid changes in the way they flow, As they thin, these glaciers flow more easily towards the sea. Co-author at the University of Colorado-Boulder, Robert Anderson, argues that, "while this is a dynamic, complex process and does not seem to be a direct result of climate warming, it is likely that climate acts as a trigger to set off this dramatic response."
Several coastal cities in northeast United States, including New York, face a huge increase in flood risk by the end of the century if global warming continues, according to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS). Atlantic City, a resort in New Jersey, could be flooded every two years by the year 2100. "Global warming represents an enormous challenge, but we can meet it if we act swiftly," said UCS's Peter Frumhoff, chair of the Northeast Climate Impacts Assessment. "Our response to global warming in the next few years will shape the climate our children and grandchildren inherit."
David Wolfe, at Cornell University, warned that higher temperatures would limit fruit tree yields in New York State as these trees need a hard winter frost to help bud and fruit production. Maple, beech and birch trees could disappear from some parts of the state. Cities in the region could suffer through 25 days a year of temperatures above 38°Celsius if emissions are not cut, the report predicts, but the number could be cut to about a quarter of this figure if emissions are reduced considerably. UCS worked with 50 scientists and economists to produce the peer-reviewed report.
Europe has to make deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions and people must adapt now to lessen the adverse impacts of climate change, according to a European Union (EU) Green Paper. Stavros Dimas, EU environment commissioner, warned that "people all over Europe will increasingly feel the threatening effects of climate change on their health, jobs and housing, and the most vulnerable members of society will be the hardest hit." The Green Paper identifies options for coping with climate change and is intended to stimulate public debate on adaptation across Europe.
The Green Paper identifies four lines of priority action. First, early action is needed to develop adaptation strategies in areas where current knowledge is sufficient. Second, global adaptation needs must be integrated into the EU's external relations, building a new alliance with partners around the world. Third, knowledge gaps must be filled. Finally, a European advisory group on adaptation to climate change must be set up to analyze coordinated strategies and actions. "Unless the EU and its member states plan a coherent policy response in advance, we could be forced into taking sudden, unplanned adaptation measures to react to increasingly frequent crises and disasters. This would prove far more costly," Dimas said.
Business leaders at the annual summit of the United Nations Global Compact endorsed the Caring for Climate platform. "The 'Caring for Climate' platform sets the stage for individual and collective actions on climate change, and sends a powerful message to businesses, governments and consumers everywhere about the need for leadership and early action," said Ban Ki-moon, United Nations secretary-general.
The Caring for Climate statement recognizes that the climate problem requires "urgent and extensive action on the part of governments, business and citizens if the risk of serious damage to global prosperity and security is to be avoided." The statement commits signatories to increase energy efficiency and reduce the carbon burden, setting voluntary targets. Signatories also commit to build capacity to understand fully the implications of climate change and to develop coherent business strategies for minimizing risks and identifying opportunities, to engage fully and positively with governments, inter-governmental organizations and civil society organizations to develop policies and measures, and to work collaboratively with other enterprises, by setting standards and taking joint climate-related initiatives. Finally, they will aim to become active business champions for rapid and extensive response to climate change.
Solar variability is not a cause of recent temperature trends, according to new research. "Over the past 20 years, all the trends in the sun that could have had an influence on Earth's climate have been in the opposite direction to that required to explain the observed rise in global mean temperatures," states a recent article in the Proceedings of the Royal Society.
Mike Lockwood of the Rutherford Appleton Laboratory in Didcot in the United Kingdom and Claus Fröhlich of the World Radiation Centre in Davos, Switzerland, estimated the potential effect on the Earth's climate of a range of solar variables. None could explain the rapid rise in global temperature since the 1980s. Greenhouse sceptics cite solar variability, rather than human activity, as a likely cause of recent temperature trends. "This should settle the debate," said Lockwood.
The worst monsoon season in 25 years is affecting parts of the Indian sub-continent. In India, 84 people have been killed in the state of Gujarat and 50 have died in the state of Maharashtra. Three hundred and fifty villages are underwater in the Amravati district. "Crops and almost three feet high soil have been washed off from farms. This means that farmers can resume agricultural work only after four months. Some land in fact has been rendered barren," reported Madhukar Namdev Rao Gumble of Apeksha Society.
1.5 million people have been affected by storms, tornadoes and landslides in Bangladesh. Cyclone Yemyin recently struck Bangladesh and Pakistan. "When you walk through areas of Baluchistan [in Pakistan], the air smells of rotting goat carcasses and the heat is so stifling that many people are covering themselves in mud just to keep cool," said Asar ul Haq of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. "Access to the flood-affected population and areas is a major problem, since highways and other infrastructure have been damaged by the flooding rivers," according to Kari Egge of the United Nations Children's Fund.
Musicians performed at Live Earth concerts on seven continents to raise awareness of the climate issue on July 7th. Global warming is "one problem we can solve if we come together as one and take action and drive our neighbours, businesses and governments to act as well. That's what Live Earth is all about," said Al Gore, who inspired the event. The shows were staged in London, Sydney, Tokyo, Kyoto, Shanghai, Hamburg, Johannesburg and Rio de Janeiro and scientists at an Antarctic research base recorded a contribution.
The event did receive some criticism. "The last thing the planet needs is a rock concert," said Roger Daltrey of The Who. The Arctic Monkeys commented that the artists appearing were patronizing and hypocritical, "especially when we're using enough power for ten houses, just for stage lighting". The organizers did promise that the concert series would be carbon-neutral. At the South African concert, anti-poverty campaigner Kumi Naidoo introduced two Kenyan women who highlighted the way in which global warming has changed the lives of pastoralists in their country. "The struggle against poverty and the fight to reverse climate change are one and the same", said Naidoo. "They need to be given equal priority."
Conservation International (CI) reports that ten per cent of the Caribbean's 62 reef-building corals are candidates for "critically endangered" designation. "One of the Atlantic Ocean's most beautiful marine habitats no longer exists in many places because of dramatic increases in coral diseases, mostly caused by climate change and warmer waters," said CI's Michael Smith.
The assessment was reached after scientists met in March 2007 to analyze data on tropical corals, seagrasses, mangroves and algae, basic components of healthy marine ecosystems. "Coral reefs support some of the richest areas of biodiversity in the world. When the coral reefs disappear, so will many other species which rely on reefs for shelter, reproduction and foraging," said Suzanne Livingstone at CI, who contributed to the study. Significant damage is also occurring to the mangrove ecosystem, which covers 42 per cent less area in the Caribbean than 25 years ago.
Earlier snow melt means that the Arctic spring is arriving two weeks earlier than ten years ago, according to a recent study. The analysis was based on observations of the dates of a range of phenomena that mark the start of spring, such as plant flowering and when insects and other creatures emerge from hibernation. All six plant species studied flowered earlier than a decade ago. The white Arctic bell-heather was the most advanced at more than 20 days.
"In the short-term, this [earlier start to spring] is probably mainly good news, since the growing season is extending and the organisms now have more time to complete their reproductive cycle," said the study's leader, Toke Høye at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark. In the longer-term, though, species from lower latitudes will migrate northwards and "competition from these species is likely to push the high-arctic species towards the north with the risk of extinctions," he warned.
The United States Senate has agreed legislation mandating a 40 per cent increase in fuel economy standards by 2020 and calling for a massive expansion of renewable energy generation. A compromise was reached to enable agreement, with the original schedule of annual increases replaced with a commitment that federal regulators will increase the standards "at a maximum feasible rate."
The automobile industry had strongly opposed the earlier draft. "Our message to the domestic auto industry is, 'You can do this,'" said Delaware Senator Tom Carper. "If automakers were half as good at making efficient cars as they are at fighting new environmental and safety laws, they'd all be enjoying record profits," commented Dan Becker of the Sierra Club. Environmentalists were disappointed that a US$32 billion tax package supporting renewable energy, at the expense of the oil and gas industry, was blocked.
Desertification, worsened by climate change, represents "the greatest environmental challenge of our times" warns a new analysis from the United Nations University (UNU). If governments fail to adopt more effective policies, they will face mass migrations of people within a single generation. As well as assisting adaptation to long-term climate change, "reforming policies to combat desertification also represents one of the world's most expedient ways to sequester more atmospheric carbon and help address the climate change issue," concludes Zafar Adeel from the International Network on Water, Environment and Health, the lead author of the analysis.
"It is imperative that effective policies and sustainable agricultural practices be put in place to reverse the decline of drylands," according to Hans van Ginkel, UNU rector. The report advocates a broader, overarching view and a more coordinated, integrated and interlinked approach to dealing with desertification, climate change, poverty reduction and other public concerns. "Some forces of globalization, while striving to reduce economic inequality and eliminate poverty are contributing to worsening desertification. Perverse agricultural subsidies are one such example," comments van Ginkel.
According to the Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency (MNP), "China's 2006 carbon dioxide emissions surpassed those of the United States by eight per cent... With this, China tops the list of carbon dioxide-emitting countries for the first time." The primary cause is accelerating coal demand for power generation and increasing cement production. The slowdown in the United States economy resulted in a slight drop in emissions during 2006.
It is past, not current, emissions that matter, commented Jay Apt at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh in the United States. "The United States will have the lion's share of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere for the foreseeable future. In fact, even if China's exponential growth continues, China will not surpass the United States in the numbers of carbon dioxide atoms in the atmosphere, that is concentration, until at least 2050," he said. "The rest of the world with the help of China needs to find ways for China to reduce carbon dioxide emissions," concludes Faith Birol, chief economist at the International Energy Agency in Paris. Per head of population, China's contribution remains low, at about a quarter that of the United States.
"Recent greenhouse gas emissions place the Earth perilously close to dramatic climate change that could run out of control, with great dangers for humans and other creatures," predicts a report authored by James Hansen at Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York and collaborators. "Civilization developed, and constructed extensive infrastructure, during a period of unusual climate stability, the Holocene, now almost 12,000 years in duration. That period is about to end," the scientists warn.
The concern is that global warming could generate a "flip" in the climate sparking a "cataclysm" in the Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets. As a result, sea levels could rise by several metres by the end of the present century. This estimate contrasts with the recent projection of a maximum rise of around half a metre by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The new assessment is based on climate modelling, satellite date and more than 400,000 years of ice-core records that suggest that rapid climate change has occurred in the past when the planet heated up and ice sheets began to melt.
Investment in renewable energies reached a record US$100 billion in 2006, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). "One of the new and fundamental messages of this report is that renewable energies are no longer subject to the vagaries of rising and falling oil prices - they are becoming generating systems of choice for increasing numbers of power companies, communities and countries irrespective of the costs of fossil fuels," said UNEP head Achim Steiner.
A low-carbon economy means that the world must embrace nuclear power, implemented hand in hand with other technologies, according to the World Energy Council (WEC). "If we are going to get through this century we had better assure ourselves that nuclear power is available for our coming generations," said Kurt Yeager, author of a recent WEC report on energy and climate change. Renewables have a role to play but would not, in most cases, be deployed quickly enough, the report concludes. The WEC proposes a three-phase strategy to tackle climate change: a global agreement to cut emissions by 2015, action up to 2030 to stabilize emissions and, finally, efforts to bring them down to current levels by 2050.
The Chinese government has stressed that efforts are underway to define carbon emissions goals, despite their notable absence in the first national programme to curb greenhouse gas emissions released last week. "We're exploring a new path of development. We won't let per-capita emissions reach a high level and then go down," said Wan Gang, science and technology minister. "The specific techniques and methods for converting [the target of a 20 per cent improvement in energy efficiency by 2010] into carbon dioxide emissions are being studied," he continued.
Analysts reckon that the latest announcement was intended to soften the line that characterized the programme's launch, which had been accompanied by stern warnings that restricting growth could create more serious problems than climate change itself. This came across as "confrontational," commented Shi Yinhong of Renmin University. "It's not a question of the content of the message but how it's delivered, and appearing too hard-line doesn't serve China's interests," Shi said. "A milder approach means China doesn't have to stand out as the target of so much international criticism."
WWF has warned that the European Union's emission trading scheme may be undermined if companies are allowed to buy large quantities of credits from outside the Union instead of making reductions in their own greenhouse gas emissions. Assessing nine national plans, the conservation group estimates that between 88 and 100 per cent of the emissions reductions required under the combined cap for these countries could take place outside the European Union.
There is also concern that 'foreign' credits may be low quality, being sourced, for example, from projects that do not represent additional emission reductions. The trading scheme could become "a messy and deeply flawed market for a virtual commodity that only really benefits the traders," according to WWF. "There is a real danger that this will lock the European Union into high carbon investments and soaring emissions for many years to come," said Keith Allott, head of WWF-UK's climate change programme.
Independent scientists have criticized the claim, published by British Petroleum (BP) in the latest Statistical Review of World Energy, that 'proven' reserves of oil will provide 40 years of consumption at current rates. According to the Oil Depletion Analysis Centre, based in London, peak oil theory predicts that global production of oil is set to peak in the next four years before entering a steepening decline. Colin Campbell, a trustee of the centre, commented that "it's quite a simple theory and one that any beer drinker understands. The glass starts full and ends empty and the faster you drink it the quicker it's gone."
BP's chief economist disagrees. "We don't believe there is an absolute resource constraint. When peak oil comes, it is just as likely to come from consumption peaking, perhaps because of climate change policies, as from production peaking," says Peter Davies. Jeremy Leggett, former Greenpeace campaigner and now head of Solarcentury, comments that the peak oil debate reminds him "of the way no one would listen for years to scientists warning about global warming. We were predicting things pretty much exactly as they have played out. Then, as now, we were wondering what it would take to get people to listen."
The annual summit of the Group of Eight (G8) ended with an agreement to "seriously consider" the goal of halving global emissions by the year 2050. Though the lack of any binding commitment was described as a compromise, the fact that the United States is now tied into the international response to the climate threat is seen as a major step forward. It is intended that negotiations on the successor to the Kyoto Protocol will be completed by 2009. The G8 leaders acknowledged that considerable funds will be needed to enable the most vulnerable to adapt to climate change. The Clean Development Mechanism, which permits industrialized countries to invest in sustainable development projects in developing countries and generate tradeable emission credits, will be expanded.
"The multilateral climate change process under the United Nations has been re-energized," commented Yvo de Boer, head of the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. "This is a breakthrough in terms of making progress towards an enhanced future climate change regime and will send important signals to developing countries on the readiness of industrialized nations and emerging economies to act," he continued. Environmentalists were less convinced. "The deal is clearly not enough to prevent dangerous climate change" said Daniel Mittler from Greenpeace International. "The US isolation in refusing to accept binding emission cuts has become blindingly obvious at this meeting," he said.
China has announced its first national programme to curb greenhouse gas emissions. While rejecting mandatory control targets, the plan outlines steps towards the existing commitment of a 20 per cent improvement in energy efficiency over the second half of the current decade. The programme re-affirms the goal of doubling renewable energy production - wind, hydro and nuclear power - by the year 2020.
"Although we do not have the obligation to cut emissions, it does not mean we do not want to shoulder our share of responsibilities," said Ma Kai, head of the National Development and Reform Commission. "We must reconcile the need for development with the need for environmental protection," he continued. "In its course of modernization, China will not tread the traditional path of industrialization, featuring high consumption and high emissions. In fact, we want to blaze a new path to industrialization." There will be expanded research and deployment of new energy-saving technologies, improvement of agricultural infrastructure, increased tree-planting (with a target of 20 per cent land area covered) and greater public awareness. Strengthening the capacity to adapt is a major goal of the national programme, with grassland restoration, improved irrigation efficiency, forest and wildlife conservation, flood control and coastal security cited as priorities.
Delegates at the annual general meeting of the International Air Transport Association (IATA) in Vancouver, Canada, have been told that the public considers air travel a huge polluter of the environment and that the industry has not moved fast enough to put the record straight. "We've lost the PR battle and we're not going to win the emissions battle by chattering with more PR about the past. They [the public] want to see action," warned Leo Van Wijk, chief executive of KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.
IATA is developing an industry plan for trading emission credits, which would be global in extent. "I think we have passed the stage of being in denial," said Singapore Airlines head Chew Choon Seng. Delegates were presented with statistics showing that aircraft fuel efficiency has improved 20 per cent in the past decade, and nearly five per cent in the most recent two years. Modern aircraft consume an average of 3.5 litres per 100 passenger kilometres, similar to a small compact car but with six times the speed.
As the annual summit of the Group of Eight (G8) approaches, President George W Bush has announced that the United States will support a series of meetings of the world's 15 largest greenhouse gas emitters to develop a long-term "global strategy" for addressing the climate problem. The White House has re-assured the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) that the initiative will complement existing negotiating processes. The first meeting will take place this autumn, before the next UNFCCC negotiating round in December in Bali.
Reaction to the announcement was mixed. "Any help the US can give us in preparing the ground for the meeting in Bali would be very welcome," responded Yvo de Boer, head of the UNFCCC Secretariat. He noted, however, that if the talks did not take on board issues such as assistance to developing nations then they would "prove fruitless." Saleemul Huq, of the International Institute for Environment and Development in London, said that he was "very suspicious." "It's only a few countries that the US is going to invite, so it will be a coalition of the willing, or unwilling coerced to join the US," he continued. According to European environment commissioner Stavros Dimas, "the declaration by President Bush basically restates the US classic line on climate change - no mandatory reductions, no carbon trading and vaguely expressed objectives." This approach has "proven to be ineffective in reducing emissions," he said.
Climate change may be exacerbating the threat of forest fires, according to the latest assessment of forest fire incidence by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Fires are expected to increase in size and intensity as global warming develops. In recent years, the United States has suffered the most severe series of fire seasons since records began. More than 7 million acres burned in 2004, with preliminary estimates indicating that 8.6 million acres might have burnt in 2005.
"Countries need to enhance collaboration, share their knowledge and increasingly target people, who are the main cause of fires, through awareness-raising and education," said Peter Holmgren of FAO's Forest Resource Development Service. The FAO and its partners have proposed a global strategy to enhance international cooperation in fire management. The strategy includes a global assessment of fire management detailing incidence and impacts in all regions, a review of international cooperation and voluntary guidelines in fire management, incorporating principles and strategic actions.
The annual summit of the Group of Eight (G8) is scheduled for June 6-8th, with the climate issue high on the agenda. Germany, holder of the G8 presidency, would like the meeting to agree targets and timetables for deep emissions reductions. "It is important that the G8 develops a common understanding how climate change can be tackled and what agreements can be made for the period beyond 2012," G8 president Angela Merkel told the German parliament.
The United States is firmly opposed. "We have tried to 'tread lightly' but there is only so far we can go given our fundamental opposition to the German position," says the United States in comments on the draft communique seen by Reuters. "The treatment of climate change runs counter to our overall position and crosses multiple 'red lines' in terms of what we simply cannot agree to." According to Greenpeace director John Sauven, "this shows more clearly than ever that, despite his protestations to the contrary, Tony Blair's efforts to persuade George Bush of the importance of tackling climate change have singularly failed." In the run-up to the summit, Japan has proposed a global target of halving greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 as part of its Cool Earth 50 strategy. It has also promised support for developing countries committed to halting global warming through a new form of financial aid.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) is developing a Disaster Risk Reduction Action Plan that will reduce the loss of lives, livelihoods and property related to meteorological, hydrological and climate-related hazards around the world. The Plan will pay particular attention to developing countries, Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States.
There is concern that many vulnerable countries do not have the capacity to develop and issue warnings and do not possess the infrastructure required to ensure that warnings are disseminated and properly understood. The Plan will focus on modernizing National Meteorological and Hydrological Services (NMHSs), as required, and strengthening national operational early warning systems with a multi-hazard approach, capacities for hazard analysis and risk assessment and cooperation of NMHSs with civil protection and disaster risk management agencies. "A critical aspect of our approach is to ensure that capacities are sustained and improved after a project has ended," said WMO secretary-general Michel Jarraud.
Amphibian species are disappearing from the Costa Rican jungle as a result of global warming, according to Alvaro Herrero of the National Biodiversity Institute. "It is believed climate change is raising temperatures, allowing a skin fungus to enter the places where the amphibians resided," he said. Monkey populations have fallen by 30 per cent in recent years reports Alfo Piva, executive director of the National Biodiversity Institute.
Costa Rica aims to be the first nation to offset all its carbon, bringing net emissions to zero by 2030. "We think we can get there first," said environment minister Roberto Dobles. The critical component of the government's strategy is compensation paid to landowners who grow trees to capture carbon and protect watersheds. There will also be payments to protect wildlife habitats and scenic beauty. The programme is funded by a 3.5 percent tax on gasoline and by loans and grants. "The fact that Costa Rica has applied [payments] on a national scale is what's innovative," said Esteban Brenes of WWF.
The latest round of the climate negotiations, held in Bonn, Germany, ended in deadlock with the United States warning that it was unlikely to take part in discussions at the end of this year on a global agreement to cut carbon emissions. "I think there's a lot going on," said Harlan Watson, the United States chief negotiator, "but I certainly wouldn't want to raise expectations, however, that there's going to be some sort of a new negotiation under the framework convention itself."
Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat, put a positive gloss on the meeting. "We have come closer to broadening negotiations on a post-2012 regime by resolving some of the outstanding issues and clarifying which building blocks of a future agreement need to be put in place," he said. Hans Verolme of WWF was not so sanguine: "Two weeks of business-as-usual talks leave us wondering what it will take for governments to respond to the alarm bells." Meanwhile, the United Nations Commission on Sustainable Development failed to reach agreement at its latest negotiating session after disagreement on the nature and scope of the sustainable development agenda. The future of the Kyoto Protocol proved a major stumbling block, with the United States, Canada and Australia opposing legally-binding emissions reductions.
The worst effects of global warming can be averted through investment in clean energy as long as the move away from fossil fuels starts in the next five years, according to a new report from WWF. Solar, wind and other environment-friendly energy sources could meet the world's growing energy needs while keeping the global temperature rise below two degrees Celsius. If action is not taken over the next five years, "dangerously unsustainable options may be forced upon us or we will face more severe interventions which will have significant impacts on the global economy," the report warns.
The report identifies six key approaches: improving energy efficiency; stopping forest loss; accelerating the development of low-emissions technologies; developing flexible fuels; replacing high-carbon coal with low-carbon gas; and equipping fossil-fuel plants with carbon capture and storage technology. Nuclear expansion is not considered a viable response because of concerns about plant safety, waste disposal and the possible proliferation of nuclear technology. The study shows that "there are more than sufficient benign technologies available, without embarking further on nuclear power with its many associated risks." Nuclear investment would divert resources away from more promising and cost-effective solutions, such as renewable technologies. The report also excludes the use of certain forms of biomass development, such as large-scale energy crops on newly-converted forest land, and unsustainable hydro projects.
Christian Aid warns that countries world-wide will face the greatest forced migration ever over the next four decades because of the impact of global warming. People may also be displaced as biofuel demand drives the development of grain-producing plantations in poor countries. "We believe that forced migration is now the most urgent threat facing poor people in the developing world," said John Davison, author of the Christian Aid report.
The report predicts that, between now and the year 2050, a total of one billion people will be displaced from their homes. The projection includes 645 million people who will migrate because of development projects and 250 million because of events linked to global warming such as floods, droughts and famine. Christian Aid is calling for the establishment of a US$100 billion a year fund to help vulnerable countries adapt to sea level rise and climate change. "The alternative, as this report seeks to highlight," warns Christian Aid, "is a desperate situation that could destabilize whole regions - plunging them further into poverty and conflict."
The Bush administration, in the United States, has welcomed the range of climate mitigation options defined by the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), released May 4th. The IPCC report concludes that the cost of climate-control measures can be relatively small and might even benefit the economy. The Bush administration does, however, have serious reservations about the more expensive scenarios that could cut world gross domestic product by three per cent. "There are measures that come currently at an extremely high cost because of the lack of available technology," warned James Connaughton, head of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "Well, that would of course cause global recession, so that is something that we probably want to avoid," he continued.
There had been considerable debate over the final wording of the report. "It's especially troubling that the Bush administration was seeking last-minute changes to play down the report's conclusion that quick, affordable action can limit the worst effects of global warming," said Larry Schweiger, president of the National Wildlife Federation. Chinese delegates had been "masters of deception and the art of interpretation", according to a German environment ministry official, in arguing that it would cost more and be much harder to reduce greenhouse gas emissions than the draft report suggested. On the release of the final report, the review's endorsement of nuclear technology was strongly opposed by some environmentalists. "Nuclear power threatens humans and the environment. It is not necessary to combat climate change," said Brent Blackwelder of Friends of the Earth. Greenpeace accused the IPCC of underestimating the impact of the Chernobyl nuclear accident. "Denying the real implications is not only insulting to the thousands of victims, but it also leads to dangerous recommendations," said Greenpeace's Ivan Blokov.
A new initiative, called for by forest-rich developing nations, aims to make forest preservation politically and economically attractive. "Many of these countries resisted certain provisions of the Kyoto Protocol because they felt that it intruded on their national sovereignty," said Christopher Field, head of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology. "Now, they are ready and willing to address forestry strategies in a constructive manner, on their own terms. It is very encouraging." The two-year programme, Reducing Emissions from Deforestation, has been launched by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
In a separate development, delegates to the United Nations Forum on Forests (UNFF) adopted a landmark agreement on international forest policy and cooperation following two weeks of intense negotiations. UNFF Chair Hans Hoogeveen said that the agreement ushered in "a new chapter" in forest management. Pekka Patosaari, director of the UNFF Secretariat, described the agreement as a major step towards "people-centred" forest policy. Though the new agreement is not legally binding, it represents a strong international commitment. It sets a standard in forest management that is expected to have a major impact on international cooperation and national action to reduce deforestation, prevent forest degradation, promote sustainable livelihoods and reduce poverty for all forest-dependent peoples.
Much of the carbon entering the oceans may not reach the deep ocean, according to a new study involving scientists at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) in the United States and an international team of collaborators. Recent data show that only 20 per cent of the total carbon in the ocean surface reached the deep ocean off Hawaii, though about half of the total did in the northwest Pacific. Much of the carbon remains in the so-called twilight zone, between 100 and 1000 metres deep, where it is consumed by living things and continually recycled.
"The twilight zone is a critical link between the surface and the deep ocean," said lead author Ken Buesseler at WHOI. "We're interested in what happens in the twilight zone, what sinks into it and what actually sinks out of it. Unless the carbon that gets into the ocean goes all the way down into the deep ocean and is stored there, the oceans will have little impact on the atmosphere and hence, climate." Current estimates of ocean storage are based on a global average. "It is a good average but it doesn't describe the dynamics of the system where the ocean might be a good carbon sink," concludes Buesseler. "We've really only scratched the surface."
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released the third report in its latest assessment of climate science and policy on May 4th in Bangkok, Thailand. The Working Group III review covers means of limiting the rise in atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases. It concludes that emissions must start declining by the year 2015 to prevent global temperature rising more than two degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial baseline. "The time to act is now," Chartree Chueyprasit of Thailand's Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment told government officials and scientists as they met to finalize the text.
The IPCC report notes that a wide range of technological options, already available and under development, can be deployed to limit global warming. "The most important thing is to improve energy efficiency," commented Jean-Pascal van Ypersele, a member of the Belgian delegation. "There is a lot of energy wasted everywhere in the world," he continued. Other options include converting from coal to natural gas, greater use of renewable energy and the safe deployment of nuclear power. The report also advocates making buildings more energy-efficient and motor vehicles more fuel-efficient, reducing deforestation and tree planting to absorb carbon. Hans Verolme of WWF said that "the IPCC has delivered a road map for keeping the planet safe. Now it's the turn of politicians to do more than pay just lip service."
Participants at an international symposium held in Oxford, England, have concluded that communication between indigenous peoples and scientists and policy makers is critical if the worst consequences of global warming for this vulnerable group are to be averted. "There is a risk that the international climate change forum has lost sight of the immense collective danger [indigenous peoples] face," warned Oxford University's Environmental Change Institute (ECI), organizer of the Oxford Indigenous People’s Symposium.
New findings on the impacts of climate change on the indigenous peoples of the Pacific, Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, North America, South America, Africa and Europe were presented at the meeting. According to Pablo Eyzaguirre from Bioversity International, "indigenous and traditional communities should be supported in their unique adaptation to marginal areas and ecosystem boundaries. We need to respect ecosystem buffers that also provide livelihoods, sacred spaces, and pathways for traditional peoples." "Both ethnoecological researchers and indigenous people themselves need to network and initiate comparable climate change research and action," concluded Jan Salick, visiting fellow at ECI. "Indigenous peoples must be integrated into discussions of climate change and policy formation."
"The collapse of the Larsen shelves may tell us about impacts of climate-induced changes on marine biodiversity and the functioning of the ecosystem," according to Julian Gutt of the Alfred Wegener Institute in Bremerhaven, Germany. He was speaking after a ten-week expedition to explore the sea bed exposed by the collapse of the Larsen A and B ice shelves. "The break-up of these ice shelves opened up huge, near pristine portions of the ocean floor, sealed off from above for at least 5,000 years, and possibly up to 12,000 years in the case of Larsen B," he continued.
The temperature rise over the Antarctic Peninsula has been marked over the past 50 years. Declining sea ice may reduce the planktonic algae that grow underneath and the myriad species that depend on them. Gauthier Chapelle at the International Polar Foundation in Brussels, Belgium, warns that "this is virgin geography. If we don’t find out what this area is like now following the collapse of the ice shelf, and what species are there, we won't have any basis to know in 20 years' time what has changed, and how global warming has altered the marine ecosystem." There is increasing concern that the fresh water released as Antarctic ice melts may affect the global ocean circulation as bottom water formation becomes limited.
World Heritage sites such as the Great Barrier Reef, Kilimanjaro National Park and the Tower of London will be at risk as a result of climate change, according to a new report from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). The publication follows the decision by the World Heritage Committee in 2005, after rejecting calls to list Mount Everest, to study the potential impact of climate change on World Heritage sites.
The report covers the impact of climate change on glaciers, marine biodiversity, terrestrial biodiversity, archaeological sites, and historic cities and settlements. The melting of glaciers is affecting the aesthetic value of sites of outstanding beauty and destroying habitats, such as that of the snow leopard in the Sagarmatha National Park, Nepal. Archaeological sites, such as the Chan Chan Archaeological Zone in Peru, are also at risk as climate change threatens to eradicate evidence of the past. "The international community now widely agrees that climate change will constitute one of the major challenges of the 21st century," says UNESCO director-general, Koïchiro Matsuura. He calls for "an integrated approach to issues of environmental preservation and sustainable development."
The International Energy Authority (IEA) predicts that China will shortly overtake the United States as the world's greatest greenhouse gas producer. "Either this year or next year," according to IEA's Fatih Birol. While China is commissioning a coal-fired plant every four days, per capita emissions remain low. The Chinese government is said to oppose emissions caps during the current phase of modernization, but would limit emissions growth.
The United States continues to stress the importance of the involvement of China and other developing countries in any future climate regime. "There will be no comprehensive global warming legislation coming out of the United States... that does not include limits or a programme for China, India and the rest of the developing world," warns C Boyden Gray, United States ambassador to the European Union, recently. "Rather than shooting at each other, the United States and Europe should be joining forces to engage China," he said ahead of a United States-European Union summit.
Global warming has caused economic losses of around US$5 billion a year over the past two decades, say researchers at the Carnegie Institution and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in the United States. "Most people tend to think of climate change as something that will impact the future," said Chris Field at the Carnegie Institute's Department of Global Ecology in Stanford, California. "But this study shows that warming over the past two decades has already had real effects on global food supply." Over the twenty years to 2002, warming reduced the combined production of wheat, corn and barley by 40 million metric tons a year.
The researchers found that, on average, global yields responded negatively to higher temperatures, with yields dropping by three to five per cent for every degree Fahrenheit rise. Some agriculturalists were not convinced. "That kind of flies in the face of reality," said Terry Francl, an economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation. "The reality is we've had improved trends in yields during all of that time. It's hard to see how you would calculate global warming's effect on that." The researchers did say that, overall, the long-term climate trend had been offset by production gains from improved crops and better farming techniques. "A key to moving forward is how well cropping systems can adapt to a warmer world. Investments in this area could potentially save billions of dollars and millions of lives," comments David Lobell at LLNL in California.
The United Nations Security Council debated the impact of climate change on international tension and conflict on April 17th, despite objections from developing countries. The session was organized by the United Kingdom. British foreign secretary Margaret Beckett claimed that it was a "security imperative" to act on the climate issues. "What makes wars start? Fights over water; changing patterns of rainfall; fights over food production; land use," she said.
The Non-aligned Movement and the Group of 77 complained that the Security Council was guilty of "ever-increasing encroachment" on the role of other United Nations bodies. Climate change was a matter for the General Assembly and the Economic and Social Council, not the Security Council, they argued. "The developing countries believe that Security Council has neither the professional competence in handling climate change - nor is it the right decision-making place for extensive participation leading up to widely acceptable proposals," said Liu Zhenmin, deputy ambassador for China. Ban Ki Moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, felt that the debate should take place. "Scarce resources, especially water and food, could help transform peaceful competition into violence. Limited or threatened access to energy is already known to be a powerful driver of conflict. Our changing planet risks making it more so," he said.
"Financial, technological and institutional barriers usually hamper the implementation of adaptation measures to climate variability and change in many Asian countries, particularly LDCs," according to the background paper prepared for the Asia Regional Workshop on Adaptation, which took place in Beijing, China, in April. Lead author Mozaharul Alam of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, Dhaka, Bangladesh, and his colleagues cite the example of India's water policy, which aims at integrated water resources development and management but is constrained by financial and technological limitations. The authors conclude that "the challenge in Asia lies in identifying opportunities to facilitate sustainable development with strategies that make climate-sensitive sectors resilient to climate variability."
In the session on agriculture and food security, Nguyen Mong Cuong, from the Research Center for Climate Change and Sustainable Development in Hanoi, Vietnam, noted a series of adaptation options, including restructuring cropping patterns and adjusting cropping calendars, improving irrigation efficiency and developing new crop varieties and farming systems and techniques appropriate to climatic change. He cited weak national assessment capacity, inadequate implementation plans, limited staff capacity, poor quality data on adaptation options and a lack of effective mechanisms for information sharing and management across sectors as key concerns. The workshop was organized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change as part of a series of regional meetings on adaptation.
By the end of the century, forty per cent of the Earth's surface may have a warmer climate that is without parallel today and almost half the world's current climate zones could vanish. This worst-case scenario stems from a recent study of changing habitats, lead by John Williams of the University of Wisconsin-Madison "There is a real problem for conservation biologists," comments Williams. "How do you conserve the biological diversity of these entire systems if the physical environment is changing and potentially disappearing?"
The study forecasts that climate zones will expand away from the equator, moving towards the poles. To assess the significance of these changes, the researchers placed the predictions in the context of natural climate variability. The tropics have very little year-to-year temperature variability so species that live in these stable climates have evolved for a limited range of variability. "That's one of the things that really surprised us," reported Williams. "It may be that a two to three degree temperature change in the tropics may be more significant than say a five to eight degree change in high latitudes."
Controversy developed during the run-up to the release of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability as scientists and government representatives argued over the final wording. There was, for example, disagreement over the inclusion of a table indicating likely impacts for every degree of global warming and over the inclusion of a statement explicitly linking cause and effect. Objections to the text came mostly from the United States, China and Saudi Arabia. Some scientists walked out at one point and a number said that they would not be involved in the IPCC process in future. Martin Parry, co-chair of the working group responsible for the report, acknowledged that "certain messages were lost", but insisted that "the report was not watered down in the broad thrust."
Responding to the report, Yvo de Boer, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said that the "projected impacts tell us that we urgently need to launch an agreement on future international action to combat climate change, as well as look for effective ways to generate the funds needed for adaptation." "Our current sources of funding are insufficient to cover... adaptation needs," he continued. "So the international community needs to investigate new and innovative sources of finance, not least through the carbon market, in order to ensure that the most vulnerable communities are able to cope." Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Programme, called for action at the national level "to mainstream ‘climate proofing’ into all areas of economic life so that countries and communities... have a chance to adapt and thus a chance to avoid some of the more extreme impacts."
Japan and China have agreed to "actively participate" in the process of developing an effective climate regime for beyond 2012. The commitment came after a meeting between Chinese premier Wen Jiabao and Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo, Japan. The meeting was held as Chinese and Japanese companies discussed closer business ties between the two countries in the areas of energy saving, clean coal and nuclear power.
The two nations agreed to cooperate in the development and safe operation of nuclear power. According to a joint statement, "both countries understand that expansion of nuclear power generation in Asia and the world helps to ease energy supply-demand tightness and stop global warming." China and Japan also agreed to cooperate in the desulphurization of Chinese coal-fired plants, the establishment of an experimental model of a recycling society in Qingdao, China, the development and use of renewable energy, such as solar power, and training in energy saving policies.
Trade in carbon permits doubled to more than US$26 billion in 2006, according to Point Carbon. "You're helping... serve our global civilization so well," former United States vice-president Al Gore told delegates at Carbon Market Insights 2007, held in Copenhagen, Denmark earlier this year. Italy will open an emissions trading exchange in April and Canada will announce plans for regulating emissions this month. Meanwhile, full operation of the European trading scheme is being delayed as countries wait for United Nations (UN) approval to trade and for software links between the European and UN systems to be put in place.
The European Union plan to cut emissions by 20 per cent by the year 2020 has strengthened confidence in the future of carbon markets and will increase financial assistance to developing nations. "We’ve calculated that if the European Union does this 20 per cent cut and does about half of it through flexibility mechanisms... that could generate an [annual] carbon finance flow of US$15 billion by 2020," said Yvo de Boer, head of the climate treaty secretariat. "That is a potential flow of resources that can also represent an attractive incentive to developing countries to green their economic growth." Gore did caution investors in Copenhagen not to neglect the sustainability goals of flexibility mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism. "I don't want to flag that as a major challenge to the integrity of the system, but it would become one if it were not attended to, and much work is being focused on that," he said.
"It's the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit," said Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), as the second report of the latest IPCC assessment was released on April 6th 2007. Government officials and scientists met in Brussels, Belgium, to finalize the text of the IPCC Working Group II review of climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Martin Parry, working group co-chair, reported that there was now real evidence that climate change was having direct impacts. "For the first time, we are no longer arm-waving with models; this is empirical data, we can actually measure it," he said.
"Don't be poor in a hot country, don't live in hurricane alley, watch out about being on the coasts or in the Arctic, and it's a bad idea to be on high mountains with glaciers melting," said Stephen Schneider from Stanford University in the United States. The report projects that 75 to 250 million people across Africa could face water shortages by 2020. Crop yields could increase by 20 per cent in East and Southeast Asia, but decrease by up to 30 per cent in Central and South Asia. Agriculture fed by rainfall might drop by a half in some African countries by 2020. Twenty to 30 per cent of all plant and animal species are at increased risk of extinction if temperatures rise between 1.5 and 2.5 degrees Celsius. Glaciers and snow cover are expected to decline, reducing water availability in countries supplied by melt water. "This further underlines both how urgent it is to reach global agreement on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and how important it is for us all to adapt to the climate change that is already under way," said European environment commissioner Stavros Dimas.
In an hour-long event intended to raise awareness of climate change, the lights went off in Sydney, Australia's largest city, at 19.30 local time on March 31st. During the Earth Hour, lights were turned off over most of the city's central business district and over many of the suburbs in at least 65,000 homes and 2,000 businesses. It is estimated that over two million people took part. Landmarks such as the Opera House and Harbour Bridge went dark and restaurants served meals by candlelight. The carbon dioxide saved was equivalent to taking 48,613 cars off the road for an hour.
The energy saving was estimated by Energy Australia at 10.2 per cent. "People really got behind the cause and showed they care about global warming. We originally thought five per cent would be a good result but this is more than double that - an exceptional result," said Tim O'Grady from Energy Australia. "It sends a very powerful message to all of us about how important it is to be energy efficient," he added. "It is one of the simplest and most effective ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. We hope that households and businesses now take the next step and start applying other energy efficiency measures in their homes." "On a range of environmental actions that we need to take - energy efficiency and water efficiency - individual action is the key, and this has shown what it can do," said Andy Ridley, speaking for the organizer WWF-Australia. WWF-Australia would like to see the event adopted worldwide so that a viewer from space would be able to see darkness cascade around the planet for next year's Earth Hour.
"Extreme events like droughts, floods, tropical cyclones, severe storms, cold and hot spells, among others, are often associated with loss of life and property, famine, mass migration, disease, pollution and environmental degradation, and other far-reaching threats and disasters. However, appropriate weather, climate and water services can help societies to meet, or at least to reduce substantially, much of the death and destruction," according to Michel Jarraud, secretary-general of the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Jarraud was speaking at the opening of a WMO international conference on the social and economic benefits of weather, climate and water services in Madrid, Spain, in March 2007.
The 500 participants adopted the Madrid Conference Statement and Action Plan. The Action Plan calls on the international community "to achieve, within five years, a major enhancement of the value to society of weather, climate and water information and services in response to the critical challenges represented by rapid urbanization, economic globalization, environmental degradation, natural hazards and the threats from climate change." Participants concluded that this would require a strengthening of the capacities of national meteorological and hydrological services (NMHSs). "It's clear that NMHSs in many countries are cripplingly underfunded and lack political influence at the highest level," commented WMO President Alexander Bedritsky. A closer dialogue among providers and users of weather, climate and water information and services will also be necessary.
Experts at a United Nations-sponsored meeting in the Cook Islands have called for increased support for adaptation planning and implementation for small island developing states (SIDS). Opening the meeting, Cook Islands environment minister Kete Ioane underlined the vulnerability of his nation. "The people in the Cook Islands, like elsewhere in the South Pacific, have witnessed changes such as the increasing salinization of ground water and more frequent flooding. These observations are in line with the latest report from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change... Planning for climate change and adapting now is vital for SIDS to save human lives and livelihoods."
Participants recommended an increase in financial and institutional support for adaptation through establishing a process to help SIDS develop prioritized adaptation plans through stakeholder-driven assessment, similar to the National Adaptation Programme of Action initiative for the least developed countries. They also recommended prioritized funding for SIDS under the Global Environment Facility. Regional cooperation should be enhanced using relevant technical agencies in the Caribbean and the Pacific, as well as forthcoming agencies in the Indian Ocean. The Cooks Islands meeting was one of a series of regional adaptation events sponsored by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Australia has announced a global fund to curb deforestation in Southeast Asia, particularly Indonesia. "What this initiative will do, in a shorter period of time, is make a greater contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions than, in fact, the Kyoto Protocol," said Prime Minister John Howard. He has committed AUD$200 million to the fund, which will combat illegal logging, support tree planting efforts and promote alternatives to the timber industry. The fund will be managed by the World Bank.
Critics accused Howard of hypocrisy. "He is putting AUD$200 million into stopping forest burning in Southeast Asia while he is authorizing forest burning in southern Australia," said Bob Brown of the Greens. Don Henry, head of the Australian Conservation Fund, welcomed the initiative but noted that "it would be much stronger if we ratified the Kyoto Protocol... and got our house in order at home by banning the import of illegal timber and making sure we protect our old growth forests."
One person in ten worldwide lives less than ten metres above sea level and close to the coast, an 'at risk' zone for flooding and storm damage associated with global warming. Three-quarters of these people are in Asia. The new assessment comes from a report from the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) in London, United Kingdom. "If you are in that zone you need to take the issues of sea-level rise seriously," warns Gordon McGranahan of IIED.
The report concludes that settlements in coastal lowlands are especially vulnerable. Of the more than 180 countries with populations in the at-risk zone, about 70 per cent have cities of more than five million people that extend into it, such as Tokyo, New York, Mumbai, Shanghai, Jakarta and Dhaka. "Migration away from the zone at risk will be necessary but costly and hard to implement, so coastal settlements will also need to be modified to protect residents," McGranahan said.
Rivers such as the Nile, Indus and Mekong that have inspired religions and civilizations are amongst the ten most threatened on the planet, according to a new report from WWF. "In the last 50 years we have altered ecosystems more rapidly and extensively than in any other period in history," according to the report. "Physical alteration, habitat loss and degradation, water extraction, over-exploitation, pollution, and the introduction of invasive species threaten the planet’s freshwater ecosystems."
As many rivers face multiple threats - over-extraction, climate change, development of infrastructure, such as dams, invasive species and over-fishing - the report advises that governments must develop holistic policies in response. "As governments become concerned about climate change reducing water run-off, they build more dams to store more water, which then results in more water being extracted from the rivers and so builds up more ecological problems," warns Jamie Pittock from the WWF Global Freshwater Programme. "The problem is totally solvable," says Tom Le Quesne at WWF. "There's plenty of water in the world. It is a political problem."
Trade in carbon permits doubled to more than US$26 billion in 2006, according to Point Carbon. "You're helping... serve our global civilization so well," former United States vice-president Al Gore told delegates at Carbon Market Insights 2007, held in Copenhagen, Denmark earlier in March. Italy will open an emissions trading exchange in April and Canada will announce plans for regulating emissions this month. Meanwhile, full operation of the European trading scheme is being delayed as countries wait for approval to trade from the United Nations (UN). Software links between the European and UN systems also need to be put in place.
The European Union plan to cut emissions by 20 per cent by the year 2020 has strengthened confidence in the future of carbon markets and will increase financial assistance to developing nations. "We’ve calculated that if the European Union does this 20 per cent cut and does about half of it through flexibility mechanisms... that could generate an [annual] carbon finance flow of US$15bn by 2020," said Yvo de Boer, head of the climate treaty secretariat. "That is a potential flow of resources that can also represent an attractive incentive to developing countries to green their economic growth." Gore did caution investors in Copenhagen not to neglect the sustainability goals of flexibility mechanisms such as the Clean Development Mechanism. "I don't want to flag that as a major challenge to the integrity of the system, but it would become one if it were not attended to, and much work is being focused on that," he said.
The Group of Eight Plus Five have reached a consensus that there is an "urgent need to act" on climate change, according to Yvo de Boer, executive director of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The agreement was reached at a meeting of environment ministers, held in Potsdam, Germany.
de Boer said that he was "unexpectedly encouraged by the very constructive outcome." There was, though, dissent at the meeting. The United States opposed plans for a global carbon emissions trading scheme and the recognition of forestation programmes in developing nations as a contribution to the response to global warming. "We find that very regrettable," commented German environment minister Sigmar Gabriel, who hosted the meeting. Reporting on the conference, de Boer noted that issues such as deforestation and the sustainability of biofuels would feature in the next major round of the climate treaty negotiations in Bali, Indonesia, later this year. "What happens if you are cutting down rainforests in order to plant sugar cane or palm oil?," he said. "Aren’t you really doing more harm than good?"
The United Kingdom is proposing legislation to set binding limits on domestic greenhouse gas emissions. The draft Climate Change Bill defines five-year carbon budgets, leading to a 60 per cent cut in emissions by the year 2050. "This bill is an international landmark," environment minister David Miliband said. "It is the first time any country has set itself legally-binding carbon targets. It is an environmental contract for future generations." There will be annual, transparent reporting on progress to the parliament.
Andrew Pendleton, at Christian Aid, welcomed the bill but called for greater emissions reductions. "If the final legislation is not significantly stronger, the process would represent a massive lost opportunity. It is the first step on a long journey," he said. Edward Hanna of the University of Sheffield echoed this view, saying that the emissions reduction schedule "doesn't go far enough, fast enough, to confidently combat the significant threats posed by human-induced global warming. I fear that as we are closing the stable door, the horse has already bolted." Friends of the Earth would like to see cuts of three per cent a year. The bill now goes out for public consultation.
James Wolfowitz, head of the World Bank, has joined the chorus of calls for greater attention to be paid to supporting adaptive responses to climate change in developing countries. "There are a lot of people concerned about mitigation. There are not that many concerned about adaptation, and adaptation is a problem in the poorest countries who are our main concern," he said in an interview with Reuters.
Speaking at the conference Financing Clean Energy in London, United Kingdom, he said that rich countries should lead by example not only in moving toward low carbon strategies, but also with "direct support to developing nations. We need both to reduce poverty and reduce carbon emissions." Reducing emissions should be viewed as "an opportunity to generate funds to invest in a different energy path - one that not only makes less use of carbon, but which diversifies the world’s energy sources, which preserves the worlds forests, and which enables a long-term shift away from finite and limited fossil fuels and toward greater reliance on renewable energy and on technological innovations."
A world market in ethanol may not lower carbon dioxide releases, according to Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Programme. There needs to be proper norms for biofuel production and innovations in making ethanol from tough cellulosic materials like grasses and corn husks. "We're [seeing] the expansion of ethanol production in many parts of the world, and we're in the early stages of understanding the implications of that development," he said, after meeting with President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil earlier this month. "Nobody should take any conclusion as given." Brazil is a major ethanol producer.
More new ethanol plants are likely to come on-stream in the United States in 2007 that are needed to meet increased demand, undermining prices, according to analysts. "We think there will be more corn-based ethanol capacity in the near term" than needed for blending with gasoline, said Guy Caruso of the United States Energy Information Administration. "We're looking [for] a relatively softer market for ethanol this driving season." Even with demand up by 15 per cent to 30 per cent from last year if greater discretionary blending occurs with lower ethanol prices, "there will still be this ethanol overhang in the market," reckons Nathan Schaffer of PFC Energy in Washington DC.
The European Union (EU) has agreed to adopt a binding target for renewable energy as part of its climate change strategy. By 2020, 20 per cent of EU energy will be generated by renewable systems such as wind and solar power, contributing to an overall goal of a 20 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Targets for individual nations within the EU will be set according to national circumstances.
"We can say to the rest of the world, Europe is taking the lead, you should join us in fighting climate change," commented European Commission president José Manuel Barroso. The new EU commitment also includes a ten per cent minimum target for biofuel use in transport by 2020. There may be a ban on incandescent bulbs in homes, offices and street lights this decade, compelling the use of low-energy fluorescent light bulbs. While underlining concerns about safety and security, the plan recognizes that nuclear power may contribute to "meeting the growing concerns about safety of energy supply and carbon dioxide emissions reductions." "Nuclear energy is too expensive. Nations should invest more cleverly in developing other energy sources," responded Jan Kowalzig from Friends of the Earth.
The United States will release around 20 per cent more greenhouse gases by 2020 than during the year 2000. The assessment comes from a draft report by the Bush administration obtained by Associated Press. As global warming develops, the report predicts, amongst other impacts, a higher frequency of droughts and, because of a reduction in the spring snowpack, water supply problems in the northwest of the United States. Michael MacCracken, chief scientist at the Climate Institute in Washington, commented that "we're on a path to exceeding levels of global warming that will cause catastrophic consequences, and we really need to be seriously reducing emissions, not just reducing the growth rate as the President is doing."
The Bush administration's plan to set new fuel economy standards has been criticized by the Senate Commerce Committee as timid and inadequate. The plan calls for a four per cent annual tightening of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards for passenger vehicles from the year 2010 and for heavy trucks from 2012. The Senate panel considered that the administration's recent record in improving fuel economy in light trucks demonstrated a lack of urgency, calling the action "miniscule." "We are just nibbling at the margins in the most timid and reluctant and ineffective way," said Senator John Kerry. "You guys just don't excite the marketplace, you're not willing to challenge it."
Pollution from the Far East is affecting global weather patterns according to Renyi Zhang, a researcher at Texas A&M University in College Station in the United States. He claims a "direct link" between rising pollution levels from China and India and increased strength of the North Pacific storm track. "During the past few decades, there has been a dramatic increase in atmospheric aerosols - mostly sulphate and soot from coal burning - especially in China and India," he says. The soot and sulphate aerosols can affect cloud droplets and dynamics and, hence, storm character.
"The Pacific storm track can impact weather all over the globe," Zhang says. "The general air flow is from west to east, but there is also some serious concern that the polar regions could be affected by this pollution. That could have potentially catastrophic results." Soot on the polar ice will accelerate melting of the ice caps and contribute to rising sea levels. "Every time the weather changes, people are very quick to point to the fact that it must be climate change," comments David Phillips of Environment Canada. "You can be seduced into going there. And yet we also know that changes in the chemistry of the atmosphere can influence changes in climate." He concludes that the study shows that we're still learning about how complex the climate is.
A new report on ways of coping with climate change concludes that the technology exists to "seize significant opportunities around the globe" to reduce emissions and provide other economic, environmental and social benefits. The study, Confronting Climate Change: Avoiding the Unmanageable and Managing the Unavoidable, was sponsored by the United Nations Foundation and Sigma Xi, the Scientific Research Society. UN Foundation head Timothy E Wirth called the report "a very handy basis for how the climate issue is handled." It is "an attempt to define the beginnings of a course through the scientific impact, what we know about the impact of climate change and what we will know about possible measures of what we will do," he continued.
Confronting Climate Change advocates improvements in energy efficiency and greater energy saving in the areas of transportation and in the design and management of buildings, stricter standards for equipment and appliances and expanded use of biofuels, amongst other options. The United Nations and related multilateral institutions should help countries in need to finance and deploy energy efficient and new energy technologies whilst moving forward more rapidly negotiations to develop a new international framework for addressing climate change and sustainable development. "Humanity must act collectively and urgently to change course through leadership at all levels of society," the report warns. "There is no more time for delay."
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has heard the Inuit case for relief from the impact of climate change, with the United States cited as the world's largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions. "Climate change threatens our very survival as peoples," said activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier, arguing that global warming violates the rights of indigenous people throughout the hemisphere. "Whole communities, such as Shishmaref in Alaska, are having to move altogether because the storms are eroding the land out from under them," she said. "These impacts are destroying our rights to life, health, property and means of subsistence. States that do not recognize these impacts and take action violate our human rights."
The G77 group has hit back at proposals that developing countries accept emissions constraints under any successor to the Kyoto Protocol. "Most environmental degradation that's happened has been historically caused by the industrial world," said Munir Akram, G77 chair, last week. "China, India and others are at the stage where they are now taking off and it's quite natural that their emissions of carbon are increasing," he continued. "There's a sort of propaganda effort to try to shift the blame for environmental degradation on to these fast-growing economies, and the motives are not very well disguised." "Unless the North comes to grips with its responsibility it will be difficult to come to an international consensus by which all of us can contribute to halting the degradation of the environment, and certainly stopping the development of developing countries is not the answer," he warned.
European light bulb manufacturers have agreed in principle to cooperate in phasing out incandescents for domestic use. According to the European Lamp Companies Federation, the strategy would include "public incentives to encourage consumers to purchase more efficient products and setting performance standards that will eliminate the least efficient products from the market." Theo van Deursen of Royal Philips Electronics predicts that, in the long-term, lights based on light-emitting diodes (LEDs) will dominate the market. LED lamps are twelve times as efficient as conventional incandescent bulbs and last longer than compact fluorescents. They can produce any colour light.
Russia has launched its first energy-awareness campaign in recent times, encouraging Moscow inhabitants to adopt high-efficiency light bulbs. "It's all about conserving energy supplies and nothing to do with the environment," commented Igor Bashmakov of the independent Center for Energy Efficiency, based in Moscow. Andrei Turnitsa of Kosmos a company that sells energy-saving bulbs and is a partner in the campaign, said it was the shock of power cuts that led to the initiative. Low temperatures in January 2006 generated power shortages and international concern as gas exports to Europe were reduced.
The European Union (EU) has committed to a carbon emissions reduction target of at least 20 per cent by the year 2020, covering the period immediately after the end of the Kyoto agreement. "You get a deadlock in international negotiations when there's the attitude that, 'We're not going to do anything until someone goes first,' so it's good that the ministers committed to 20 per cent," commented Kirsty Hamilton from the United Kingdom Business Council for Sustainable Energy. The EU will adopt a 30 per cent target for 2020, but only if high polluting nations outside the EU agree. "We happily welcome the 30 per cent emission cut proposed for the EU and for developed countries for 2020," said Mahi Sideridou of Greenpeace. "Ministers have listened to the science and made a leap forward in addressing the climate crisis. But to then suggest a meagre 20 per cent unilateral EU emissions cut, while admitting this is inadequate and that a 30 per cent cut will be necessary, is a bizarre discrepancy," she continued.
"I'm... very encouraged by the fact that all member states strongly supported our proposal and the need for the European Union to continue its leadership in fighting climate change," said environment commissioner Stavros Dimas. The 20 per cent target is an EU-average, with individual targets allocated to each member nation following a differentiated approach. Finland has argued that its allocation should take account of its particular circumstances. "The climate in Finland is cold, distances are long and the share of energy-intensive industries is relatively high," said Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen. The baseline year from which the reductions are measured is also permitted to vary by country. But "there will be some countries like Germany that will see a steeper reduction in greenhouse gases," said German environment minister Sigmar Gabriel. The German parliament has already agreed to a 40 per cent reduction.
Australia is to phase out the sale of incandescent light bulbs by the year 2010, to accelerate the switch to low-energy fluorescents. "It's a little thing but it's a massive change," said environment minister Malcolm Turnbull. "If the whole world switches to these bulbs today we would reduce our consumption of electricity by an amount equal to five times Australia's annual consumption of electricity." By 2015, the cut in emissions should amount to four million tonnes per year. The Australian government is following a lead set by Cuba two years ago. New Zealand is also likely to adopt the policy.
"It's all well and good to replace light globes but the government continues to avoid adopting measures that will help make the deep greenhouse gas reduction targets needed at the same time as it supports activities that increase emissions, including an expansion of the coal industry and injecting billions into roads," commented Green senator Christine Milne. The Australian government has been lukewarm on the climate issue, but Prime Minister John Howard has now accepted that there is undeniable evidence that the climate is changing. "Market mechanisms, including carbon pricing, will be integral to any long-term response to climate change," he has said." But the answer is not knee-jerk responses that harm the national interest."
North American populations of male loggerhead turtles could be decimated by global warming, according to recent research. Temperature influences the health and sex of baby turtles, with higher temperatures during the incubation period favouring females. "We are stunned by these results and what they could mean for the species in the future," said study author Brendan Godley of the University of Exeter in the United Kingdom. "In particular, we are concerned that populations that are already predominantly female could become 100 percent female if temperatures increase by just one degree. This is a major issue for nesting populations further south, in Florida, for example, where males are already in short supply."
The researchers recommend prioritizing the protection of colder, northern breeding grounds as some northern males travel south bolstering southern populations, which are predominantly female. "We take this [study] as an important step in identifying essential thermal habitat for marine turtles," said co-author Matthew Godfrey of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission. "It highlights the need to establish measures to specifically protect male-producing beaches." According to Godley, "In the face of climate change, it's essential that we prioritize the protection of sites that produce males not only for local breeding success, but to help support potentially vulnerable populations further south."
An informal meeting of legislators from the Group of Eight (G8) and major developing nations - Brazil, China, India, Mexico and South Africa - has agreed that "climate change is a global issue and there is an obligation on us all to take action, in line with our capabilities and historic responsibilities." The latest G8+5 Climate Change Dialogue was held in Washington DC in the United States. The aim of the Dialogue is to plan a successor to the Kyoto Protocol. The participants urged the G8 to adopt a 2009 deadline for establishing a post-Kyoto agreement. The outcome is seen as a further step towards engagement of the United States and the major developing nations in a global climate regime.
British Prime Minister Tony Blair and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have vowed to push strongly for new emissions goals during 2007. There will be an international meeting on climate change in May in preparation for the Group of Eight summit the following month. In the United States, pressure is mounting on the Bush administration to shift its position on global warming. Following the Democratic takeover of Congress, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has set a July deadline for climate change legislation. In the developing world, China is about to adopt its first greenhouse gas emissions programme. According to Zhang Guobao of the National Development and Reform Commission, China aims to cut carbon emissions by ten per cent over the next five years. Finally, Brazil's president, Luiz Inácio da Silva, has attacked the hypocrisy of the developed nations in calling for a halt to deforestation in the South. "The wealthy countries are very smart, approving protocols and holding big speeches on the need to avoid deforestation; but they already deforested everything," he said. "We need a different campaign... to get rich countries to reduce gas emissions."
About 60 million people in the developing world would lose their homes as a result of a three-foot rise in sea level, according to a new World Bank report. In Egypt, much of the Nile Delta would be flooded. Large parts of Vietnam, including the Mekong Delta, would become submerged, with ten per cent of the economy destroyed. Commenting on the lack of knowledge of potential impacts on developing nations, report author Susmita Dasgupta said that "knowing which countries will be most affected could allow better targeting of scarce available resources and could spur vulnerable nations to develop national adaptation plans now and avoid big losses later."
"The degradation of the global environment continues unabated... and the effects of climate change are being felt across the globe. But it is the poor, in Africa and small island states, who will suffer the most, even though they are the least responsible for global warming," charged Ban Ki-Moon, secretary-general of the United Nations. He was speaking following the release of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "It is also becoming increasingly clear, in North and South alike, that there is an inextricable, mutually dependent relationship between environmental sustainability and economic development," he continued.
Airlines should follow more efficient flight paths in order to cut emissions, says Giovanni Bisignani of the International Air Transport Association. "You will all be aware that our industry is taking a beating in the environmental debate," he said, addressing a conference in Holland. "Our critics may have lost perspective. But they are absolutely correct in demanding more efficiency."
There is a 12 per cent inefficiency in airplane routing, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. "That 12 per cent translates into up to 73 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions and nearly $US13.5 billion in unnecessary fuel costs," according to Bisignani. "Every minute of flying time that we can save reduces fuel consumption by about 62 litres and carbon dioxide emissions by 160 kilograms."
"Any notion that we do not know enough to move decisively against climate change has been clearly dispelled," said Yvo de Boer, head of the Climate Change Secretariat on the release of the first volume of the Fourth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on February 2nd. The report sparked a range of comments in the days that followed. "The world's scientists have spoken," said Timothy E Wirth of the United Nations Foundation. "It is time now to hear from the world's policy makers. The so-called and long-overstated 'debate' about global warming is now over," he continued. "Faced with this emergency, now is not the time for half measures. It is the time for a revolution, in the true sense of the term," concluded French President Jacques Chirac.
There were dissenting voices. In the United States, Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe described the IPCC assessment as "the corruption of science for political gain." William O'Keefe of the George Marshall Institute said that predictions of a "climate catastrophe in this century are unjustified." In Lagos, Nigeria, Thompson Ayodele of the Initiative for Public Policy Analysis announced the launch of the Civil Society Coalition on Climate Change to provide "more rational thinking" on the climate issue. "Many of the proposed policies are likely to harm a society like Nigeria more than the climate changes they are intended to control," he said.
The European Commission has reached a compromise over delayed plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. The proposed target for the year 2012 of an average of 120 grams per kilometre travelled for engine emissions from new cars, to be met by improvements in motor technology, has been weakened to 130 grams per kilometre. A further 10 grams per kilometre should result from other measures, such as more efficient air conditioning. "We will shortly be in a position not only to provide the safest and best cars but also the cleanest," claimed industry commissioner Günter Verheugen, who had opposed the more stringent target. The compromise was strongly criticized by Jos Dings of the European Federation for Transport and the Environment. "Not only is the car industry failing on its voluntary commitment to cut carbon dioxide emissions, the Commission now wants to reward this failure with a weaker fuel-efficiency target," he said.
The automobile industry continues to protest the shift from voluntary measures to regulation, with the European Automobile Manufacturers Association (ACEA) calling the new proposals "unbalanced and damaging." "We're very committed to fighting global warming...," said ACEA spokeswoman Sigrid de Vries, "but putting the burden mainly on the car industry is too costly and not cost-effective, and it will lead toward loss of jobs and manufacturing in Europe." "The ideas put forward... focus too much on vehicle technology, denying the fact that a broad range of means is available to reduce carbon dioxide emissions in a far more cost-effective way," said Sergio Marchionne, ACEA president. European environment minister Stavros Dimas challenged the car industry: "the world needs more efficient cars and someone will provide them. I hope it will be Europe's manufacturers who seize this opportunity first."
A Poverty and Environment Facility has been created to cement the bond between fighting poverty and protecting the environment. The initiative is a joint action by the United Nations Development Programme and the United Nations Environment Programme. "Eliminating poverty and hunger and protecting the environment are inseparable," said UNDP Administrator Kemal Dervis. "That is why the environment has to be the concern of the whole UN family." The Facility, cited as one of the first concrete examples of UN Reform in action, will help developing countries to integrate sound environment management into their poverty reduction and growth policies, with an emphasis on Africa and Asia.
Arab nations have formed the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), a civil society initiative based in Beirut, Lebanon. "In order that the Arab countries may occupy a decent position in the new world market, we hope that this forum will succeed in encouraging Arab businessmen and economic institutions to collaborate in the direction of opening an Arab common market for products which are friendly to the environment as well as in the direction of harmonizing environmental measures," said AFED head Najib Saab. The Forum will produce an annual report on environment and development performance.
The latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on the science of climate change concludes that it is "very likely" - a probability of greater than 90 per cent - that the rise in global air temperature since the mid-1900s has been caused by human activity. Data show that the oceans have warmed to a depth of at least 3,000 metres, contributing to sea-level rise. The report predicts that the average world temperature may rise by about three degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Sea level could rise by as much as 59 centimetres over that period, and some projections indicate the complete disappearance of summer sea ice in the Arctic by the year 2100. Heatwaves and periods of heavy rainfall are "very likely" to become more frequent but tropical cyclones, though more intense, may occur less often. The report, the first volume of the IPCC's Fourth Assessment, was released on February 2nd in Paris, France.
"The big message... is the strength of the attribution of the warming to human activities," said Claudia Tebaldi of the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado, in the United States. United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointed to the "scientific consensus regarding the quickening and threatening pace of human-induced climate change" and called for the global response "to move much more rapidly as well, and with more determination." IPCC Chair, Rajendra Pachauri, said that the report contained "significant advances" over the previous 2001 assessment. Nevertheless, though the overall message is clear, some uncertainties remain in the detail. The role of clouds in reinforcing or offsetting greenhouse warming is not well-established, neither is the future of Antarctica. The report indicates that the Antarctic ice sheet may well remain too cold for widespread surface melting and could gain in mass as snowfall increases. The possibility of net loss cannot, however, be ruled out as dynamical ice discharge might dominate the mass balance.
China and India re-affirmed their commitment to act on climate change at the World Economic Forum held in Davos, Switzerland. China intends to follow the Kyoto Protocol, said Zhang Xiaoqiang of the National Development and Reform Commission, although it is not legally bound by the agreement. Help from the industrialized world will be necessary to meet its targets, he said, given the inefficient technology that China has. Montek Ahluwalia of India's Planning Commission reported that nuclear power will play a part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. "It's clear that business as usual is not going to work," he said.
Britain is following the United States' lead in stressing that the major developing nations must be involved in any post-Kyoto agreement. "Without the biggest economies being part of the framework to reduce carbon dependence, we have no earthly hope of success," said Prime Minister Tony Blair during the meeting. Jim Leape, WWF head, agrees. "Ultimately, to succeed, we have to find some way for those emerging economies to meet... development needs and aspirations with a lower carbon footprint," he said. "The challenge is to fashion an agreement that includes the emerging economies in a way that is common but differentiated in terms of responsibility," he continued, pointing out that the rich world had to accept its major contribution to the problem.
Mountain glaciers are melting at an accelerating rate, according to the latest data. Figures for 1995, taken from a sample of 30 glaciers around the world, show an average thinning of two-thirds of a metre, reports the World Glacier Monitoring Service (WGMS) in Zurich, Switzerland. "Today, the glacier surface is much smaller than in the 1980s, this means that the climate forcing has continued since then," said WGMS scientist Michael Zemp. "The recent increase in rates of ice loss over reducing glacier surface areas leaves no doubt about the accelerated change in climatic conditions," he continued.
According to WGMS director Wilfried Haeberli, "we can say there were times during the warmer periods of the last 10,000 years when glaciers have been comparable to what they are now. But it is not the past that worries us, it is the future. With the scenarios predicted, we will enter conditions which we have not seen in the past 10,000 years, and perhaps conditions which mankind has never experienced." The WGMS has forecast the loss of three-quarters of all Alpine glaciers this century.
In his 2007 State of the Union Address, United States President George W Bush committed the nation to reducing gasoline use by 20 per cent over the next ten years. Although the primary imperative is to limit dependence on imported oil, Bush acknowledged that meeting this goal would "help us confront the serious challenge of global climate change." Technology, Bush believes, will provide the means to reduce oil dependency. "We must continue changing the way America generates electric power by even greater use of clean coal technology... solar and wind energy... and clean, safe nuclear power," he said. "We need to press on with battery research for plug-in and hybrid vehicles, and expand the use of clean diesel vehicles and biodiesel fuel. We must continue investing in new methods of producing ethanol - using everything from wood chips, to grasses to agricultural wastes."
British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed what he saw as "positive" signs on climate change in the State of the Union address. He believes that "the possibilities of [reaching a binding international agreement] are actually more positive, more optimistic than they've been for several years." Yvo de Boer, head of the Climate Change Secretariat, found Bush's words "very encouraging". The plans were, however, greeted with concern by the automobile industry and scepticism from environmentalists. General Motors wants to be sure "that any fuel economy increases are technically achievable." "The speech was very disappointing," said Sunita Narain, of the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi, India. "When the whole world is talking about the importance of climate change and the critical impact it will have, I would have expected more from him," she continued. John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA, reckons that the alternative fuels proposal put forward by Bush could actually increase global warming pollution and the fuel efficiency programme for automobiles lacks any real targets. "Instead of creating a real national plan to combat global warming and increase energy security, the President has ensured his legacy of failure," he said.
Ethanol producers in Brazil welcomed the new commitment from United States President George W Bush to cut gasoline use by 20 per cent over the next decade. "We've never had such a great opportunity to substitute petroleum," said Luiz Carlos Correa Carvalho of Canaplan consultancy in Piracicaba, Sao Paulo. Sao Paulo is a major production centre for sugar cane, the source of Brazilian ethanol. At present, the nation does not export much ethanol as a result of high domestic demand. New technology could boost the yield of ethanol from sugar cane. "One tonne of cane yields 85 litres of ethanol. When cellulose hydrolysis technology is developed we could get up to 160 litres... before processing cane waste and straw," reckons Eduardo Pereira de Carvalho, head of the Sugar Cane Industry Union (Unica).
Meanwhile, in Europe, plans to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles have been delayed. Anticipating failure to meet voluntary targets, the European Union (EU) is considering imposing mandatory limits, a proposal favoured by environment commissioner Stavros Dimas but opposed by industry commissioner Günter Verheugen. The proposed limit would require European, Japanese and Korean manufacturers to restrict emissions from new passenger vehicles to 120 grams per kilometre travelled, on average, from the year 2012. The current average is 160 grams per kilometre. The voluntary target is a reduction to 140 grams per kilometre by 2009 but, according to the EU, progress towards this goal has not been satisfactory. EU President José Manuel Barroso is striving for consensus with a view to presenting plans for legislation to enforce the 120 gram target "very soon."
A new report from Wetlands International warns that almost half of the world's waterbird species are in decline and that numbers have fallen across all five continents. Habitat destruction and global warming are the principal contributors to wetlands loss. According to Simon Delany, co-author of the report, "it is still early days when assessing the effects of climate change but droughts are a clear example of where we could be heading. In Africa, central Asia and even recently in Australia, where some areas haven't seen rain for three years, droughts have significantly reduced wetland coverage." Moreover, rising sea levels have covered vital mud flats and sand banks used by waterbirds.
The most serious trends have occurred in Asia, where 60 per cent of waterbird populations have declined or been lost, and in Africa where there has been a 48 per cent decline. As an example of what could be done, Delany cites the European Commission's Birds Directive, which requires members to set aside areas for bird conservation. "These kinds of policies are in their infancy in Asia and Africa," he said. "The protection of really important wetlands needs to be strengthened... to find a balance between the needs of local people and biodiversity conservation," concludes Mike Crosby of Birdlife International.
China has fallen short of the environmental targets for 2006 set in its current five-year plan, according to China Daily. "From a nationwide perspective, it is certain that last year's energy consumption reduction goal could not be achieved," reported Han Wenke, head of China's Energy Research Institute. Energy consumption per unit of GDP rose by 0.8 per cent during the first half of 2006, against a target for the year of a four per cent reduction. The Chinese government, describing 2006 as a "grim year" for the environmental situation, blamed the lack of progress on the nation's industrial structure and a lack of supportive policies. "The State Environmental Protection Administration is being given more power and is starting to flex its muscles in what is the early stages of a political shift away from the big polluting industries towards a more clean and green mentality," says Anthony Wilkinson of Clean Resources Asia.
According to Edwin Lau of Friends of the Earth in Hong Kong, "economic growth in China is still on the top of the country's agenda and that drives a lot of new development, new infrastructure, new companies emerging, and car growth - all this will somehow offset what measures they have put in to be more energy efficient or reduce the total amount of energy used by the country." Ailun Yang of Greenpeace China considers that, despite setbacks, the government is committed to environmental protection. "We do see that right now targets for energy efficiency and also for environmental protection are seen as important political performance criteria as well." she says. "This old model of 'pollute first and then pay back', this doesn't work. It's not like before - if you can show a good record of economic development you can get away with it. Right now, you also have to show your record in environmental protection." The government has announced plans to expand the influence of environmental news and other forms of propaganda and education. "Publishing companies and film studios are urged to produce books and movies about environmental protection of good quality to help improving public awareness," states a new official guideline that sets targets on environmental education and awareness for 2010.
The minute hand of the Doomsday Clock has moved closer to midnight than at any time since the end of the Cold War. It now stands at five minutes to the hour, two minutes forward from the most recent assessment. The Doomsday Clock, updated each year by the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists (BAS), represents concerns about the nuclear threat and other challenges to global security. This year is the first time that global warming, cited as a threat second only to nuclear weapons, has contributed to the assessment. "When we think about what technologies besides nuclear weapons could produce such devastation to the planet, we quickly come to carbon-emitting technologies," said Kennette Benedict of BAS.
The main concern over recent years has been increasing nuclear instability. More nations have been pursuing nuclear aspirations, international trafficking in nuclear materials continues and the American and Russian arsenals remain substantial. "We stand at the brink of a second nuclear age," the BAS warns. "Not since the first atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki has the world faced such perilous choices." The expansion of civil nuclear power generation in response to the threat of global warming could increase the availability of weapons materials, according to the BAS assessment. "While nuclear energy production does not produce carbon dioxide," says the BAS statement, "it does raise other significant concerns, such as the health and environmental hazards of nuclear waste, the production of nuclear materials that can be diverted to the production of weapons, and the safety and security of the plants themselves. As such, any contemplation of the expansion of nuclear power must be predicated upon a thorough assessment of the technological and legislative safeguards required to curb these risks."
Asia-Pacific leaders have agreed a clean energy pact that will reduce dependence on fossil fuels and promote cleaner technologies. The ten members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), with New Zealand, Australia, China, India, Japan and Korea, signed the agreement after a summit in Cebu in the Philippines. The agreement covers mitigating greenhouse gas emissions and improving the environmental performance of fossil fuel use. Dependence on conventional fuels will be reduced through intensified energy efficiency and conservation programmes, hydropower, expansion of renewable energy systems and biofuel production/utilization, and, if nations choose, nuclear power. Finally, parties will encourage markets geared towards providing affordable energy and will increase energy investment through greater private sector involvement. At the meeting, Australia and China established a Joint Coordination Group on Clean Coal Technology through which knowledge will be shared and joint projects implemented.
Yvo de Boer, head of the United Nations Climate Change Secretariat, has proposed a high-level global summit, backed by the United Nations, to plan future action on the climate issue. As climate change "affects energy, energy security, economic issues [and] development issues, it really needs to be taken to the level of heads of State and heads of government," he said. De Boer called on United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to act as an advocate. "I feel that the Secretary-General of the United Nations is in an excellent position to mobilize that kind of leadership and to help to move the process forward." After a meeting with the Secretary-General, de Boer reported that the Secretary-General "indicated that he was aware of this idea and said that he would be exploring in his meetings how to take the process forward." Climate change is set to be a major issue on the agenda of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, this week.
The European Commission has released plans to diversify energy sources and cut carbon emissions by at least 20 per cent by the year 2020. "Europe must lead the world into a new, or maybe one should say post-industrial, revolution - the development of a low-carbon economy," according to José Manuel Barroso, president of the Commission. "We have already left behind our coal-based industrial past; it is time to embrace our low-carbon future," he continued. The new strategy proposes a binding target of meeting 20 per cent of European energy needs from renewable sources by 2020, almost tripling the current figure. Biofuels would account for 10 per cent of vehicle fuel by 2020. Individual governments would remain free to decide on the nuclear option, though cutting nuclear output must be compensated for through low-carbon energy sources.
"This is not a step forward, but a leap forward to a low carbon world," claimed environment commissioner Stavros Dimas. "This is the first time that any country or region has come forward with such a unilateral target." The carbon target was welcomed enthusiastically by the United Nations. "This is a crucial signal to unlock the current situation where countries are saying 'I'll wait and see what you do first'," said Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Programme. "They have shown real leadership," commented Yvo de Boer from the Climate Change Secretariat. "Developing countries have been crying out for industrial countries to set targets," he continued.
The United States government proposes to list the polar bear as an endangered species because of the threat of global warming. "Polar bears are one of nature’s ultimate survivors, able to live and thrive in one of the world’s harshest environments. But we are concerned the polar bears’ habitat may literally be melting," said Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne. "Degrading pack-ice habitat is making it increasingly difficult for polar bears to find their prey. They are being forced to forage for food on land, where prey is nearly impossible to find," said Chris Haney, chief scientist with Defenders of Wildlife.
The announcement was in response to legal action by environmentalist organizations who claimed that the government had failed to respond to the effects of climate change on polar bears. "This is a watershed decision in terms of the way we deal with global warming in this country," said Kassie Siegel at the Center for Biological Diversity. The decision whether or not to list the polar bear will rest on further research. "We have sufficient scientific evidence of a threat to the species to warrant proposing it for listing, but we still have a lot of work to do to enhance our scientific models and analyses before making a final decision," reported Dale Hall from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
According to the latest annual environmental assessment from the Worldwatch Institute, cities are the source of the most innovative ideas in combating climate change and other environmental problems. Examples include: urban farming in Freetown, Sierra Leone; linking hundreds of thousands of low-income households in informal settlements with good-quality sewers in Karachi, Pakistan; and solar-warmed water heaters in households and solar-powered traffic signals and street lights in Rizhao, China. In Bogotá, Colombia, the rapid transit system has been improved with a 'street-level subway'. "Cities are great centres of innovation and that is even more true today than it has been in the past," said Chris Flavin from the Worldwatch Institute. "Necessities from food to energy are increasingly being produced by urban pioneers inside city limits."
Business leaders see climate change as "one of the defining challenges of the 21st century - and as a global risk with impacts far beyond the environment," according to a report commissioned by the World Economic Forum. The report concludes that the world economy is under growing threat from risks such as climate change, terrorism, pandemics and oil prices, with inadequate action by governments and business to blame. It warns of "a fundamental disconnect between risk and mitigation." According to Jacques Aigrain of Swiss Re, who contributed to the study, "risks are often still viewed and dealt with in isolation. However, in today’s world global risks are tightly interwoven. To address our contemporary risk landscape, governments and enterprises need to take a holistic approach to overcome silo-thinking and acting."
"The provisional figures for 2006... place the year as the sixth warmest year" worldwide since records began in the 1850s, according to a report from the UK Met Office (UKMO) and the University of East Anglia (UEA) in the United Kingdom. The preliminary figures are based on data for the months January to November. According to the World Meteorological Organization, the early months of 2006 were notable for warmth over North America, the western European Arctic islands, Australia and Brazil. During the summer months, Europe and the United States experienced heat waves and the European warmth continued through autumn.
Climate scientists are predicting that 2007 will be the hottest year on record as a likely El Niño warming event in the Pacific combines with the long-term warming trend. "El Niño makes the world warmer and we already have a warming trend that is increasing global temperatures by one to two tenths of a degree Celsius per decade. Together, they should make 2007 warmer than last year and it may even make the next 12 months the warmest year on record," reported Phil Jones of UEA's Climatic Research Unit. "This new information represents another warning that climate change is happening around the world," said Katie Hopkins of the UKMO.
The European Union (EU) has approved plans to include aviation in its emissions trading scheme. According to the European Commission, "EU emissions from international air transport are increasing faster than from any other sector. This growth threatens to undermine the EU's progress in cutting overall greenhouse gas emissions." The scheme will cover flights within the EU from the year 2011 and will then extend to cover flights into and out of the region the following year. Carriers will be allowed an emissions quota defined by their average 2004-2006 emissions data. It is estimated that the plan will add between 1.80 and 9 euros to a return flight within the EU.
The Air Transport Association of America expressed disappointment at the "misguided decision," arguing that the EU should work through the International Civil Aviation Organization "on appropriate multilateral solutions" to the greenhouse gas issue. A spokesman for the United States embassy strongly objected to the plan, saying that the process "will prove unworkable and will undercut rather than support international efforts to implement system improvement to manage the impact of aviation emissions." It could not be imposed without the consent of non-EU partners, he observed. EU environment commissioner Stavros Dimas is confident that the proposal is in accordance and compatible with international law. "I expect that United States airlines or other airlines will not challenge legally something that they know they are not going to win," he said.
China has released its first national assessment of the climate issue, based on work by six government departments. Warning of damaging effects on the country's environment and economy, the report predicts that "climate change will increase the instability of agricultural production. If no measures are taken, in the latter half of the century, production of wheat, corn and rice in China will drop by as much as 37 per cent." Despite higher levels of precipitation in some areas, evaporation losses will dominate the water balance.
According to the Ministry of Science and Technology, "greenhouse gases released due to human activity are leading to ever more serious problems in terms of climate change," which has an impact on the "nation's ability to develop further." The report does not cover responses to the climate problem. "We're in a period of rapid economic growth, and energy consumption will increase as a result," says Liu Hongbin from the National Climate Center in Beijing. "As a result, China will continue to emit a rather large amount of greenhouse gases."
Two islands have been lost in the Sunderbans delta, which straddles the border between India and Bangladesh, as a result of rising sea level, according to a six-year study of climate impacts. Official records list 102 islands in the area but a recent survey revealed only one hundred. Sugata Hazra of the School of Oceanography Studies at Jadavpur University in Calcutta, India, reports that "two islands, Suparibhanga and Lohachara, which have gone under water, could not be sighted in satellite imagery. The [disappearances] have rendered over 10,000 people homeless, a dozen others on the western end of the inner estuary delta are threatened. As the islands sink, nearly 100,000 people will have to be evacuated from the islands in the next decade." Refugees from Lohachara island and from Ghoramara island, which is in the process of disappearing, have fled to the heavily-populated Sagar island, but this island is also losing land to the sea.
The study shows that the temperature of the region has increased by over one degree Celsius since 1965. While the yearly number of cyclones has decreased, storms have become more intense. "Rainfall has shifted to the post-monsoon period and this shifting is a definite indicator of climate change," says Hazra. Relative mean sea level in the Bay of Bengal is rising at a rate of 3.14 millimetres a year and "if this trend continues, the rising sea will devour nearly 15 per cent of the islands in the Sunderbans," he concludes. The study will contribute to India's reporting commitments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
A study commissioned by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) concludes that demand for cars will treble Asia's greenhouse gas emissions over the next 25 years. Local pollution and transport congestion will severely limit capacity to move people and goods. Emissions of nitrogen dioxide and fine particulate matter, mainly from the transport sector, are of concern in all cities currently experiencing rapid motorization, according to another recent study, led by the Stockholm Environment Institute-York in the United Kingdom and the Clean Air Initiative for Asia Cities (CAI-Asia). "The speed of motorization is so fast in Asia. For example, vehicle fleets double in about five years in an average Asian country," said Cornie Huizenga, head of CAI-Asia. The ADB study predicts that vehicle numbers in China could grow by as much as 15 times over the next 30 years, while the growth in India could be up to 13 times.
If current trends continue, there could be about two billion urban residents in Asia in ten years' time. "To accommodate these people, a huge amount of cars, trucks, buses, motorcycles, and other motorized vehicles is being added to our streets, their number doubling every five to seven years. The ramifications of this for air quality are daunting," warned Bindu Lohani of ADB's sustainable development department. Reducing transport problems will mean "changing existing travel behaviour patterns and modifying urban development patterns to minimize the type, length, and frequency of trips that people need to take," he said. The ADB report was released at the three-day Better Air Quality 2006 conference held in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. The conference called on Asian governments to tighten fuel efficiency standards, promote the purchase of more fuel-efficient cars, increase spending on clean public transport projects and cater for bicycles and pedestrians in road design.
Egypt, Peru and Vietnam are among the nations taking the lead in addressing the environment's central role in poverty, according to a new report from the United Nations. "A healthy, sustainable environment is a vital national asset and when it is eroded, the poorest people suffer the most," said Kemal Dervis of the United Nations Development Programme. "This report highlights the progress of some countries towards more environmentally sustainable development planning but it also presents a harsh reality: if our delicate ecosystems are not firmly at the heart of all national plans to reduce poverty, then all other efforts to reach the Millennium Development Goals by 2015 will be undermined."
The report reviews over 150 developing country experiences in addressing Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In Kenya, for example, deforestation is a major challenge. The poor chop down trees as their only source of fuel for cooking and heating. As part of its MDG plan, the Kenyan Government proposes to protect at least 3.5 per cent of its forested area by 2008 and introduce renewable options like solar energy to the rural population. Lack of environmental sustainability, the report concludes, is often related to a lack of political will, pressure on environmental resources from high use and natural disasters, insufficient governance and planning policies, social unrest and lack of financial resources. Poor coordination within countries and differing priorities between governments and donor agencies may also create difficulties.
General Electric plans to cut solar installation costs by half
Project 90 by 2030 supports South African school children and managers reduce their carbon footprint through its Club programme
Bath & North East Somerset Council in the United Kingdom has installed smart LED carriageway lighting that automatically adjusts to light and traffic levels
The United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the American Public Gardens Association are mounting an educational exhibit at Longwood Gardens showing the link between temperature and planting zones
The energy-efficient Crowne Plaza Copenhagen Towers hotel is powered by renewable and sustainable sources, including integrated solar photovoltaics and guest-powered bicycles
El Hierro, one of the Canary Islands, plans to generate 80 per cent of its energy from renewable sources
The green roof on the Remarkables Primary School in New Zealand reduces stormwater runoff, provides insulation and doubles as an outdoor classroom
The Weather Info for All project aims to roll out up to five thousand automatic weather observation stations throughout Africa
SolSource turns its own waste heat into electricity or stores it in thermal fabrics, harnessing the sun's energy for cooking and electricity for low-income families
The Wave House uses vegetation for its architectural and environmental qualities, and especially in terms of thermal insulation
The Mbale compost-processing plant in Uganda produces cheaper fertilizer and reduces greenhouse gas emissions
At Casa Grande, Frito-Lay has reduced energy consumption by nearly a fifth since 2006 by, amongst other things, installing a heat recovery system to preheat cooking oil
Tiempo Climate Newswatch