Tiempo Climate Newswatch
News Archive 2011
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.
Canada withdrew from the Kyoto Protocol a day after the Durban Climate Change Conference ended. It wishes to avoid paying penalties of US$13.6 billion for failing to meet its emissions targets. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, expressed regret at the decision, though, she said, "whether or not Canada is a party to the Kyoto Protocol, it has a legal obligation under the [climate change] convention to reduce its emissions, and a moral obligation to itself and future generations to lead in the global effort."
Shortly after the government's withdrawal, the Canadian province of Quebec announced the launch of a cap-and-trade system in 2012. During a trial run that could lead to a continental system, carbon emitters in the province will be able to trade emission allowances on a local market. In 2013, caps will be imposed on large industrial polluters and, in 2015, fuel distributors and importers who exceed an annual threshold will also be subject to the capping. "Quebec thus officially steps to the starting line, next to California," said environment minister Pierre Arcand. California has a similar plan for a carbon market based on regulations established under the Western Climate Initiative, a collaboration of 11 states and provinces aimed at curbing emissions formed in 2007 in response to concerns about inaction at the national level.
More than 600 people are feared dead as a result of drowning or landslides as tropical storm Washi passed over southern Mindanao in the Philippines. The ports of Cagayan de Oro and Ilagan City were worst affected. "It's the worst flood in the history of our city," said Iligan mayor Lawrence Cruz. "It happened so fast, at a time when people were fast asleep."
Benito Ramos from the Civil Defense Office said that, despite four days of warnings, the high casualties in Mindanao were "partly to the complacency of people because they are not in the usual path of storms." Storms with a track such as that followed by Washi only occur once in about 12 years. More than a month of average rains fell in 12 hours. Troops, police, reservists, coast guard officers and civilian volunteers involved in rescue efforts have been hampered by flooded-out roads and a lack of electricity.
Women are facing disproportionately high risks to their livelihoods and health from climate change, according to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). In communities vulnerable to climate change, women are often more likely than men to lose their lives during natural disasters, due to poor access to coping strategies or cultural factors that restrict mobility. Lack of formal education, poverty, discrimination and food insecurity all contribute to the vulnerability of women and human trafficking is emerging as a potentially serious risk associated with climate-related disasters as social safety nets are disrupted.
The report concludes that investing in low carbon, resource-efficient green technologies, water harvesting and fuelwood alternatives can strengthen climate change adaptation and improve women's livelihoods. "Women often play a stronger role than men in the management of ecosystem services and food security. Hence, sustainable adaptation must focus on gender and the role of women if it is to become successful," said UNEP executive director Achim Steiner. "Women's voices, responsibilities and knowledge on the environment and the challenges they face will need to be made a central part of Governments' adaptive responses to a rapidly changing climate," he continued.
The Durban Climate Change Conference went into extra time over the weekend as negotiators battled exhaustion to achieve a deal on future commitments under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Ban Ki-moon, United Nations secretary-general, welcomed the new agreement as "essential for stimulating greater action and for raising the level of ambition and the mobilization of resources to respond to the challenges of climate change."
The resulting agreement covers the launch of a new protocol or legal instrument that would apply to all parties to the convention (to be adopted no later than 2015), a second commitment period for the Kyoto Protocol (to start 2013) and the launch of the Green Climate Fund. The Technology Mechanism, which will promote access by developing countries to clean, low-carbon technologies, and the Adaptation Committee, responsible for the coordination of adaptation activities world-wide, were formally established. "I salute the countries who made this agreement. They have all laid aside some cherished objectives of their own to meet a common purpose - a long-term solution to climate change," Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC executive secretary, said.
The Durban Climate Change Conference made progress on two of the major issues concerning the future of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The major industrialized nations agreed to a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol, which will start on January 1st 2013. Parties to this second period will turn their existing targets into quantified emission limitation or reduction objectives for review by May 1st 2012. "This is highly significant because the Kyoto Protocol's accounting rules, mechanisms and markets all remain in action as effective tools to leverage global climate action and as models to inform future agreements," commented Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC executive secretary.
The Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform for Enhanced Action will begin work immediately to "develop a new protocol, another legal instrument or agreed outcome with legal force" that will cover all parties to the convention, including the developing nations. This legally-binding agreement should be adopted as soon as possible, but by 2015 at the latest, and will be operational by 2020. "Where Kyoto divides the world into two categories, we will now get a system that reflects the reality of today's mutually interdependent world," said Connie Hedegaard, the European commissioner for climate action. "I think in the end it ended up quite well," commented United States chief negotiator Todd Stern. "The first time you will see developing countries agreeing, essentially, to be bound by a legal agreement." Sunita Narain from the Centre for Science and Environment in India described the outcome as an important turning point. "At this conference, the matter of equity has been re-asserted; but the open resistance of the rich countries to sharing global ecological and economic space has also been noted. The fight is out in the open," she said.
The Durban Climate Change Conference committed to full implementation of the package to support developing nations agreed a year ago in Cancún. "This means that urgent support for the developing world, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable to adapt to climate change, will also be launched on time," said Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. The package includes the Green Climate Fund, the Adaptation Committee and a Technology Mechanism.
With start-up costs already pledged, the Green Climate Fund can be made ready in 2012. A standing committee, to maintain an overview of climate finance, will consist of 20 members, with equal representation from the developed and developing world. A focused work programme on long-term finance was agreed. This will contribute to the scaling up of climate change finance and analyse options for the mobilization of resources from a range of sources. The goal of the Adaptation Committee is to improve the coordination of adaptation actions at a global scale. It was agreed that, above all, the adaptive capacities of the poorest and most vulnerable countries are to be strengthened and the most vulnerable are to receive better protection against loss and damage caused by extreme weather events related to climate change. National Adaptation Plans will allow developing countries to assess and reduce their vulnerability to climate change. The Technology Mechanism will become fully operational in 2012 and the full terms of reference for the operational arm of the Mechanism, the Climate Technology Centre and Network, have been agreed, along with the procedure to select the host. Finally, a registry to record developing country mitigation actions in need of financial support will be established and match these with support.
The Durban Climate Change Conference began with a call for action by South African President Jacob Zuma. "We have experienced unusual and severe flooding in coastal areas in recent times, impacting on people directly as they lose their homes, jobs and livelihoods. Given the urgency, governments need to strive to find solutions here in Durban. Change and solutions are always possible, and Durban must take us many steps forward towards a solution that saves tomorrow today," he said. Later in the week, he reported that the summit was "proceeding well." "The discussions are continuing as planned in an environment that is conducive to constructive engagement," he said. Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, was also confident that progress was being made at the summit. She reported as the first week of the summit ended that she was confident that industrial countries will renew their emissions reduction pledges after current commitments under the Kyoto Protocol expire.
Figueres had identified two steps that governments could take in Durban. The first would be to complete the support package for developing countries. "The Technology Mechanism and the Adaptation Committee agreed in Cancún can be completed here in Durban so that they can begin benefitting people in 2012," she said. "And in Durban, the first phase of the design of the Green Climate Fund can be approved, as a major step on the road towards better supported climate action." Funding can also be ramped up towards the US$100 billion of long-term climate finance and the nature of the review of the adequacy of a below 2 degrees Celsius temperature limit, including in relation to 1.5 degrees Celsius, needs to be resolved. The second step is to determine how governments will work together to limit the global temperature rise to a level which will prevent the worst ravages of climate change. "This means, as a central task for Durban, answering the very important question of the future of the Kyoto Protocol. At the same time, governments will need to agree on how they want to pursue a broader framework to reduce greenhouse gases under the Climate Change Convention," she said.
There was tension in Durban at the weekend as a march protesting lack of progress at the 2011 Climate Change Conference was disrupted by African National Congress supporters dressed as summit volunteers. Protest songs were exchanged and water bottles were thrown at the marchers before marshalls and police intervened.
"They are agent provocateurs, here to disturb the march," said Pat Hall of street trader organization Street-Net International. "The [eThekwini] Municipality had to be forced by a court order yesterday to allow this march to go along this route because the city wanted us going around in circles at Curries Fountain Stadium today, now they they're trying to prove that we are violent," she explained. Habte Abate, executive director of Sustainable Land Use Forum in Ethiopia, commented: "I'm not sure what the context of this is, but we are here protesting about global issues, which affect all of us. I am very surprised these people would come here to disrupt the march and fight petty political battles."
Non-governmental organizations Oxfam and WWF have joined with the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS), which represents four-fifths of the world merchant fleet, to call on the Durban Climate Change Conference to give the International Maritime Organization clear guidance on reducing emissions of carbon dioxide from commercial shipping.
"The international shipping industry is firmly committed to reducing its carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent by 2020, with significant further reductions thereafter," said ICS Secretary General Peter Hinchliffe. "However, the Durban Climate Change Conference needs to give the International Maritime Organization a clear mandate to continue its vital work to help us deliver further emission reductions through the development of market-based measures." Oxfam and WWF are proposing that a carbon tax be applied to shipping. Tim Gore of Oxfam said that part of the money collected will be used to compensate developing countries for the increase in transport costs and the remainder could be directed to the Green Climate Fund.
The customary jockeying for negotiating position took place in the days before the Durban Climate Change Conference. The United States is pushing for greater private-sector involvement in the Green Climate Fund, while Saudi Arabia is demanding higher compensation for oil-producing countries who would lose income as fossil fuel use declined. "We need to discuss whether we can continue to divide the world in the traditional thinking of the North and the South, where the North has to commit to a binding form whereas the South will only have to commit in a voluntary form," said Connie Hedegaard, European climate commissioner.
Brazil and India, members of the BASIC group of nations, have confirmed that they are in agreement that the Durban summit should ensure the second commitment period of Kyoto Protocol. "The survival of the Kyoto Protocol system means the survival of the top-down approach, which in our view is the approach that should guide the future of the international fight against climate change," said Brazil's climate change ambassador Luiz Alberto Figueiredo Machado. The second commitment period would end in 2020 and it is proposed that talks on a new global deal covering the post-2020 period start in 2015. "We are going to have a review of the current actions from 2013-15 and then the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, so both things happening at the same time will certainly signal a good time to engage into a renewed phase of negotiations looking at the post-2020 architecture," the ambassador said.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released the Summary for Policymakers of its forthcoming report on extreme events and climate change. Looking to the future, the assessment concludes that it is virtually certain that world-wide hot days become more extreme and more frequent. "For the high emissions scenario, it is likely that the frequency of hot days will increase by a factor of ten in most regions of the world", said Thomas Stocker, co-chair of IPCC Working Group I. "Likewise, heavy precipitation will occur more often, and the wind speed of tropical cyclones will increase while their number will likely remain constant or decrease."
The report is cautious in attributing recent events to climate change. "There is high confidence that both maximum and minimum daily temperatures have increased on a global scale due to the increase of greenhouse gases," Qin Dahe, co-chair of IPCC Working Group I, said. "Changes in other extremes, such as more intense and longer droughts are observed in some regions, but the assessment assigns medium confidence due to a lack of direct observations and a lack of agreement in the available scientific studies. Confidence in any long-term trend in tropical cyclone intensity, frequency or duration is assessed to be low," he continued.
More than 100 researchers in 15 nations have produced the first comprehensive assessment of climate change in the western Pacific region to help nations prepare for and adapt to climate change. The report, from the Australian government's Pacific Climate Change Science Program, concludes that the Pacific region is warming, sea levels are rising, rainfall patterns are changing and equatorial winds have weakened.
More natural disasters from events such as landslides are predicted, as well as damage to coral reef ecosystems and accelerating sea-level rise. Biological productivity and fishing may be affected as ocean mixing is inhibited by warmer, less salty water at the surface. There are likely to be fewer tropical cyclones, though they may be more intense when they do occur. Co-author Kevin Hennessy from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia, said that the impact of these trends would vary according to factors such as geography and landscape. "Some of the low lying coral atolls are especially exposed to sea level rise and storm tides and most of the countries that we've look at are exposed to changes in tropical cyclones except those that are right along the equator," he said. "And many of the mountainous countries in the region are particularly exposed to landslides." Information about the future climate of the Pacific nations can be accesses through a new interactive online tool called Pacific Climate Futures.
The World Bank has approved US$297 million in loans to Morocco for the Ouarzazate Concentrated Solar Power Plant Project. "During a time of transformation in North Africa, this solar project could advance the potential of the technology, create many new jobs across the region, assist the European Union to meet its low-carbon energy targets, and deepen economic and energy integration in the Mediterranean. That's a multiple winner," said World Bank Group president Robert Zoellick. The 500MW solar complex will be among the largest Desertec Industrial Initiative, which plans to construct a network of solar and wind farms across North Africa and the Middle East. The aim is to provide 15 per cent of Europe's electricity supply by 2050. Construction of the first phase of a 500MW solar farm, using both CSP and photovoltaic panels, is scheduled to start next year. Concentrated solar power systems use parabolic mirrors to focus sunlight onto a small area, using the heat to drive steam turbines and generate electricity.
The World Bank has warned that tough decisions face the negotiators at the Durban climate summit, which starts November 28th. "The stakes are high. This is a decade when action is absolutely central and yet it's also a decade in which obviously the economic conditions are not conducive to breakthrough, if you like," said Andrew Steer, World Bank special envoy on climate change.
Alongside the future of the Kyoto Protocol, Steer cites finance as the big issue for Durban. The World Bank has been approached by over 130 nations for help in responding to climate change. "Climate change is already threatening development progress. Already today, we're seeing the impacts of climate change in several of our client countries," he said. Steer wants Durban to agree on a process by which countries, in the near future, sit down and ask themselves: Are we doing enough?
China could play a critical role at the Durban climate summit, according to some commentators. "My sense is that if Durban fails it would be due to the lack of United States political will to deliver and if it succeeds it would be due to China's extra efforts," said Jennifer Morgan at the World Resources Institute in the United States.
China is undertaking record investment in renewable energy technology and values European expertise. "We need to focus on the green sector, and in this regard, Europe has the talent and the knowledge," Zhang Yangsheng from the Institute of Foreign Economy, National Development and Reform Commission, in Beijing said recently. "I don't exclude the European Union and China and other emerging economies making this strategic partnership for this climate issue and the United States being isolated," commented Jo Leinen, chair of the environment committee in the European Parliament.
The International Energy Agency (IEA) has warned that so many fossil-fuel power stations and energy-inefficient factories and buildings are likely to be built over the next five years that holding global warming to safe levels will become impossible. The excessive carbon production will be "locked in" for the lifetime of the infrastructure.
"The door is closing," said Fatih Birol, IEA chief economist. "I am very worried – if we don't change direction now on how we use energy, we will end up beyond what scientists tell us is the minimum [for safety]. The door will be closed forever." By 2015, on current trends, 90 per cent of the carbon budget that is available if the temperature rise is to be limited to two degrees Celsius will be consumed by energy and industrial infrastructure, according to World Energy Outlook 2011. By 2017, the entire carbon budget will be committed. "If we do not have an international [climate] agreement, whose effect is put in place by 2017, then the door to [holding temperatures to the two degree threshold] will be closed forever," Birol warned.
Government representatives from 18 Southeast Asian countries meeting in Singapore have supported a call for the phasing out of incandescent light bulbs as one of the easiest ways to limit carbon emissions and make financial savings. Over 95 per cent of the energy emitted by an incandescent bulb is heat. Incandescent lamps have already been phased out or are scheduled to be phased out in most countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa, Argentina, Senegal, Malaysia, Philippines and other developing countries.
The Singapore meeting was organized by the en.lighten project, a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)/Global Environment Facility initiative in partnership with lighting manufacturers and China's National Lighting Test Center. The aim of the en.lighten project is to accelerate the market transformation of efficient lighting technologies on a global scale. UNEP has created a Centre of Excellence on Efficient Lighting to provide guidance and technical support to countries that partner with the initiative.
Aquaculture is the world's fastest growing source of animal protein, growing by more than 60 per cent between 2000 and 2008, according to World Aquaculture 2010 from the Food and Agriculture Organization. "With stagnating global capture fishery production and an increasing population, aquaculture is perceived as having the greatest potential to produce more fish in the future to meet the growing demand for safe and quality aquatic food," the report concludes.
World Aquaculture 2010 recommends that, "as the sector further expands, intensifies and diversifies, it should recognize the relevant environmental and social concerns and make conscious efforts to address them in a transparent manner, backed with scientific evidence." It also recommends that the sector should prepare itself to face the potential impacts of climate change, expressing concern that they will be more pronounced at the small-scale level, particularly in the Asia–Pacific, Africa and Latin America and the Caribbean regions. It emphasizes, though, that large-scale producers in North America, Europe and some countries in the Latin America and the Caribbean regions are also likely to be adversely affected and that substantial financial losses leading to closures are possible.
Small island states have heavily criticized the suggestion that a new climate deal might be delayed until 2018 or later. Australia and Norway have proposed a 2015 deadline, but Russia has said that this is unrealistic and that 2018 or even 2020 would be more reasonable. Joseph Gilbert, Grenada's environment minister, speaking on behalf of the Association of Small Island States described Russia's suggestion as "both environmentally reckless and politically irresponsible."
European Union climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard has called for a roadmap for greenhouse gas emissions reductions, with concrete steps and a timetable, to be agreed at the Durban climate summit at the end of the month. The aim would be to develop a binding agreement after 2014. "We have three years from now to put the flesh and blood on this. We know what should be done so 2015 - after [the next] Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change review - will be time enough," she said.
Four United Nations agencies are proposing a global blue carbon market that will ensure that those who protect marine and coastal carbon sinks can benefit economically. The agencies aim to create global acceptance of ocean and coastal habitats as a new form of tradeable carbon. The report Blueprint for Ocean and Coastal Sustainability argues that standards must be agreed for blue carbon monitoring and certification, with targets set for habitat protection in the context of blue carbon.
Alongside the development of a blue carbon market, the report advances a series of proposals aimed at reducing stressors and restoring the structure and function of marine ecosystems, supporting the Blue-Green Economy, fostering policy, legal and institutional reforms for effective ocean governance, and supporting marine research, observation, technology and capacity transfer. "[The] importance of the ocean is not reflected in the political weight it has on the agenda for sustainable development," said Irina Bokova, director-general of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization.
Global carbon dioxide generated by fossil-fuel combustion and cement manufacture increased by the largest amount on record between 2009 and 2010, according to the United States Department of Energy. With growth rates higher than anticipated since the turn of the century, levels now exceed the worst-case scenario analyzed by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its 2007 assessment. "That means we're beyond the scenarios with which we're calculating the further warming of the earth," commented Jochem Marotzke, head of the German Climate Consortium.
Global carbon emissions increased by 5.9 per cent from 2009 to 2010, with coal emissions jumping by almost eight per cent. The People's Republic of China accounted for close to a quarter of the 2010 world total, 24.6 per cent, with the United States second at 16.4 per cent. China's emissions rose by 10 per cent from the previous year. In a further step to control rising emissions, China is banning imports and sales of incandescent light bulbs of 100W or greater from October next year as part of a five-year plan to phase out the technology.
Following a preparatory meeting for the forthcoming Durban climate summit, South African ambassador at large for the conference, NJ Mxakato-Diseko, has warned negotiators not to inflate expectations. "Talk of any legally binding instrument would be irresponsible, very irresponsible," she said. "To even begin to suggest that the outcome of Durban must be a legally binding instrument would be irresponsible, because it will collapse the system." Progress can, however, be expected, in some areas, with commentators highlighting climate financing, emissions reporting and carbon trading.
Whether to extend or replace the Kyoto Protocol remains an issue of contention. China has said that, while it remains committed to extending the Protocol, reform would be acceptable. The European Parliament environment committee has passed a resolution to extend its commitment beyond 2012. ""The continuation of the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 will decide the success or failure of the Durban summit. The European Union (EU) must show the necessary leadership to prevent a stalemate in climate negotiations," said committee chairman Jo Leinen. The committee believes that the EU's economy would benefit from going beyond the current 20 per cent greenhouse gas reduction target.
Climate change induced by human activity is partly responsible for the increasing frequency of wintertime droughts in the Mediterranean region, according to a new study by scientists from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences in the United States. Over the past 20 years, ten of the driest 12 winters on record have occurred in the region.
"The magnitude and frequency of the drying that has occurred is too great to be explained by natural variability alone," said Martin Hoerling from NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado. The pattern of ocean warming in recent decades has driven drought-favouring weather patterns over the Mediterranean, consistent with climate model projections. "The question has been whether this projected drying has already begun to occur in winter, the most important season for water resources," Hoerling said. "The answer is yes."
A group of companies in the United States has launched a one-year pilot project, the Partnership for Resilience and Environmental Preparedness (PREP). The project will promote practices and economic growth that help both vulnerable communities and businesses adapt to the impacts of climate change and public policies that facilitate adaptation efforts to prepare for and respond to the consequences of a changing climate.
"From cotton to coffee, we have already seen the impact that climate change is having on our global supply chains, but we're now discovering more about the impacts on the communities our supply chains depend on," commented Amy Leonard of Levi Strauss & Co. "Investing in smart adaptation solutions is a major step towards building a climate resilient society," said Mark Way at Swiss Re. "By partnering together, companies and communities can utilize their collective resources to tackle climate risk and improve resiliency for the betterment of society as a whole."
The drought in Tuvalu, which led to a state of emergency being declared earlier this month, is likely to last until January, the government warns. There has been no significant rain for six months as a result of the La Niña weather pattern. UNICEF New Zealand and the New Zealand government are sending a solar desalination unit to keep open one of the Pacific island's main schools.
"We believe that this [current crisis] is indeed the facts of climate change," said Pusinelli Laafai, permanent secretary of home affairs and chair of the national disaster committee. "We think [industrialized countries] have an obligation to help us, if not to restore what was damaged or taken away, at least to assist us in some sense, to mitigate the effects of what they have done." Drought is also affecting neighbouring Tokelau, which has also declared a state of emergency. The 1400 residents of three main atolls ran out of fresh water earlier this month and are relying on bottled water.
Restoring degraded lands is crucial to addressing poverty, food scarcity and the loss of the world’s biodiversity, according to speakers at the Tenth Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) in Korea. A new United Nations report, Global Drylands: A UN system-wide response, setting out a common vision and agenda for action across the organization on drylands management, was launched during the meeting.
"If we protect, restore and manage land and soils we can tackle many challenges simultaneously, such as poverty, food and energy insecurity, biodiversity loss, climate change, forced migration and geopolitical instability," said United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon in a video message. "These issues are linked. The stakes are high, let us therefore work together to make intelligent land use a cornerstone of sustainable development," he continued. "Degraded lands mean degraded lives," said Luc Gnacadja, UNCCD executive secretary. "But degraded lands are not dead lands; they are sick lands in need of stewardship. In that regard, there is a statement of hope coming from the grassroots level, which we must enhance and sustain."
More frequent and severe drought has contributed to a "catastrophic regime change" in aquatic desert ecosystems, from which many species may not recover, American scientists report. "Populations that have persisted for hundreds or thousands of years are now dying out," said David Lytle at Oregon State University (OSU). "Springs that used to be permanent are drying up. Streams that used to be perennial are now intermittent. And species that used to rise and fall in their populations are now disappearing."
The research examined the effect of complete water loss and its impact on aquatic insect communities in a desert stream in Arizona's French Joe Canyon before and after severe droughts in 2005, 2008 and 2009. Six species disappeared when the stream dried up and 40 others became more abundant. Large-bodied "top predators" like the giant waterbug disappeared to be replaced by smaller predators such as aquatic beetles. "Our study focused on a single stream in isolation, but this process of drying and local extinction is happening across the desert Southwest," said co-investigator Michael Bogan of OSU. "Eventually this could lead to the loss of species from the entire region, or the complete extinction of species that rely on these desert oases."
Thailand has declared a third of its provinces disaster zones with the country affected by the worst flooding in decades. Over the past two months, close to 300 people have died and millions of homes and livelihoods have been damaged. Defences around Bangkok are being strengthened as the run-off approaches the capital. The flooding has been exacerbated by deforestation, overbuilding in catchment areas and interference with natural waterways. "I have tried to inform them many times, but they tell me I am a crazy man," said Smith Dharmasaroja, former director general of the Thai Meteorological Department. Cambodia and Vietnam have also been affected by unusually heavy monsoonal rains.
"The past two weeks of floods and rains have cost Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) nations hundreds of lives and billions of dollars. This is the reality of climate change - and it is a reminder that the success of the United Nations climate talks are a matter of survival for the people of Southeast Asia," commented Zelda Soriano, Greenpeace Southeast Asia political consultant. Greenpeace, Oxfam and WWF have partnered to form the coalition ASEAN for a Fair, Ambitious and Binding Global Climate Deal (A-FAB) in order to pressure the regional organization to "take a higher ground" in the climate negotiations. "Climate finance and legally binding commitments are important to ASEAN countries," said Shalimar Vitan of Oxfam East Asia, adding "ASEAN should also put the weight of its collective voice behind the demands of its peoples struggling with climate change."
The World Bank is proposing that fossil fuel subsidies in the industrialized nations be axed and the money saved used to help poorer countries tackle climate change. A paper presented to G20 finance ministers expresses concern that public finance will not be available from the industrialized world to cover the fast-start finance and US$100bn a year from 2020 onwards pledged to developing nations. The financial flows required will be largely private in composition and the removal of subsidies on fossil fuel represents a "starting point."
"New OECD estimates indicate that reported fossil fuel production and consumption supports in Annex II countries amounted to about $40-$60bn per year in 2005-2010... if reforms resulted in 20 per cent of the current level of support being redirected to public climate finance, this could yield $10bn per year," the paper states. It notes that "reform of fossil fuel subsidies in developed countries is a promising near-term option because of its potential to improve economic efficiency and raise revenue in addition to environmental benefits." The report was discussed at the G20 Finance Ministers’ and Central Bank Governors’ meeting on Development, Climate and Innovative Financing in Paris on October 15th.
Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, has challenged business leaders to step up their low carbon investments. She was speaking at the Confederation of British Industry's International Green Business Dinner in London.
"I fully understand that you could be more aggressive in your capital allocations if you had a stronger market signal from the policy providers," Figueres said. "But today I stand before you with a clear request: help us break that vicious cycle. Help us convert it into a virtuous cycle that can power new growth, create jobs in new sectors, help alleviate poverty and stabilize the climate." She anticipated that the Green Climate Fund, the Technology Mechanism and the Adaptation Committee would be approved at the forthcoming climate summit in Durban, offering new markets and opportunities.
Progress was made at the latest climate treaty negotiations in Panama in preparing decisions for the forthcoming climate summit in Durban that will help developing countries adapt to climate change and access clean energy technologies, reported Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. "It also made clear progress on how efforts to limit emissions by developing countries will be matched with necessary support from developed countries in a transparent way," she said.
Nevertheless, doubts remain that developed nations will commit to the level of finance necessary to assist the developing world. There are, as yet, no financial pledges beyond the fast-start period of 2010-2012. "Agreement on long-term finance must be at the foundation of the deal in Durban," warned Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, chair of the African Group. "We have demonstrated good faith in discussing new responsibilities for developing countries, we expect good faith from our partners in discussions on how to implement their existing finance commitments." Despite progress on technical issues in Panama, few expect that any binding emissions agreement will be reached in Durban, though Figueres considers that the summit could lay the groundwork for a future pact. "Governments are really committed to starting a process toward that and that includes the United States and China," she said. "How they will get there, with what speed they will be able to get there, that still remains to be seen," she added.
A major hole in the ozone layer opened up over the Arctic this northern spring, for the first time rivalling ozone loss over the Antarctic in the mid-1980s. Particularly low ozone values were recorded for around 27 days in March and early April 2011, over an area roughly five times the area of Germany or California. Scientists from 19 institutions in nine countries contributed to the assessment, which was based on satellite data.
During the 2010/11 winter, conditions in the stratosphere were unusually conducive to ozone destruction by ozone-destroying pollutants. "Day-to-day temperatures in the 2010-11 Arctic winter did not reach lower values than in previous cold Arctic winters. The difference from previous winters is that temperatures were low enough to produce ozone-destroying forms of chlorine for a much longer time," reported study leader Gloria Manney from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the United States. "This implies that if winter Arctic stratospheric temperatures drop just slightly in the future, for example as a result of climate change, then severe Arctic ozone loss may occur more frequently," she warned.
The public has been given another opportunity to view the on-going transformation of the Staten Island landfill in New York, in the United States, into a 2200-acre park. This year's Sneak Peak offered three miles of walking paths, over two miles of biking trails, kayak tours, public artworks and performances and a full craft market. "This is the biggest recycling project imaginable," said park administrator Eloise Hirsh. "We're telegraphing the kinds of things we'll do in the future with the events."
Freshkills Park, a "reminder of wastefulness, excess and environmental neglect" that will take 25 years to be completed, will feature composting toilets and other ways of capturing water for use in irrigation. Native grass and wildflower seeds will be sown and goats will graze on invasive plant species. Methane gas will be harvested from the decomposing waste. "In some ways, it's to make amends for the fact that this formerly beautiful wetlands was turned into a garbage dump for the better part of five decades," said parks commissioner Adrian Benepe. "It's also the responsible thing to do."
As the latest sessions of the key working groups charged with moving forward the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) opened in Panama, Dessima Williams of Granada, representing small island states, appealed to the negotiators to "step forward and guarantee the continuity of the Kyoto Protocol." "Countries that are serious about addressing climate change should be using this meeting to raise, not lower, expectations for Durban," she said. "Last year, we learned that greenhouse gas emissions hit their highest level on record, and some parties are acting like we have all the time in the world to act when, in fact, any additional delay endangers the survival of entire nations."
In her opening address, Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC executive secretary, said that the forthcoming climate summit in Durban "needs to address both further commitments of developed countries under the Kyoto Protocol and the evolution of the mitigation framework under the Convention for developed and developing country Parties, in the context of common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities." With time limited, she warned that the process of developing the next stage of the climate treaty may require immediate interim arrangements that safeguard environmental integrity and ensure continuity of the regime.
A new study has identified a series of indicators of coral reef collapse and catch thresholds that could prevent over-fishing, providing sustainability targets that can help reef fisheries support the resource they depend on. "This information is critical to policy makers and reef managers," said Aaron MacNeil from the Australian Institute of Marine Science. "If fish stocks can be maintained at a certain level, the chances of retaining a sustainable fishery and a healthy reef system are greatly improved."
"Our work shows that as fish biomass – the number and weight of fish living on a reef – declines due to fishing pressure, you cross a succession of thresholds, or tipping points, from which it is increasingly hard to get back," commented Nick Graham of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (ARC CoE) in Australia. "For example, you see patches of weeds replacing coral, you see more sea urchins devouring the coral, you see a general decline in the species richness on the reef, and you see less coral cover." The loss of hard corals, often taken as a major warning sign, is actually the last stage in the reef system's collapse. "By the time you see the loss of live coral cover, it may be already too late to save the reef," Graham explained.
An international team of scientists has developed a new technique for assessing how much carbon dioxide is absorbed and released by plants, which shows that more is passing through vegetation than previously thought. "What this means is that plants are working faster than we thought they did," said Colin Allison of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Melbourne, Australia. The results could mean that global primary productivity (GPP) is 25 per cent higher than current estimates suggest, leading to some revision of global carbon models.
"If we are right, and GPP needs to be revised upward by about 25 per cent, it means that our fundamental understanding of how land plants function on the global scale is still a bit fluid," said team leader Lisa Welp-Smith of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in the United States. The finding does not mean that more carbon is being locked away by plants. "It means more carbon dioxide is passing through plants, not that it actually stays there very long," she said. The team used oxygen isotope markers in carbon dioxide and more than 30 years of data from a global network of air samples.
The Pacific island nation of Palau is to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on whether countries have a responsibility to ensure that their greenhouse gas emissions do not harm other nations. "The case should be clear," said President Johnson Toribiong. "The ICJ has already confirmed that customary international law obliges States to ensure that activities within their jurisdiction and control respect the environment of other States. Similarly, Article 194(2) of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea provides that States shall take all measures necessary to ensure that activities under their jurisdiction or control do not spread and do not cause damage by pollution to other States. It is time we determine what the international rule of law means in the context of climate change."
Pacific states, Kiribati, Micronesia and Nauru, have called on the United Nations to assist small island nations combat the effects of climate change. They request that the United Nations Secretary-General appoint a Special Representative on Climate and Security to analyse the projected security impacts of climate change and that he assess the capacity of the United Nations system to respond to the likely security impacts of climate change so that vulnerable countries can be assured that the United Nations is up to the task. Nauru's President Marcus Stephen described these two proposals as "the absolute minimum necessary to prepare for the greatest threat to international security of our generation." He also urged Member States to honour commitments made under the climate treaty to ensure further progress on sustainable development goals.
Norway and Australia have proposed that a new international climate framework be finalized by 2015. The proposal, which has been submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change secretariat prior to the talks in Panama this week, charts a negotiating timetable running from the South Africa summit this year to a legally-binding framework that would be adopted in 2015. "A stepwise approach from Durban to 2015 will provide time and space for countries to build confidence and capacity, and ensure a robust outcome over time," according to the submission.
Jennifer Morgan at the World Resources Institute in the United States commented: "It's the first formal proposal with this type of a mandate to lead to a legally-binding instrument. It's a very important proposal – certainly it is a challenging one but it does certainly frame the Durban meeting in a new light." The European Union is reported to be developing a plan to extend the Kyoto Protocol to 2018 on the understanding that a replacement treaty would then be agreed by all nations. The goal of the Australia-Norway proposal would be an agreement covering both developed and developing countries, though the least developed countries would be exempt.
Speaking at a mini-summit on the humanitarian emergency in the Horn of Africa, the President of the United Nations General Assembly, Nassir Abdulaziz Al-Nasser, reported that the current session of the Assembly will produce a draft resolution on strengthening humanitarian assistance in the Horn of Africa. "As the world’s pre-eminent forum for international peace and security, it is our collective responsibility to provide moral and financial support to these highly vulnerable populations," he said. "The right to food, life and security are, after all, universal human rights."
At the mini-summit, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on the countries of the region and the international community to take a long-term approach to ending recurrent food shortages. "Addressing underlying risk factors is among the keys to ensuring this crisis does not strike again," he said. "Let us not allow drylands to remain investment deserts. Let us ensure that women and children have access to basic health care and water. Let us work for stability to allow markets to flourish." Noting that programmes in Ethiopia and Kenya have helped ensure that there is no famine despite the worst drought in six decades, Ban said: "This is a profound achievement that can be replicated some day in Somalia. We will see drought again – with increasing frequency. But drought need not become famine."
Interviews with Alaskan natives, Yup'ik hunters and elders, in the Yukon River Delta are providing observations of climate change that, integrated with scientific studies, will be used in the development of adaptation strategies. "Many climate change studies are conducted on a large scale, and there is a great deal of uncertainty regarding how climate change will impact specific regions," said Nicole Herman-Mercer from the United States Geological Survey. "This study helps address that uncertainty and really understand climate change as a socio-economic issue by talking directly to those with traditional and personal environmental knowledge."
Issues raised during the interviews included safety, given unpredictable weather patterns and dangerous ice conditions, and changes in plant and animal ecology as well as reduced availability of firewood. Warmer temperatures had been observed in recent years, most notably in the winter months. Cold spells had been brief in contrast to the month-long cold bouts experienced historically. Thinning of the ice on the Yukon and Andreafsky Rivers is limiting winter travel on snow machines or sleds, affecting the ability to trade goods between villages, visit friends and relatives or reach hunting grounds. Lower spring snowmelt flows had resulted in fewer logs flowing down the local rivers, limiting wood available for heating and building materials and increasing reliance on fossil fuels and alternative timber supplies.
As of September 9th, the extent of the Arctic ice had dropped to the second lowest level since the satellite record began in 1979, reports the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC) at the University of Colorado Boulder in the United States. The lowest extent was recorded in 2007. NSIDC cautions that the estimate is preliminary and changing winds could close up the ice resulting in a yet lower figure for the seasonal ice minimum.
German researchers at the University of Bremen, using a different record, claim that the ice extent in early September was already at an historic low. As happened for the first time in 2008, the Northwest and Northeast Passages are ice free simultaneously. Estimates of total ice volume from the Polar Science Center at the University of Washington in the United States indicate that the total amount of ice is at a record low for the second year running.
Al Gore's internet climate reality campaign launched September 14/15th with "24 Hours of Reality", an online multimedia presentation delivered in 13 languages over the course of one day. The presentation showed how extreme weather events like floods, fires and storms are linked to climate change. It had 8.6 million views.
The campaign also aims to highlight how money motivates climate scepticism. "Around the world, we are still subjected to polluter-financed misinformation and propaganda designed to mislead people about the dangers we face from the unfolding climate crisis," Gore said. Gore praised some countries for their efforts to tackle the climate problem, citing China and wind energy, solar photovoltaic cells in Sierra Leone and the Vatican. "The Vatican has the goal of being the world's first carbon-neutral country," he said. "They have two advantages: They are very small, and God is on their side."
The government of low-lying Kiribati is thinking about moving its population to man-made islands similar to giant off-shore oil platforms. "We're considering everything... because we are running out of options," said President Anote Tong, whilst attending the Pacific Islands Forum in Auckland, New Zealand. Radical ideas had to be considered, he said, even if they sound like science fiction. "If you're faced with the option of being submerged with your family, what would you do?" he asked. "Would you jump on the rig... on a floating island or not? I think the answer is yes."
Ban Ki-moon, United Nations secretary-general, visited Kiribati en route to the Pacific Islands Forum. "For those who believe climate change is about some distant future, I invite them to Kiribati. Climate change is not about tomorrow," he warned. "It is lapping at our feet – quite literally in Kiribati and elsewhere." Kiribati is also considering a series of sea walls, which would cost approaching US$1 billion. Tong complained that Kiribati had received little financial assistance despite the pledges made by wealthier nations. In a communique, the Pacific Islands Forum leaders warned that climate change was the "single greatest threat to the livelihoods, security and well-being of the peoples of the Pacific."
Nearly one million more people across the Horn of Africa need humanitarian aid, the United Nations reports. "[The increase] is largely due to the impact of drought, worsened by high food prices, as well as conflict and insecurity in Somalia," according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. A total of 13.3 million people are now in need of assistance, but there is a funding shortfall of almost US1 billion.
Famine has now spread to a sixth region in Somalia, Bay. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that over 917,000 Somalis now live as refugees in the four neighbouring countries, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Yemen. United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-moon has called for longer-term efforts to reduce vulnerability when the rains fail as well as a response to the current crisis. "Across the Horn, a bold approach is needed that ensures both recovery and resilience while taking into account the environment, the economics of pastoral and nomadic livelihoods, population pressure, equity in development spending, good governance and the need to avoid dependency," he said.
Google has published its energy use for the first time. Its carbon footprint is slightly higher than that of the nation of Laos and similar to that of the United Nations. The company reports that it emits 1.5 million tonnes of carbon a year but says that its data centres consume 50 per cent less energy than the industry equivalent.
The company claims that a typical user of its services generates 1.46kg of carbon a year. Gary Cook at Greenpeace International commented: "We've seen lots of leadership from Google on sustainability but not in terms of transparency. It's good to see them finally put their footprint data on the table, which hopefully should start a more robust debate on the energy use of online services. We need to see others doing the same." Google has invested nearly US$1 billion in renewable energy projects.
The first meeting of the Technology Executive Committee (TEC) began in Bonn on September 1st. The TEC is the policy arm of the Technology Mechanism, established at the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference to deploy the funds and technology to assist developing countries respond to climate change. The aim of the first meeting is to determine how the TEC will operate and interact with other institutions under the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).
"The challenge we face calls for nothing less than a transformation of the world economy onto a green, sustainable pathway. Technology - both for adaptation and for mitigation - cannot but be at the very centre of this transformation," said UNFCCC executive secretary Christiana Figueres. "Strengthened technology can help us get there faster and cheaper; it can help us get there cooperatively and collaboratively; and it can help us ensure that this transformation is both equitable and sustainable." The TEC consists of 20 members with technical, legal, policy, social development and financial expertise relevant to the area of mitigation and adaptation technologies.
Wastewater recycling processes may generate three times as much greenhouse gas nitrous oxide as conventional water treatment, according to a study of facilities in the southwest of the United States. Dense populations of nitrifying and denitrifying bacteria in the recycling plants are the cause of high nitrous oxide emissions. "Because the Los Angeles area is so heavily urbanized, our calculations indicate that nitrous oxide emissions from wastewater treatment and recycling are several orders of magnitude larger than agricultural nitrous oxide emissions in the region, said lead researcher Amy Townsend-Small at the University of Cincinnati.
Greenhouse gas emissions overall could be reduced if, for example, recycling replaces long-distance transport of water "Wastewater recycling is an essential component of the urban water-resource portfolio, especially in the semi-arid, urban southwest," Townsend-Small said. "Because drinking water in southern California is imported over very long distances, it is responsible for large energy consumption and carbon dioxide emission rates." It is concluded that cities should allow recycled wastewater to supplement drinking supplies, not just be used for irrigation purposes.
If the United Nations Climate Conference in Durban is to result in a binding deal, South Africa must convince partners in the BRICS group, China and India, to reach the "middle ground" on greenhouse gas mitigation, says Norway's chief climate negotiator Henrik Harboe. "India and China are crucial as they are responsible for an increasing share of global emissions," he said, as South Africa president Jacob Zuma visited Norway.
Harboe also stressed the importance of reversing Japan's position on extension of the Kyoto Protocol. Japan, along with Russia and Canada, is opposed to a second commitment period under the Kyoto Protocol, while many developing countries are strongly in favour. The European Union is trying to find a middle road. "An important group of countries has opened up a conversation about if the European Union engages in a type of second commitment period, what would that be like?" Christiana Figueres, climate treaty executive secretary, said recently. "I would say governments are in a creative phase and will explore what would be a middle ground which has to be acceptable to all countries," she added.
Participants at World Water Week endorsed the Stockholm Statement to the 2012 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (RIO+20). The statement calls on governments to show leadership by committing to achieving "universal provisioning of safe drinking water, adequate sanitation and modern energy services by the year 2030." Targets to be achieved by the year 2020 include 20 per cent increases in total food supply-chain efficiency, in water efficiency in agriculture, in water use efficiency in energy production and in the quantity of water reused and a 20 per cent decrease in water pollution. Anders Berntell, executive director, of the Stockholm International Water Institute, commented: "If we do not take dramatic, immediate strides to create more resource-efficient societies, then water shortages will constrain economic growth and inhibit food and energy production in many regions."
The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) released the water chapter of its Green Economy Report during World Water Week. The assessment concludes that an annual investment of 0.16 per cent of global gross domestic product in the water sector could reduce water scarcity and halve the number of people without sustainable access to safe drinking water and basic sanitation in less than four years. As it stands, failure to invest and to collect, treat and re-use water efficiently is making water shortages worse in many parts of the world. As a result, global demand for water could outstrip supply within 20 years. "Improving access to cleaner drinking water and sanitation services is a cornerstone of a more sustainable, resource-efficient society", observed Achim Steiner, head of UNEP.
A new report on ecosystems services, water and food security was also released during World Water Week. The report, from UNEP and SIWI, argues that policymakers should consider farmland, fisheries and other agricultural areas as "agroecosystems", providing sources of food as well as performing diverse ecosystem services such as water purification and flood regulation. Made worse by climate change, by 2050, declines in these regulatory ecosystem services could result in crop yields that fall up to 25 per cent short of demand. To protect dryland agroecoystems, the report recommends creating corridors for livestock movement to reduce overgrazing and land degradation, diversification of land to integrate crop, tree and livestock production and promote soil fertility through manure, crop residues and provide tree fodder for feed and the cultivation of local plants better adapted to dry conditions.
According to researchers in the United States, the El Niño climate cycle doubles the risk of civil war in 90 tropical countries. During the study period, 1950 to 2004, one out of every five civil conflicts was influenced by the phenomenon. "It's the poorest countries that respond to El Niño with violence," said study co-author Mark Cane from the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
Surveying 175 countries and 234 conflicts, it emerged that countries with weather affected by the El Niño cycle had a six per cent chance of civil war breaking out when the El Niño pattern was in force, compared with three per cent when the La Niña pattern was dominant. Countries not affected by the cycle stood at two per cent. While the researchers did not project their findings into the future and a warmer world, "what [the study] does show, beyond any doubt, is that even in this modern world, climate variations have an impact on the propensity of people to fight," said Cane. "And it is frankly difficult to see why that won't carry over to a world that is disrupted by global warming."
Low-lying Suriname, on the South American coast, has created a climate-compatible development agency. "We owe it to our children to prepare ourselves for the effects climate change will have on our country," said President Dési Bouterse. Sea-level rise threatens the country with worsening erosion, inundation, loss of farmland, a reduction in available freshwater, drought and extreme rainfall.
The new agency will coordinate policies on climate change mitigation and adaptation and forest conservation and seek funding to deal with climate impacts and develop a lower carbon development strategy. "Our agency is established to consolidate Suriname's climate change adaptation efforts. We're here to combine and complement the work of other institutes. When you want results in these matters, it's best to execute from one central point. A multitude of institutes that sometimes work across each other doesn't work," said John Goedschalk, who will lead the new institution.
The impact of the drought in the Horn of Africa is being worsened by volatile food prices, a new report from the World Bank concludes. "While the emergency in the Horn of Africa was triggered by prolonged droughts, especially in areas struggling with conflict and internal displacement such as Somalia, food prices that are near the record high levels seen in 2008 also contributed to the situation," the World Bank said in a statement. Production of biofuels, particularly corn ethanol in the United States, is also a factor.
Food prices last month were, in general, around a third higher than a year ago, while maize prices have risen 84 per cent on average. Sorghum prices have increased fourfold in parts of Somalia as a result of poor local harvests and reduced global reserves, according to the World Bank report. The United Nations Children's Fund estimates that 12.5 million people in the Horn of Africa need urgent humanitarian support, over 2.3 million children are estimated to be malnourished and over half a million severely malnourished children are at imminent risk of death over the region.
Namibia has no option but to adapt to the changing climate, according to speakers at the Namibia Climate Change Adaptation Youth Conference, held in Windhoek in July. "The environmental consequences of climate change, both those already observed and those that are anticipated, such as [rising] sea levels, changes in precipitation resulting in flooding and drought, more intense hurricanes and storms, heat waves and degraded air quality, will both affect human health directly and indirectly," said Ephraim Nekongo, the chairperson of the Oshana Regional Youth Forum. Minister of Environment and Tourism, Netumbo Nandi-Ndaitwah encouraged young people to take action, focusing not only on the challenges but also the opportunities presented by climate change.
With an economy directly reliant on the environment for up to 30 per cent of its gross domestic product (GDP), the impact of climate change on natural resources could reduce Namibia's GDP by up to six per cent over the next 20 years. African Adaptation Project Namibia was launched in 2010. The project aims to build effective leadership and institutional frameworks for better coordination and integration of climate change programmes into development policy as well as provide support to local community climate change initiatives and priority sectors such as sanitation and health. It is also assisting the government to identify financing options.
Arctic sea ice extent may temporarily increase as global warming develops, even though the long-term projection is that the ice will eventually disappear, a new modelling study by scientists at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in the United States concludes. "One of the results that surprised us all was the number of computer simulations that indicated a temporary halt to the loss of the ice," said lead author Jennifer Kay. "The computer simulations suggest that we could see a 10-year period of stable ice or even a slight increase in the extent of the ice."
"Even though the observed ice loss has accelerated over the last decade, the fate of sea ice over the next decade depends not only on human activity but also on climate variability that cannot be predicted," Kay reported, Variations in local winds, for example, could offset ice melt caused by greenhouse warming. The model results suggest that, during the late 20th century, climate variability reinforced the long-term warming trend resulting in rapid ice loss. As temperatures rise, the modelling indicated that short-term variability in sea-ice trends will increase in scale. "Over periods up to a decade, both positive and negative trends become more pronounced in a warming world," said NCAR scientist Marika Holland, a co-author of the study.
Kiribati has been unable to complete a seawall protecting its international airstrip because of difficulties accessing climate adaptation funds. "This seawall was supposed to be 150 metres long, but because of budgetary constraints the funds that we had for this project [we] only managed to get the seawall to 100 metres," Tessie Lambourne, Secretary for Foreign Affairs and Immigration, said. "Most of the funds are being channelled through multilateral agencies and international financial institutions. It is very hard to access those funds because of the process involved. And with a small administration, already the bureaucracy here is overworked," she explained. Erosion has come to within a few metres of the edge of the runway.
The second annual Multipartite Review (MPR) of the Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change (PACC) project has taken place in Port Vila, Vanuatu. The project, implemented by the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) and the United Nations Development Programme, helps coordinate national 'on the ground' activities in 13 island countries to assist adaptation to climate change in three main areas – food security and production, coastal management and water resources management. Thanking participants in the review process, Taito Nakalevu, SPREP PACC Project Manager, noted that "the MPR was conducted in excellent pursuit and collaboration and we have a clear direction on how we will take the project from here, we have before us a lot of substantive work and we need to continue to scale up." The Micronesia Leaders Summit recently endorsed the PACC project, which will become a strategy within the Micronesia Challenge. In the Federated States of Micronesia, PACC has helped develop a climate change law in Kosrae that ensures climate change is a consideration in building infrastructure and environmental impact assessment. There are plans to replicate the law in other islands.
Using satellite data alone to assess the difference in aerosol concentrations between the pre-industrial and present-day atmosphere has led to an underestimate of the trend and its impact on climate, according to a new study by scientists in the United States. "We found that using satellite data to try to infer how much radiation is reflected today compared to the amount reflected in the pollution-free pre-industrial atmosphere is very inaccurate," commented Joyce Penner from the University of Michigan. "The satellite estimates are way too small."
The satellite-based estimates have been used to criticize global aerosol model projections. "There are things about the global model that should fit the satellite data but don't, so I won't argue that the models necessarily are correct. But we've explained why satellite estimates and the models are so different," Penner said. "If one uses the relationship between aerosol optical depth — essentially a measure of the thickness of the aerosols — and droplet number from satellites, then one can get the wrong answer by a factor of three to six." She recommends a strategy that uses models in conjunction with the satellite data.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, speaking at the Academic Impact Forum in Seoul, called on the world's academic community to find solutions to global hunger and malnutrition, develop ideas to promote sustainable and inclusive development and advance tolerance through mutual respect and understanding. "We need to focus on the links among hunger, water and energy, so that solutions to one can become solutions to all. The academic community can help us connect the dots," he said.
Academic Impact is a global initiative that aligns institutions of higher education with the United Nations to actively support ten universally accepted principles in areas such as human rights, literacy, sustainability and conflict resolution. "Let's call this initiative 'intellectual social responsibility,'" said Ban. "If we can achieve this initiative, we will make the world fairer and wiser." Academic Impact has spawned an offshoot known as Action by Students to Promote Innovation and Reform through Education (ASPIRE).
China is likely to move beyond curbing carbon intensity and set absolute emissions limits for certain industries in certain regions. "Setting limits on the absolute amounts of carbon that can be emitted will make it possible to carry out trades of emission credits," commented Sun Zhen from the National Development and Reform Commission.
Sun said that iron and steel companies, cement plants and other high energy-use businesses are likely to have limits set, with wealthy regions such as the Yangtze River Delta and the Pearl River Delta targeted. A monitoring and statistics system will be developed for verification purposes as a basis for carbon trading. China plans to reduce the amount of carbon it emits for each unit of GDP by 40 to 45 per cent below its 2005 level by the year 2010.
The famine affecting parts of Somalia is likely to continue to the end of the year and cover all of the south of the country, according to the latest United Nations assessment. Three new areas, including Mogadishu and the world's largest camp for displaced people at Afgoye, have been declared to have reached famine levels by the Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit (FSNAU). "The rest of southern Somalia is suffering severe food insecurity and is also likely to reach famine levels within the next six weeks, despite the mounting relief effort," the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports.
OCHA says that at least 2.8 million people, including 1.25 million children, are in dire need of assistance in southern Somalia and that nearly half of Somalia's estimated ten million people require humanitarian aid. FSNAU described the drought as "the most severe humanitarian crisis in the world today and Africa's worst food security crisis since Somalia's 1991-92 famine." Drought is also affecting parts of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, but restrictions on aid transport and supply by the Shebab rebels has rendered southern Somalia particularly vulnerable. With an estimated US$2.4 billion required to assist those affected by drought across the Horn of Africa, only half has so far been received.
Arctic scientist Charles Monnett, recently suspended by the United States Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), has been told that he will face questioning concerning his oversight of research contracts, particularly a study by University of Alberta scientist Andrew Derocher regarding the response of polar bears to the changing environment. Monnett's own research has contributed significantly to concern regarding the impact of climate change on the polar bear.
Jeff Ruch from Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which is defending Monnett, said that Monnett's management of the study had been approved by his supervisors at BOEMRE. "Every aspect of this study was approved by his chain of command, with a fairly transparent paper trail," he said. He said that PEER's concern is that the inspector general's office "has expanded its vindictive fishing expedition [beyond a research paper on polar bear drownings published by Monnett] into yet another area beyond its expertise." The group is seeking the documents BOEMRE used to justify Monnett's suspension.
A scientist with the United States Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE), Charles Monnett, whose work has contributed to concern regarding the potential impact of global warming on the polar bear, has been suspended pending an investigation into "integrity issues." In 2006, Monnett and a colleague, Jeffrey Gleason, published a peer-reviewed report of sightings of drowned polar bears in open waters following a storm. The work featured in the documentary An Inconvenient Truth. Polar bears are now classified by the United States as a threatened species due to climate change.
An official complaint has been filed on Monnett's behalf by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). "You have to wonder," said Jeff Ruch, PEER executive director, "this is the guy in charge of all the science in the Arctic and he is being suspended just now as an arm of the interior department is getting ready to make its decision on offshore drilling in the Arctic seas." According to PEER, Monnett has not been informed of any specific charge or question relating to the scientific integrity of his work and the probe is being conducted by criminal investigators with no scientific training or background. "Ever since this paper was published, Dr Monnett has been subjected to escalating official harassment, culminating in his recent virtual house arrest," Ruch said. The head of BOEMRE, Michael Bromwich, has told agency staff in Alaska by email that the suspension is the result of new information regarding a separate subject.
Detailed data regarding the greenhouse gas contribution of dairy farming have been collected by a team of scientists from the United States Department of Agriculture. "We've calculated some of the first on-farm emission rates for western large-scale dairies, along with emissions per cow and per unit of milk production," said April Leytem from the Agricultural Research Service.
Emission rates were measured at a commercial dairy farm for open lots, a wastewater pond and a compost yard. The open lots were responsible for the highest levels of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions, generating 80 per cent of the carbon dioxide and 57 per cent of the nitrous oxide. The lots also generated 74 per cent of the facility's methane emissions during the spring. "Dairy producers have been very supportive of this work," Leytem commented. "Now we want to start improving models that state and federal regulators can use to generate estimates for on-farm emissions from commercial dairy facilities."
The International Telecommunications Union (ITU), meeting in Ghana, has called on the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to adopt agreed methodology for measuring the carbon footprint of information and communications technology (ICT) equipment, such as mobile 'phones, and its inclusion in national adaptation and mitigation plans. This, it is noted, would provide an incentive to the ICT industry to invest in developing countries, help reduce the digital divide and at the same time help fight climate change.
The ITU Call for Action also notes the potential for ICT to assist in adaptation efforts and the critical role that it can play in providing education and information through broadcasting, the internet and other means of communication. The ITU has launched a model project in Ghana, sponsored by Research in Motion, to consider how ICTs could be used to help Africa adapt to the effects of climate change and how telecommunications operations can reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions. The project will pilot the ITU methodology for environmental assessment in the sector.
The United Nations has declared a famine in two regions of southern Somalia and appealed for urgent resources to assist millions of drought-affected people. "Every day of delay in assistance is literally a matter of life or death for children and their families in the famine-affected areas," said Mark Bowden, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia. He reported that malnutrition rates in Somalia are currently the highest in the world. In the two regions of southern Bakool and Lower Shabelle, deaths among children under the age of five are exceeding six per 10,000 per day in some areas.
Successive droughts have hit the nation in recent years and ongoing conflict has made it extremely difficult for agencies to operate. Head of the World Food Programme (WFP), Josette Sheeran, said: "Operations in Somalia are among the highest risk in the world, and WFP has lost 14 relief workers there since 2008. We will aggressively pursue efforts to mitigate against risk, through robust assessments and monitoring, but I am calling on all sides to stand together in recognizing the inevitable risks that will be present in southern Somalia." The Food and Agriculture Organization is convening an emergency meeting in Rome to address the escalating crisis in the Horn of Africa and mobilize international support.
Global agreement has been reached through the International Maritime Organization to limit greenhouse gas emissions from shipping by tightening the energy efficiency design index (EEDI). Ships over 400 tonnes built after 2013 must improve their efficiency by 10 per cent. The efficiency target rises progressively to 30 per cent for ships delivered after 2024. Greenhouse gas emissions should be reduced by 45-50m tonnes a year by 2020. Efficiency improvements could be achieved through better engine design, more efficient hull shapes, improved waste heat recovery systems and coatings that make hulls more slippery.
Concern has been expressed that the agreement does not go far enough. "There will be no change to existing ships which are currently pumping out a billion tones of carbon dioxide each year, and for new ships it will take another dozen years until the EEDI is really delivering benefits. Operational changes could be delivering major benefits today," said Jacqueline Savitz from Oceana. Moreover, China, Brazil, Saudi Arabia and South Africa have secured a six and a half year delay for new ships registered in developing countries. Despite the new agreement, the European Commission may proceed with plans to bring shipping into its emissions trading scheme.
A special meeting of the United Nations Security Council has considered how to respond to conflicts generated by climate change. There are divergent views regarding whether or not the Security Council's brief should cover climate change. Ambassador Susan Rice said that the United States strongly believed the council "has an essential responsibility to address the clear-cut peace and security implications of a changing climate," and should "start now." China has historically been in opposition and, at the recent meeting, Russia forced a weakening of the final statement.
Small island states have long argued that the Security Council should tackle the climate issue. "The security council should join the general assembly in recognizing climate change as a threat to international peace and security," wrote Marcus Stephen, the president of Nauru, in the New York Times. "It is a threat as great as nuclear proliferation or global terrorism," he continued. Stephen is calling for a special representative on climate and security to be appointed. The final statement from the special meeting expresses "concern that possible adverse effects of climate change may, in the long run, aggravate certain existing threats to international peace and security." Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is requested to include information on possible climate impacts in his regular reports on global trouble-spots.
Urban plants make a significant contribution to limiting climate change as they remove carbon from the atmosphere, according to a survey of the amount of vegetation in the British city of Leicester. In the United Kingdom, land classified as urban is assumed to have a zero biological carbon density. The new study shows this assumption is incorrect. "There is a substantial pool of carbon locked away in the vegetation within a city," Zoe Davies from the University of Kent reported.
"Large trees are particularly important carbon stores," Davies said. "Most of the publicly owned land across Leicester is grassland. If just 10 per cent of this was planted with trees, the existing carbon pool across the city could be increased by 12 per cent." The British government aims to cut carbon emissions by at least 80 per cent below 1990 levels by the year 2050. "Although it is not a panacea for emissions reduction, our results demonstrate the potential benefits of accounting for, mapping and appropriately managing above-ground vegetation carbon stores, even within a typical densely urbanized European city," Davies commented. The survey is part of a larger assessment of the urban carbon footprint.
Over the year 2010, renewable energy supplied an estimated 16 per cent of global final energy consumption and nearly 20 per cent of global electricity generation, reports the Renewable Energy Policy Network for the 21st Century (REN21). Global solar power generation doubled in 2010 over 2009 due to incentive programmes and the falling price of photovoltaic panels.
The REN21 report concludes that renewable energy policies continue to be the main driver behind renewable energy growth. By early 2011, at least 119 countries had some type of policy target or support policy, with more than half of these countries in the developing world. Of all the policies used by governments to support renewable power generation, feed-in tariffs remain the most common. "The global performance of renewable energy despite headwinds has been a positive constant in turbulent times," said Mohamed el-Ashry, who chairs the REN21 steering committee.
The Earth's soils and oceans are becoming less effective in buffering global warming as the climate system alters, report scientists from Europe and the United States. On land, the increasing amount of carbon in the air is accelerating the release of methane and nitrous oxide from the soil as microscopic organisms thrive, offsetting gains due to the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. "This feedback to our changing atmosphere means that nature is not as efficient in slowing global warming as we previously thought," said Kees Jan van Groenigen of Trinity College Dublin, who reviewed 49 studies of the process.
In a second study, thirty years' data for the North Atlantic Ocean suggest that rising air and water temperatures are slowing oceanic absorption of carbon over the tropics. Warmer water cannot hold as much carbon dioxide as colder water. The researchers found that the ocean uptake was highly dependent on the area and period analysed. "Because the ocean is so variable, we need at least 25 years' worth of data to really see the effect of carbon accumulation in the atmosphere," said University of Wisconsin-Madison assistant professor Galen McKinley. "This is a big issue in many branches of climate science – what is natural variability, and what is climate change?"
Hosted by South Africa and Germany, the second Petersberg Climate Dialogue took place in Berlin, Germany, last week. Norbert Röttgen, German environment minister, reported that all participants had agreed that the Kyoto Protocol is "not dead." Moreover, he said all agreed that the Protocol is "a paradigm on how environmental policy can be designed, with the participation of other countries." The Petersberg Climate Dialogue aims to provide further impetus to the formal negotiating process under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change.
Though prospects for any form of substantial long-term agreement in the foreseeable future remain slim, Röttgen felt that the Berlin meeting had achieved results. "We discussed things we hadn't before," he said. It was recognized at the meeting that the "incremental" approach adopted since the disappointing outcome of the Copenhagen Climate Change Conference had been successful. Hence, the forthcoming Durban Climate Change Conference should address outstanding issues and operationalize the Cancún decisions. The possibility of a transitional phase to ensure continuation of a rules-based system as the Kyoto Protocol's first commitment period ended in 2012 was discussed as a potential Durban outcome. South Africa has announced plans for further meetings in September and October in the run-up to the Durban summit.
The European parliament has rejected a proposal to toughen the European Union's position on emissions reductions to a 30 per cent cut by 2020 after a rebellion by British members of parliament (MEPs). The Conservative MEPs had tabled a series of amendments that would have substantially weakened the resolution. Bas Eickhout, the Green MEP who authored the proposal, said that it was "with great regret that I was forced to recommend MEPs to reject my own report after it was hijacked by amendments from conservative and centre-right MEPs."
The Conservative MEPs went against the party line, despite intervention from Downing Street. Andy Atkins from Friends of the Earth, commented that "as well as snubbing David Cameron, Tory MEPs are defying the latest scientific advice and playing fast and loose with our future." Nicholas Stern, chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment in the United Kingdom, described the outcome as a "missed opportunity." "The European Union risks falling behind in the economic growth story of the future," he said. The leader of the Conservative party in the European parliament, Martin Callanan, said: Conservative MEPs have always been sceptical of the European Union unilaterally increasing its target to 30 per cent without a worldwide agreement. I am in favour of increasing the European Union target to 30 per cent, or even higher, in the context of a global agreement where our competitor countries take similar action."
Humanity needs a new technological revolution to ensure the sustainability of the planet, according to the 2011 World Economic and Social Survey from the United Nations. The report concludes that US$1.9 trillion per year will be needed over the next 40 years for incremental investments in green technologies. Increasing food and energy demands mean that at least US$1.1 trillion of that will be needed in developing countries.
"Business as usual is not an option," said lead author of the report, Rob Vos from the United Nations Development Policy and Analysis Division. "Even if we stop the global engines of growth now, resource depletion and pollution of our natural environment would continue because of existing production methods and consumption habits. Without drastic improvements in and diffusion of green technologies, we will not reverse the ongoing ecological destruction and secure a decent livelihood for all of humankind, now and in the future."
The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) has expressed concern about the continued harassment of climate scientists, warning that such tactics could harm scientific progress. In a statement, the AAAS board of directors say that the association "vigorously opposes attacks on researchers that question their personal and professional integrity or threaten their safety based on displeasure with their scientific conclusions."
Noting that "the sharing of research data is vastly different from unreasonable, excessive Freedom of Information Act requests for personal information and voluminous data that are then used to harass and intimidate scientists," the Board warns that "establishing a practice of aggressive inquiry into the professional histories of scientists whose findings may bear on policy in ways that some find unpalatable could well have a chilling effect on the willingness of scientists to conduct research that intersects with policy-relevant scientific questions." In June, the Australian National University in Canberra moved climate scientists to a secure location after they received a large number of threatening emails and phone calls.
The world is continuing to warm and greenhouse gases are accumulating in the atmosphere at an increasing rate, according to the annual State of the Climate report for 2010 from the United States National Climatic Data Center. "There is a clear and unmistakable signal from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans," commented Peter Thorne of the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites at North Carolina State University.
The warmth of 2010 was partly related to the El Niño event that prevailed in the first half of the year. Combined with the underlying long-term warming trend, the El Niño influence resulted in a global temperature that was one of the two highest on record. The Arctic continued to warm at about twice the rate of lower latitudes and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased by 2.60 parts per million over 2010, greater than the average annual increase during the period 1980-2010.
Ten million people in the Horn of Africa are suffering the effects of a drought that is, in some regions, the worst in 60 years. Lack of rain and rising food prices have led to serious food shortages in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia and Uganda, with livestock mortality reaching 60 per cent in some parts. "In some areas the situation is close to that of famine," reported Elisabeth Byrs for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
During 2011, around 15,000 Somalis a month have been leaving for Kenya and Uganda. "While conflict has been a fact of life for them for years, it is the drought that has taken them to breaking point. Many have walked for days, are exhausted, in poor health, desperate for food and water, and arriving in a worse condition than usual," according to an OCHA update. OCHA is calling on governments, donors and relief agencies to scale up the emergency response in all affected areas.
As the Fifth Asia-Pacific Urban Forum opened in Bangkok, Noeleen Heyzer, head of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), warned that "to make our cities inclusive and sustainable, we need to address economic growth, environmental sustainability, poverty reduction and resilience to climate change." This, she said, requires that we take a fresh look at how cities are managed.
According to a recent report from housing agency UN-HABITAT and ESCAP, uncontrolled urbanization and rapid population increase, lack of planning and poor infrastructure are resulting in environmental damage and increasing vulnerability to extreme weather and climate. Over half of the region's urban population lives in low-lying coastal zones or flood plains. The report's coordinator Bharat Dahiya, from UN-HABITAT, cited a number of obstacles that are hampering efforts to make cities resilient in the face of climate change. Alongside inadequate efforts to integrate climate change into policies and programmes and an absence of city-specific strategies, he said that "inadequate technical, institutional and financial capacities that impede the local-level planning and its implementation that directly addresses the vulnerabilities associated with the impacts of climate change." "We simply do not have the luxury of growing first and cleaning up later," Heyzer concludes.
An international panel of marine experts has warned that the world's oceans are at high risk of entering an unprecedented phase of species' extinctions. Alex Rogers, scientific director of the International Programme on the State of the Ocean, the panel's convenor, said: "The findings are shocking. As we considered the cumulative effect of what humankind does to the ocean the implications became far worse than we had individually realized. This is a very serious situation demanding unequivocal action at every level. We are looking at consequences for humankind that will impact in our lifetime, and worse, our children's and generations beyond that."
The scientific panel concluded that the combined effect of pollution, acidification, warming, over-fishing and deoxygenation is creating the conditions associated with every previous major extinction of species in Earth's history. The speed and rate of degeneration is far faster than anyone has predicted and many of the negative impacts previously identified are greater than the worst predictions. It warned that the rising threat to reef-forming corals may be the first step towards globally-significant extinction. The panel recommends the reduction of carbon emissions, restoration of the structure and function of marine ecosystems, proper and universal implementation of the precautionary principle and the urgent introduction by the United Nations of effective governance of the high seas.
Al Gore, former United States vice president, has heavily criticized President Barack Obama for not giving leadership on the climate issue. Writing in Rolling Stone, Gore said that Obama has never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis. "He has simply not made the case for action. He has not defended the science against the ongoing, withering and dishonest attacks. Nor has he provided a presidential venue for the scientific community - including our own National Academy - to bring the reality of the science before the public," he charged.
Defending Obama's record, Clark Stevens, White House assistant press officer secretary, said, in a statement, that: "The president has been clear since Day 1 that climate change poses a threat domestically and globally, and under his leadership we have taken the most aggressive steps in our country’s history to tackle this challenge." He cited billions of dollars committed to clean-energy technology, tough new emissions standards for cars and trucks and the lead taken in the international climate negotiations. Gore accused the White House of backing down on climate measures. "After successfully passing his green stimulus package, he did nothing to defend it when Congress decimated its funding. After the House passed cap and trade, he did little to make passage in the Senate a priority," he wrote.
The latest round of climate negotiations ended with political motivation still lacking in responding to the climate threat. "There are at least two realities here that we have to bring together," commented Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. "On one hand, science is saying our emissions in the atmosphere have to peak in 2015. That makes things that much more pressing for governments. The other reality is tied to politics and economics, which also affect climate deals," she continued. Little progress was made with regard to the future of the Kyoto Protocol, one of the major negotiating issues. "There are still many countries in the climate talks that don't want to see results and try to slow things down by bringing up procedural questions about the negotiations," said Martin Kaiser of Greenpeace Germany.
Progress was made in operationalizing the various support mechanisms for developing countries agreed in Cancún. "Strong convergence has emerged on how the Adaptation Committee will be governed, what its composition will be and what its specific role will be," Figueres said. "This progress means that the Committee could be fully operationalized at Durban." Discussions concerning the Green Climate Fund continued, with reservations expressed regarding some financing proposals. "On long-term finance, some developed countries stressed innovating sources of money, such as introducing market mechanisms and global carbon tax, aviation and shipping tax," said Su Wei, head of the Chinese delegation, expressing concern that some of these means would transfer the obligation of financing to developing countries. No date has yet been set for the next negotiating round.
The Sun may be about to enter a quiet phase, scientists from the National Solar Observatory (NSO) and the Air Force Research Laboratory in the United States report. Three independent indicators - the state of the solar interior, the visible surface and corona - suggest that the next sunspot cycle will be very weak or may not take place at all. "This is highly unusual and unexpected," said Frank Hill of NSO. "But the fact that three completely different views of the sun point in the same direction is a powerful indicator that the sunspot cycle may be going into hibernation."
The most recent extended period of low solar activity, the Maunder Minimum, in the late 17th century coincided with the most severe phase of a period of low temperatures in Europe, a period known as the Little Ice Age. Cooling on a scale that could significantly offset greenhouse warming is, however, considered unlikely even in the event of a prolonged solar minimum. "In my opinion, it is a huge leap to an abrupt global cooling, since the connections between solar activity and climate are still very poorly understood," Hill said. Joanna Haigh at Imperial College London commented: "It would certainly be very risky to suggest that we rely on the sun's activity to compensate for global warming. In a future Grand Minimum, the sun might perhaps again cool the planet by up to 1 degree Celsius. Greenhouse gases, on the other hand, are expected to raise global temperatures by between 1.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius by 2100."
A new survey of the world's barrier islands has concluded that sea-level rise may have mixed effects on these coastal features. A gradual rise in sea level could create new barrier islands, but a rapid rise, particularly when coupled with decreased sediment supply, would lead to inundation, breakup and disappearance.
"It would be nice if we could say we can predict exactly how a given island or island chain will react to rising sea levels or some other environmental change, but we're simply not there yet for most islands, especially for many tropical islands where research dollars are scarce," said lead investigator Matthew Stutz of Meredith College in Raleigh, North Carolina, United States. "We're still a long way from being able to accurately model how an individual island will change as a result of climate change or even simple development pressure." The survey was based on a global collection of satellite images from Landsat 7 and information from topographic and navigational charts.
"Governments lit a beacon in Cancún towards a low-emission world which is resilient to climate change. They committed themselves to a maximum global average temperature rise of two degrees Celsius, with further consideration of a 1.5 degree maximum," noted Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, as the latest round of climate negotiations began in Bonn, Germany. "Now, more than ever, it is critical that all efforts are mobilized towards living up to this commitment," she continued. As an immediate step, the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS) has called for the voluntary emissions control pledges made in Cancún to be made legally-binding. "If we're going to get started urgently we need to provide the confidence which you can only get from a legal agreement, so let's take what we did in Cancún and make it binding," said Leon Charles, AOSIS chief negotiator.
The Bonn talks are covering, amongst other issues, the future architecture of the international climate regime and the design of the finance, technology and adaptation institutions agreed in Cancún. Extending the Kyoto Protocol beyond 2012 should be the negotiators' main priority, according to Argentina's ambassador to the United Nations, Jorge Arguello, speaking on behalf of the G77 group of 130 developing nations and China. "The G77 and China clearly looks to Durban to move forward with a second commitment period of the Kyoto Protocol," he said. Canada, Japan and Russia, who ratified the existing Protocol, and the United States, who did not, have all, in effect, rejected involvement in any extension of the Kyoto Protocol. Arguello described a second round of commitments without Japan, Russia and Canada as "possible," depending on "the level of solidarity those countries want to show to the rest of the planet." Figueres has warned that there will be a gap between the Protocol's first and second commitment periods because of the time needed to amend the agreement and then have it ratified by member states.
The contribution of deforestation to climate change is being offset by rising forest density in some countries, a survey of 68 countries concludes. In Europe and North America, for instance, the carbon stored in forests increased over the past decade despite no change in total area. "The great role of density means that not only conservation of forest area but also managing denser, healthier forests can mitigate carbon emission," commented study leader Aapo Rautiainen of the University of Helsinki in Finland.
A 50 per cent increase in the area of tropical forest managed sustainably has occurred in just five years, according to the International Tropical Timber Organization (ITTO). "We are, of course, happy to see the progress that has occurred in the last five years, but it still represents an incremental advance, and some countries are still lagging behind," said Emmanuel Ze Meka, ITTO executive director. "We fully support the emergence of new markets for 'green' timber and the recent push to include forests in a climate change accord, but in many countries these developments alone may not be transformational," he added. Demand for certified wood is not likely to affect a large part of the forest estate and the expected returns may not materialize, he explained. In some nations, conflict has hampered the development of the institutions and actions necessary for sustainable forest management. Elsewhere, resources are not available to adequately supervise the forest management regime. "[The] report shows that less than ten per cent of all forests are sustainably managed," commented Andy White, coordinator of the Rights and Resources Initiative. "The report also shows that reforming tenure and supporting community forestry are needed to prevent the continued loss of tropical forests and the industrial clearing and logging that leads to deforestation, poverty and human rights abuses."
The role of mangrove restoration in capturing and storing carbon has been quantified under a new methodology adopted by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. "The fact that this new methodology is now part of the Clean Development Mechanism should allow us to achieve similar results for other types of coastal and marine ecosystems," commented Carl Gustaf Lundin of the Global Marine and Polar Programme of the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN). Other "blue carbon" approaches involve salt marshes, seagrasses, kelp forests and wetlands.
"The new methodology will open up opportunities for mangrove restoration on a far greater scale," said Bernard Giraud of food company Danone, who partnered with IUCN, the Ramsar Convention on Wetlands and Sylvestrum in its development. "It will have a very significant impact on local communities and will stimulate companies to make corporate-level investment and grasp new carbon offsetting opportunities in coastal regions," he explained. The mangrove ecosystem provides many services to local communities, including coastal protection and livelihood support. "People only begin to realise that it's a win-win all round and then you throw in the carbon sequestration and the value of your mangrove forests, it goes up again," said Taholo Kami of IUCN Oceania. "And these are the sorts of things we are trying to get governments to commit to, recognising the importance of mangroves on a national scale and then engaging communities of landowners, and one way or another to manage what they have."
"The possibility of a new financial bubble that will be created through [the] carbon market is very big," warns Pablo Solón, Bolivia's chief climate negotiator. "There are many problems related to the carbon market that are not really under control at all," he said, noting that a tonne of carbon can be bought for around US$15 and sold for US$100. "From our point of view, to launch and to create all this business to solve [the climate] problem through this new market mechanism is not a good solution," he added.
After rapid growth during the second half of the past decade, the World Bank reports that emissions trading fell by about US$2 billion in 2010. "The global carbon market stagnated even as the global economy stabilized and began a tentative recovery in 2010," according to the authors of the World Bank report. "The year may be remembered most for the political opportunities that arose, yet were ultimately failed to materialize," they continue. Clean Development Project proposals in May 2011 were, however, at their highest for three years, according to the Risoe Centre of the United Nations Environment Programme. It is thought that project developers may be rushing to get projects fully registered before the end of the first Kyoto Protocol commitment period in 2012.
Analysis of the link between cholera outbreaks and temperature and rainfall fluctuations in Tanzania suggests that global warming could result in a substantial increase in incidence, according to researchers at the International Vaccine Institute (IVI) in Seoul. "Based on the results of this analysis we would expect a very high cholera caseload in Asia and Africa if the temperatures hit the higher end of [the range of global temperature predictions]," said Mohammad Ali from IVI.
The immediate application of the work lies in short-term forecasting. "We are getting very close to developing a reliable forecasting system that would monitor temperatures and rainfall patterns to trigger pre-emptive measures - like mobilizing public health teams or emergency vaccination efforts - to prepare for an outbreak before it arrives," said Rita Reyburn, a researcher at IVI. The study suggests that cholera cases were likely to double within four months when the average monthly minimum temperature rose by one degree Celsius.
The fragmentation of Europe's forests is increasing vulnerability to climate change, according to a United Nations report to be released mid-month. Though the overall forested area in Europe is increasing, the report concludes, fires, felling and agriculture are creating isolated patches of forest that are less able to stabilize soils and supply sufficient water to the cities, companies and communities that rely on these ecosystems.
Plans are being developed for the creation of green corridors that will reconnect forested areas. It is hoped that targets for restoring links between forest patches will be set at the forthcoming Forest Europe Ministerial Conference as part of European Forests 2020. The meeting will also see negotiations start on a legally-binding forest agreement for Europe.
Tracking the fast start financial pledges to support poorer nations respond to climate change made under the Copenhagen Accord is proving difficult, concludes the latest assessment by the World Resources Institute (WRI) in the United States. For example, what climate aid is covered by the 2011 United States budget is not clear: "We haven't been able to make sense of the numbers," commented analyst Clifford Polycarp.
While pledges of nearly US$28 billion have been announced to meet the US$30 billion Copenhagen commitment, the information available on the funding from donors is neither complete nor consistent. Whether or not finance is "new and additional," in the words of the Accord, is a critical concern. Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States, for example, have all included existing commitments from 2008 in their post-Copenhagen pledges. To build trust, WRI recommends that developed countries improve their fast-start finance reporting by, for example, including detailed and transparent information on scale, method for determining that the money is new and additional, channelling institutions, objective, geographic distribution, status of the pledge and type of financial instrument.
Global sea level could rise by up to a metre during the present century, according to a new assessment by the Australian Climate Commission. The projection is higher than the 2007 estimate from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which, it was acknowledged, was based on incomplete information. "We're five years down the track now, we know more about how those big ice sheets are behaving," said report author Will Stefen of the Australian National University, Canberra.
At the lower end of the range of projections, a rise of half a metre, the report warns that significant impacts could still occur as, for example, sea-level rise increases the risk of inundation in the coastal cities of Sydney and Melbourne. "This is the decade we have to act," concluded Climate Commission chair Tim Flannery. "In Australia we are seeing the impacts more clearly, we've seen the sea level rise that was predicted, we've seen the decline in rainfall continue particularly in the southwest of Western Australia, we've seen impacts on the Great Barrier Reef and so forth," he said.
Climate change is increasing the risk of allergies, according to research from the United States Department of Agriculture. The ragweed season has been extended by more than two weeks in areas of the northern United States and by almost a month in parts of Canada. Pollen from ragweed, used in the study as an allergy marker, can cause hay-fever and asthma flare-ups.
"This is not something that's hypothesized, this is not something that's modelled, this is not something that may or may not occur depending on the math that you do," commented author Lewis Ziska. "This is something that we're actually seeing on the ground in recent years." Ragweed blooms when the days start getting shorter and stops flowering as the first frost occurs. Global warming has delayed the first frost, extending the ragweed season.
The Brazilian government has created a "crisis cabinet" to crack down on illegal logging after a surge in Amazonian deforestation. "The order is to suffocate environmental crime," said environment minister Izabella Teixeira. By the end of the year, environmental protection agency Ibama will launch 200 operations, supported by armed federal police operatives, in the soy-growing state of Mato Grosso, where farmers are said to be converting large areas of native forest.
A new study by Brazil's National Institute for Space Research and the Hadley Centre in the United Kingdom has warned that a tipping point could be reached if 40 per cent of the Amazonian forest were to be removed as the regional climate impact of forest loss is exacerbated by global climate change. Even a reduction of 30 per cent in forest area might significantly affect the region's hydrological cycle, threatening local ecosystems. As global climate change develops and deforestation increases the frequency of drought, over half the Amazonian forest could be lost over the next twenty years, the study concludes.
The United Kingdom is adopting the most ambitious greenhouse gas targets of any developed nation, a 50 per cent reduction below the 1990 level in carbon emissions by the year 2025. "By making this commitment," said Prime Minister David Cameron, "we will position the United Kingdom as a leading player in the global low-carbon economy, creating significant new industries and jobs." "This is a recognition that to be very ambitious on public spending [cuts] does not mean you can't be ambitious on climate change targets," commented Connie Hedegaard, European Union climate change commissioner.
The British government is, with some conditions, accepting the recommendations of the independent Committee on Climate Change for a new carbon budget. To meet the 2025 target, the committee projects that heat pumps will have had to be installed in 2.6 million homes and 31 per cent of new cars will have to be electric. Forty per cent of the nation's power should come from wind, wave and tide sources by 2030. David Kennedy, chief executive of the committee, said: "We have moved into uncharted territory and are going to be watched carefully by other countries. No one else has a target like this."
The world must decouple the rate of economic growth from that of natural resource consumption, concludes a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). If not, by 2050, humanity could be consuming three times the current amount of minerals, ores, fossil fuels and biomass, "far beyond what is sustainable," according to the International Resource Panel report. "Decoupling is not about stopping growth. It's about doing more with less. Global resource consumption is exploding. It's not a trend that is in any way sustainable," commented Ernst von Weizsacker, co-chair of the panel.
"Decoupling makes sense on all the economic, social and environmental dials," said Achim Steiner, UNEP executive director. "People believe environmental 'bads' are the price we must pay for economic 'goods'. However, we cannot, and need not, continue to act as if this trade-off is inevitable," he continued. "Decoupling is part of a transition to a low carbon, resource-efficient Green Economy needed in order to stimulate growth, generate decent kinds of employment and eradicate poverty in a way that keeps humanity's footprint within planetary boundaries."
Mega-fires could be contributing to global warming as numbers increase, according to a report from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). "Mega-fires are mainly caused by humans and are likely exacerbated by climate change, but now we suspect they may also in themselves represent a vicious circle that is speeding up global warming," said FAO forestry officer Pieter van Lierop. The report concludes that monitoring of carbon emissions from wildfires is needed to better determine the potential impact on world climate.
"If we know that drought is one of the main contributing factors to the mega-fires, and we know that we're getting to a time of climate change where many parts of the world the climate will become dryer, we can expect a lot more mega-fires than we've had until now," van Lierop warned. "Unless, of course, we look at ways [of] how we can better deal with vegetation of forest and landscape in general by maintaining them in a different way and treating them in a different way," he continued. The report concludes that "the onset of mega-fires should challenge governments around the world to adapt wildfire protection programs to confront causes and contributory factors; not chase symptoms."
Economic losses associated with natural catastrophes have outpaced wealth creation in some regions, leading government representatives to pledge to put disaster preparedness at the forefront of plans to protect communities. "Participants at the Third Global Platform [for Disaster Risk Reduction] have recognized the urgency that we face, and realized clearly that the world needed to act quickly and in concrete ways to make the world safer," commented Margareta Wahlström, the Secretary-General's Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction.
The first-ever World Reconstruction Conference, convened by the World Bank, the United Nations and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, was held alongside the Global Platform. Participants agreed to develop a global framework for international cooperation in reconstruction financing and technical assistance. The framework would better define roles and responsibilities within clear institutional arrangements, effectively capitalize on the strengths of each stakeholder, clearly place countries in the driver's seat on decision-making and resource allocation, provide in-time relevant knowledge and lessons learned through existing networks of practitioners, assist in establishing robust and transparent quality and result monitoring systems and improve systems and instruments for recovery and reconstruction finance.
Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, has called on governments to accelerate talks on emissions reductions ahead of the next climate change summit in South Africa. "This means confronting the open political question of the future of the Kyoto Protocol, the only agreement today that captures binding commitments by industrialized countries," she said.
Figueres also highlighted the need to design the new climate institutions that will provide adequate and efficient climate support to developing countries, including the green climate fund, the technology mechanism and the setting up of the climate change adaptation committee. She said that, alongside the negotiations, there were encouraging trends, such as a move, even by large economies, towards new policies that promote low-carbon growth and increasing private sector investment in low-carbon business and renewable energy. "So, in Durban," she concluded, "governments need to take further steps to drive both of those very important trends and faster."
According to the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme (AMAP), sea levels could rise by 1.6m by the year 2100. The latest assessment by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change suggests sea levels will probably rise by 18 to 59cm by the end of the present century, but this estimate does not incorporate the full effect of melting ice. The new AMAP assessment concludes that ice loss from Arctic glaciers, ice caps and the Greenland Ice Sheet will make a substantial contribution to the rise in sea levels.
The overall change in Arctic climate is occurring more rapidly than expected, the report observes. "The changes we see are dramatic," commented contributor Margareta Johansson from Lund University in Sweden. "And they are not coincidental. The trends are unequivocal and deviate from the norm when compared with a longer term perspective," she continued. "In our Inuit communities we are observing, with growing concern, the various changes in the weather and environment in our Arctic homelands, which are linked to the global climate changes," said Parnuna Egede, an advisor on environmental issues at the Inuit Circumpolar Council, as a conference launching the AMAP report, Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic, opened in Copenhagen. "As a species, we act like two year olds," accused James White from the University of Colorado in the United States. The world must stop acting like "hungry, uncontrollable toddlers" - it's time to shape up and get serious, he said.
A series of legal actions, aiming to have the atmosphere declared a "public trust" deserving special protection, are being filed in the United States on behalf of children and young people. The campaign is being led by Our Children's Trust, a non-profit organization based in Oregon.
16-year-old Alec Loorz from California is named as a plaintiff and is helping run the legal campaign, finding teenagers across the country to sign onto the lawsuits. "The legislative and executive branches of our government have failed us," he said. "People have been trying to push for real change at the legislative level for a long time, and nothing has worked. That's why we're going after it through the judicial branch of government."
Renewable energies are set to surge by 2050 and costs cuts will result from expected advances in technology, a draft report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concludes. Based on a review of 164 energy scenarios, the assessment will be released this week at an IPCC meeting in Abu Dhabi.
"The cost of most renewable energy technologies has declined, and significant additional technical advancements are expected," the draft report states. "Further cost reductions are expected, resulting in greater potential for climate change mitigation and reducing the need for policy measures to ensure rapid deployment," it continues.
WWF has warned that 568 million acres of forest may disappear by the year 2050 if action isn't taken to limit deforestation and curb climate change. "We are squandering forests now by failing to sort out vital policy issues such as governance and economic incentives to keep forests standing," said Rod Taylor, WWF International Forests director. The WWF report advocates the goal of zero net deforestation and forest degradation - ZNDD - by 2020 as a global benchmark.
The Living Forests report identifies five key issues crucial to limiting deforestation whilst avoiding negative consequences. ZNDD should never be at the expense of biodiversity conservation: agricultural expansion in highly biodiverse grasslands to ease pressure on forests, for example. Strategies should immediately prioritize forests with the highest biodiversity. ZNDD is only possible under good governance, which means secure land tenure, effective laws and policies and empowered, committed local communities whose rights are respected. While much forest destruction is encouraged by market demand, markets can also drive better management. Incentives for high social and environmental standards and bans on trade in illegally-sourced timber can help. Crop and livestock production plays a major role in forest loss so strategies are needed to reduce food waste, meat and dairy intake, energy use and over-consumption among richer people and to ensure poor people have the food, energy and materials they need. Finally, ZNDD needs to be adapted nationally, regionally and locally to ensure that people's welfare is not harmed.
Responding to discussion at the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in Brussels, Connie Hedegaard, European Union climate commissioner, said that, "from what I've heard in these last two days, the conclusion must be that it is highly unlikely that the world will see a legally-binding deal done in Durban." She explained that it was "not that they do not think it's important - but there is just this feeling that it's simply not doable for Durban." Nevertheless, the European Union remains committed to a binding deal. "We're not putting on the brake here," she emphasised.
"I don't think anyone thinks there's going to be an actual, completed legally-binding agreement in Durban," Todd Stern, the United States special envoy for climate change, said following the meeting. Stern said that negotiators at the forum discussed working on "decisions or language that [following the South African summit] would look toward negotiation of a legally-binding agreement in the coming year." Even so, he said that there was no certainty that such a deal would eventually be reached. "I think that there are different views about the sort of degree of necessity or not of a legally-binding agreement," Stern added. "Our view in the United States is that it is not a necessary thing to happen right away."
Global ocean warming could return stored carbon dioxide to the atmosphere faster than the 400 to 1,300 years previously thought, accelerating climate change, according to Australian scientists. "We now think the delay is more like 200 years, possibly even less," said Tas van Ommen of the Australian Antarctic Division in Hobart. The finding stems from analysis of bubbles of carbon dioxide trapped in Antarctic ice cores and records of palaeo-temperature.
Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) in the United States have improved understanding of how clouds affect the amount of sunlight, heat, reaching the Earth's surface. "Clouds are one of the least understood aspects of climate change. They can block the sun, but light can also bounce off one cloud into another cloud's shadow and increase the solar energy hitting earth," said PNNL atmospheric scientist Evgueni Kassianov. The team's results, based on data from the southern Great Plains in Oklahoma, took account of wavelength differences in the degree to which both clouds and aerosols affected direct and scattered sunlight received on the ground. Aerosols proved the bigger contributor to wavelength differences. "If you want to study how aerosols and clouds interact, you need to look in the region of the spectrum where aerosol effects are significant," said Kassianov. "If you want to fish, you go where the fish are biting."
The Arctic coastline is eroding at a rate of 0.5m a year on average as the protection afforded by sea ice is lost, according to a new report from an international consortium of over thirty scientists. The rate of change is particularly marked in the Laptev, East Siberian and Beaufort Seas where, in recent years, erosion rates have reached more than eight metres a year in some areas. "Every single element of the North is going to be affected, right from the engineering side to how the Inuit interact with their environment," commented contributor Wayne Pollard from McGill University in Canada.
New data show that melting glaciers and ice caps on Canadian Arctic islands are contributing more to changing sea levels than had been thought. Over the period 2004 to 2009, the Canadian Archipelago lost 363 cubic kilometres of water, adding one millimetre to the height of the worlds oceans. "This is a region that we previously didn't think was contributing to sea-level rise," said lead author Alex Gardner of the University of Michigan in the United States. "Now we realise that outside of Antarctica and Greenland, it was the largest contributor for the years 2007 through 2009," he continued. Cautioning that the period of analysis was too short to define a long-term trend, he did warn that it was a big response to a small change in climate. "If the warming continues and we start to see similar responses in other glaciated regions, I would say it's worrisome," he concluded.
The United Nations General Assembly debated a holistic approach to sustainable development on International Mother Earth Day, April 22nd. In her opening remarks, Asha-Rose Migiro, deputy secretary-general, said that it was essential to revise accounting methods and embrace a low-carbon, resource-efficient, pro-poor economic model. "We neither factor in the benefits of ecosystems, nor the costs of their destruction," she said. "A country can cut its forests and deplete its fisheries, and yet it shows only as a positive gain in GDP, ignoring the corresponding decline in assets. We count arms sales on the plus side of the ledger, and spend many billions of dollars a year to subsidize coal, gas and oil – with little impact on the lives of the poor," she observed.
"Capitalism's mistake is not having fully incorporated nature as part of capital," observed Bolivian representative Pablo Solón, arguing that a price must be placed on the services that plants, animals and ecosystems provide to humanity. He called for recognition of the rights of all parts of the earth's systems, not just the human part. "To think that only humans should enjoy privileges while other living things are simply objects is the worst mistake humanity has ever made," he said. Solón also called for an end to artificial manipulation of the earth's climate, saying that nature could not be subjected to the "whims of the laboratory."
Who you are and where you live can make a big difference in the impact of carbon-reduction activities, according to a study by Chris Jones and Daniel Kammen of the University of California Berkeley, in the United States. "Everyone has a unique carbon footprint," said Jones. "There is no one-size-fits-all set of actions that people should take." The researchers assessed the carbon footprints of several thousand fictitious households across the United States, finding that the opportunities for emissions reduction varied according to household characteristics.
Comparing an upper-income couple living in San Francisco, California, and a middle-income family with three children in St Louis, Missouri, for example, both households contributed a similar amount of greenhouse gases each year, but the sources of the gases varied. Electricity and food were the main sources of emissions in the St Louis household, compared to motor vehicles and air travel for the couple in San Francisco. "Our primary message is simple: If you are concerned about reducing your carbon footprint, or the carbon footprint of others through policy, it is important to focus on the actions that lead to the greatest reductions," said Kammen. The researchers have made available an online tool to help those living in the United States assess their most effective course of action.
Climate change "poses an immediate and grave threat, driving ill health and increasing the risk of conflict, such that each feeds on the other," according to an editorial in the British Medical Journal. The editorial was authored by medical and military experts: Lionel Jarvis, a surgeon rear admiral with the Ministry of Defence in London, Hugh Montgomery from the University College London Institute for Public Health and Performance, Neil Morisetti, a rear admiral with the Ministry of Defence, and Ian Gilmore from the Royal Liverpool Hospital.
The authors cite reports by the International Institute for Strategic Studies and the Lancet and the Pentagon's 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review to Congress to support their view that climate-induced health crises will exacerbate instability and insecurity. Noting that it might be considered unusual for the medical and military professions to concur, they conclude that "we can no longer delay implementing tough action that will make a difference, while quibbling over minor uncertainties in climate modelling. Unlike most recent natural disasters, this one is entirely predictable."
Russia has re-affirmed its support for the BASIC countries' position on climate change and sustainable development. Leaders at the recent Sanya summit of the BRICS nations called on the developed countries to limit their greenhouse gas emissions and advanced ideas to reduce carbon intensity in the developing nations.
The BRICS nations - Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - will meet in Durban, South Africa, before the next climate treaty negotiating session, which will be held in June. "The bloc has already formed a coordination mechanism to meet prior to important global negotiations and conferences on climate change," said a Chinese diplomat.
A pan Pacific network of voyaging societies, the Pacific Voyagers, is sailing a fleet of traditional vessels (waka or vaka) to Hawaii to develop awareness of and the need to preserve the ocean environment and marine life by recapturing the traditions of voyaging between island nations. Nations represented include Aotearoa (New Zealand), Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Hawaii, Papua New Guinea, Republic of Kiribati, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu and Samoa.
The boats, which blend modern boat-building technologies with traditional Pacific craftsmanship, are propelled only by the wind and the sun. A solar power system provides an auxiliary propulsion system, with eight solar panels powering two 10kW electrical motors. From Hawaii, the fleet will sail to North America then return to the Solomon Islands in 2012. The aim of the later stage of the voyage is to inform and educate as many people as possible, particularly those contributing most to the climate threat, to make a change. The project is supported by the German foundation Okeanos.
As the Bangkok Climate Change Conference opened, Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, set a clear focus for the negotiations through the remainder of the year. For the next climate change summit to be a success, she said, "the unanswered political questions need to be addressed - most importantly, the level of ambition and the legal nature of mitigation commitments after 2012." The summit will be held in Durban, South Africa, in December.
As the meeting ended, Figueres was positive that progress had been made as far as future of the Kyoto Protocol was concerned. "It was pretty clear that there is no country that is fundamentally opposed to a second commitment period," she said. "Whether they individually participate in it or not is a different issue, but there is no country fundamentally opposed to a second commitment period." Much of the Bangkok meeting had, however, been pre-occupied with procedural matters, with lengthy argument over the roadmap for 2011 and just what should be achieved in Durban threatening to block progress. As far as developing countries are concerned, the Cancún Agreements represent a step forward but they do not cover all the issues on the agenda of the Bali Action Plan. The developed nations want to work through the technicalities of the Cancún Agreements in a step-by-step fashion, without tackling other matters. Agreement was finally reached on the way forward, but the process undermined the momentum generated by Cancún. "Thank god we came up with an agenda," commented Tosi Mpanu Mpanu, chair of the Africa Group. "It's a pity it took so long. What does it say for the rest of the year?" he added. Referring to the discussion as necessary and very healthy, Figueres did confess that she wished that the process had been faster, but so be it. "They have taken the time that they needed," she said. She warned that the negotiators would have to take every opportunity to advance the work, for example, making use of other venues and informal workshops, in order to arrive in Durban with a solid basis for agreement.
As the Bangkok Climate Change Conference came to an end, Pablo Solón, Bolivian ambassador to the United Nations, denied that developed nations are taking the leading in emissions reductions. "What's on the table in these negotiations is that 65 per cent of emission reductions happen in developing countries and just 35 per cent happen in developed countries, even though it is they who caused the problem of climate change." Solón said. "This is like someone burning down your crops, making you do all the work to replant them and then acting like a hero when they give you a tiny discount on the seeds," he continued.
It has been estimated that a global emissions reduction of 14 gigatonnes a year by 2020 is needed to meet the goal of limiting global warming to two degrees Celsius over pre-industrial levels. Current pledges lodged with the United Nations total between 6.and 8.7 gigatonnes. "Of these inadequate pledges," Solón observed, "in the worst case scenario, only three gigatonnes are included in rich countries pledges, in contrast to 3.6 gigatonnes in developing countries - giving up the lie that it is developed countries which are 'leading' emission reductions."
Ozone depletion over the Arctic has reached record levels, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). By the end of March, low winter temperatures in the upper atmosphere had contributed to a 40 per cent loss of ozone, compared to the previous record of 30 per cent.
"The Montreal Protocol actually works, and the amount of ozone-depleting gases is on the way down, but quite slowly," commented Geir Braathen, a WMO senior scientist. "In the meantime, we have some winters that get much colder than before and also the cold periods last longer, into the spring. So it's really a combination of the gases still there and low temperatures and then sunshine, and then you get ozone loss."
"The world was at a crossroads in Cancún and took a step forward towards a climate-safe world," Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, said, in the run-up to the Bangkok Climate Change Conference. "Now governments must move purposefully down the path they have set," she continued. A clear work plan for 2011 is needed, Figueres said, including work on institutions for climate funding, technology cooperation and adaptation.
The Bangkok talks are likely to focus on technical issues. "My sense is they will agree a work plan and that they will move ahead on technical issues that don't get political," commented Mark Kenber of The Climate Group, a global coalition. "And I think there's enough agreement around for countries to move ahead with the technical issues. But when it gets political, when it gets to Kyoto 2 and what the eventual legal agreement might look like, then there are still a lot of divisions." The climate treaty secretariat is designing a prototype registry that will match developing country actions to developed country support and will be presented at the next negotiating meeting in Bonn in June.
In a new assessment, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has called for action now to prepare for "potentially catastrophic" impacts on food production as slow-onset changes in climate develop. "Coping with long-term changes after the fact doesn't make much sense," warns Alexander Müller of the FAO's Natural Resources Department. "We must already today support agriculture in the developing world to become more resilient," he continued.
The report from the FAO considers the implications of the Cancún Agreements for food security. It recommends that food security be used as an indicator of vulnerability to climate change and that greater space should be given to the risks associated with slow-onset impacts of climate change. Staple food varieties need to be developed that are better adapted to expected climatic conditions. Genetic material stored in gene banks should be screened with regard to future conditions and additional genetic resources must be collected given the risk that they may disappear. It is suggested that governments consider food security as a socio-economic safeguard when developing climate mitigation measures, capturing synergies and managing trade-offs between competing land uses. For example, "the success of REDD+ could well depend on how successfully its interface with agriculture is managed," the report observes. There is a need, Müller says, to "move beyond our usual tendency to take a short-term perspective and instead invest in the long-term."
"By 2050, big cities that will not have enough water available nearby include Beijing, New Delhi, Mexico City, Lagos and Tehran," warns Robert McDonald from The Nature Conservancy in the United States. "China and India will be particularly hard hit unless significant new efforts are taken by their cities."
McDonald's conclusions are based on a study of per-capita water availability for major cities in the developing world as climate changes. McDonald and his co-authors used a hydrological model, demographic projections and climate change scenarios to estimate future water availability both in and around the urban areas. "Cities go as far away as they need to to get enough water," explained McDonald. "That's why we calculated the amount of water at various distances from cities, to figure out how far away cities might need to go to get water. That correlates with how much infrastructure cities need to build, or how much money they need to spend."
Artur Runge-Metzger, director for climate strategy and negotiations at the European Commission, has warned that the chance of reaching a legally-binding agreement at the 2011 climate summit in Durban, South Africa, is slim. "I think the politics this year are probably even more daunting than last year," he said, citing the situation in the United States. "Everybody knows... that the Republicans undermine every attempt of the Obama administration to put money on to climate, whether it is domestically or outside," he explained.
Lack of progress in the United States is also affecting moves towards a global emissions trading system. "The development of an OECD-wide global carbon market has stalled due the failure of climate legislation in the United States," according to Jos Delbeke, head of the Climate Action division of the European Commission. Nevertheless, there are positive signs elsewhere in the world. "Korea is planning to develop a cap-and-trade system over the next few years, India is set to go live with its energy efficiency trading system in a month and Australia is also determined to introduce a carbon price," said Damien Meadows, also from the Climate Action division.
Scotland is to introduce a new recycling scheme based on carbon impact. From 2013, councils and households will prioritize recycling waste on the basis of carbon emissions rather than simply using weight as a measure. Materials such as plastics, textiles and food waste would be targeted.
"This is where Scotland is going to lead," said Iain Gulland of government programme Zero Waste Scotland. "It's all about climate change. It's not just tonnes and the cost of travel from A to B, it's the environmental impact." There will be an emphasis on "closed loop" recycling, where waste can be reused or recycled into the same material. Waste glass, for example, would be recycled into glass rather than being used as aggregate in building or insulation applications. The Scottish government is committed to achieving 75 per cent recycling of waste by 2025, with "zero waste" the ultimate goal.
As the Fukushima nuclear crisis develops, European Union climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard said that Europe will remain committed to nuclear power as part of its carbon control strategy. "Most of the member states at this stage have said they will carry on with their plans as they were," she reported. "We should just take care not to let panic spread."
Werner Faymann, Austrian chancellor, disagreed, saying that the European Union needed an "exit strategy" from nuclear power. "After Japan one thing is clear, the nuclear lobby lied to us," he said. "I know the Austrian position has more support among the European people than among the European heads of state," he continued. Italy has announced a one-year moratorium on site selection and the construction of nuclear power plants. German chancellor Angela Merkel is now talking of a nuclear phase-out.
Tonga's Joint National Action Plan on Climate Change Adaptation and Disaster Risk Management was presented at the Pacific Climate Change Roundtable in Alofi, Niue, last week. "In preparing this plan we learnt that you need really good teamwork for this to work well, teamwork and strong partnerships. It is also best if there is direct involvement of the communities in project activities to ensure ownership and there is a real need for donor coordination to avoid duplication," said Lupe Matoto of the Ministry of Environment and Climate Change.
The action plan has six goals covering good governance, enhanced technical knowledge and an increase in education and understanding of the action plan, analysis and assessment of climate impacts and disaster risk, enhanced community preparedness and resilience to all disasters, technically reliable, economically affordable and environmentally-sound support to Tonga and strong partnerships between government agencies, non-governmental organizations and private sectors. In addressing issues related to climate change, sea-level rise, extreme events and geological hazards, it aims to bring together two separate bodies of work in a more unified manner, avoiding duplicating of effort.
The first of a series of high-level meetings to consider a national transition to a low-carbon economy, hosted by South Africa's National Planning Commission, has been held in Johannesburg. "What was so good about the seminar was the breadth and depth of the people involved; and it started out as an exchange of ideas rather than a forum to make decisions," commented Harald Winkler of the University of Cape Town. It is hoped that a planning paper and vision statement will be ready by the end of this year, as South Africa hosts the next major climate summit.
The vulnerability of South Africa's water supply to climate change is exacerbated by weak infrastructure management and poor planning, according to local experts. "We are very good at burglar proofing, bullet proofing, but are we good at climate proofing?" Roland Schulze from the University of KwaZulu-Natal asked participants at a recent meeting of the South African Water and Energy Forum. "Adaptation is not going to be easy. Climate change has to be part of integrated thinking," he said. Richard Holden of the Trans-Caledon Tunnel Authority argued that climate change can act as a scapegoat. "It's easy to blame climate change, but we don't look at ourselves and ask, what were we doing to improve the catchment? We need to separate climate change from what we are doing ourselves," he said.
Soot landing on the snow-covered Tibetan Plateau could alter local climate more than greenhouse gases or other forms of atmospheric pollution, according to researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), the University of Michigan and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the United States. "On the global scale, greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide cause the most concern related to climate change," said Yun Qian from PNNL. "But our research shows that in some places like the Tibetan Plateau, soot can do more damage."
Soot falling on snow means that the annual glacial melt occurs earlier, so less water is available in the summer for farming and other activities. The earlier melting and localized heating can also strengthen the monsoon systems over India and China. A global climate model was used to simulate the effect of various processes, including soot lying on the snow of the Tibetan Plateau's snow, soot floating in the air above the plateau and increased atmospheric carbon dioxide. "The Tibetan Plateau is an amazing, dynamic place where many things come together to develop large climate systems," Qian said. "Our research indicates that soot on snow can be a large player in the region's climate, but it's not the only factor. Many other elements need to be studied before we can say for sure what is the leading cause of snowmelt."
The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets are losing mass at an ever-faster rate, according to a new analysis of satellite data and other observations by the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The results suggest that ice sheets may become the major contributors to global sea-level rise, surpassing mountain glaciers and ice caps, much sooner than predicted. "That ice sheets will dominate future sea level rise is not surprising - they hold a lot more ice mass than mountain glaciers," said lead author Eric Rignot of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena and the University of California, Irvine (UC Irvine). "What is surprising is this increased contribution by the ice sheets is already happening."
The study was based on analysis of almost 20 years' data from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites, which can measure changes in local gravity caused by ice melt, and on mass balance estimates based on a combination of precipitation observations, modelling and satellite-based radar estimates of ice sheet shrinkage. "These are two totally independent techniques, so it is a major achievement that the results agree so well," said co-author Isabella Velicogna, also of JPL and UC Irvine. Rignot warned that "if present trends continue, sea level is likely to be significantly higher than levels projected by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007."
The Russian heatwave of summer 2010 was mainly due to natural internal atmospheric variability, report scientists from the United States National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The immediate cause of the heatwave and drought was a strong and persistent blocking pattern that kept weather systems away from the region. As storms were forced elsewhere, this may have contributed to flooding in Pakistan.
Like the United States Midwest, the region has not experienced summer-time warming in recent decades, ruling out human activity as a major contributor to the heatwave. "While the globe as a whole, on an annual basis, is warming, there can be important regional differences," NOAA scientist Martin Hoerling said. For the future, the researchers warn that "we may be on the cusp of a period in which the probability of such events increases rapidly, due primarily to the influence of projected increases in greenhouse gas concentrations."
Carbon capture and storage (CCS) projects increased in number in 2010, despite rising costs and slow progress in the climate negotiations. "The global commitment to carbon capture and storage remains strong," concludes the annual review from the Global CCS Institute in Australia.
"There is a shift in focus a little bit from Europe to the United States," said Bob Pegler of the Global CCS Institute. Local opposition forced the Dutch government to scrap a demonstration project planned for Barendrecht and Finnish company Fortnum has reported that a demonstration project planned for the Meri-Pori power plant will not go ahead due to technological and financial risks. China, the report says, remains focused on research and development for CCS.
The European Union (EU) is committing €90 million of funding covering poverty reduction and climate change to Pacific island states as the new EU-Pacific Action Plan on Climate Change is signed. The EU-Pacific action plan would require participants to embrace "joint positions on the international stage." Isaac Valero-Ladron, climate spokesman for the EU, commented that "if we put money on the table, it really creates a constructive atmosphere and good policies."
"Climate change and natural disasters are putting a brake on sustainable development, economic growth and progress towards meeting the Millennium Development Goals in the Pacific," EU development commissioner Andris Piebalgs said, ahead of the High-Level Regional Conference on Climate Change in the Pacific in Vanuatu. "It is time for us to take the lead in rallying substantial international community support for the Pacific's climate change adaptation efforts," he continued. Only a small percentage of the €90 million finance is directly related to climate measures. A third of the funding will go towards strengthening Pacific integration through trade. A total of €8 million will support mangrove replanting, watershed reforestation, rainwater harvesting and other adaptation projects. The remainder is committed to disaster risk reduction and integrated management of coastal, terrestrial and marine environments.
The sixth Carbon Market Survey from Point Carbon has concluded that the European Union Emissions Trading Scheme (EU ETS) is gaining wider acceptance, but has only reduced pollution by major energy companies by a small amount. Power companies have been receiving free credits but this concession will end in 2013.
"We are seeing incremental changes, not revolutionary changes," commented Endre Tvinnereim from Point Carbon. Most of the emissions reductions over the past two years reported by survey participants were of less than five per cent. The cybertheft of carbon credits earlier this year does not appear to have adversely affected confidence in the scheme. "There was talk about the EU ETS having been discredited. However, our survey shows quite the reverse," Tvinnereim said. The Point Carbon survey was based on 2535 responses from carbon market participants and observers in 101 countries.
By the next major climate summit, to be held in Durban, South Africa, at the end of the year, governments need to agree a way to cut global emissions about twice as fast as already promised and increase the certainty that they will do as they say, according to Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. She warned that commitments to date only amount to 60 per cent of what is required by the year 2020 to hold global warming below two degrees Celsius. Emissions need to peak by 2015 to meet the agreed temperature goal.
Governments must also resolve the remaining issues over the future of the Kyoto Protocol, Figueres said. "We need to keep in mind that the Kyoto Protocol remains the only working, binding international model to reduce emissions, and nations have an urgent task to decide how to take forward the protocol's unique benefits of transparency, certainty, compliance in handling national emission targets, and common but differentiated responsibilities," she explained.
Limiting the release of black carbon, sooty particles generated by incomplete burning of fossil fuels and biomass, and ground-level ozone, resulting from effect of sunlight on vehicle exhausts and other pollutants, could slow climate change and deliver health benefits, according to a report from the United Nations Environment Programme and the World Meteorological Organization. "The assessment of current science confirms that reducing these substances can slow global warming over the short term, reduce regional climate change impacts, and provide health and agricultural benefits by reducing air pollution," reported co-author Johan Kuylenstierna from the York Centre of the Stockholm Environment Institute in the United Kingdom.
Glaciated regions are vulnerable to warming as the pollutants can have a strong impact on the local energy balance. The northern polar region is particularly at risk because of its proximity to the major industrialized nations. "Some scientists estimate the impact of just black carbon that lands on ice and snow may be as much as [that of] carbon dioxide in the Arctic," commented Pam Pearson of the International Cryosphere Climate Initiative, who was a member of the report's advisory group. The report recommends the recovery of methane from coal, oil and gas extraction and transport, methane capture in waste management, use of clean-burning stoves for residential cooking, diesel particulate filters for vehicles and the banning of field burning of agricultural waste. It concludes that widespread implementation of a small number of emissions reduction measures is achievable with existing technology but would require significant strategic investment and institutional arrangements.
Investing around two per cent of global gross domestic product into key sectors could kick-start the transition towards a low-carbon, resource-efficient green economy and also reduce poverty, according to a new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The key sectors are agriculture, buildings, energy supply, fisheries, forestry, industry including energy efficiency, tourism, transport, waste management and water.
"With 2.5 billion people living on less than two dollars a day and with more than two billion people being added to the global population by 2050, it is clear that we must continue to develop and grow our economies," said UNEP head Achim Steiner. "But this development cannot come at the expense of the very life support systems on land, in the oceans or in our atmosphere that sustain our economies, and thus, the lives of each and everyone of us," he continued.
The European Union (EU) would push for a legally-binding agreement at the next round of United Nations climate talks in South Africa later this year, despite opposition, Connie Hedegaard, EU Commissioner for Climate Action, reported while attending the United Nations High Level Panel on Global Sustainability in Cape Town. "We need to find a way forward to achieving a binding deal," she said.
Hedegaard called for more ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gases and other "deliverables" to maintain the political momentum that followed last year's Cancún climate summit. She opposed the notion that countries could set their own emissions targets in a bottom-up approach as this would mean that the world would be "heading for much higher temperatures."
The United States House of Representatives has voted to cut off funding to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for the remainder of the current year. "My constituents should not have to continue to foot the bill for an organization to keep producing corrupt findings that can be used as justification to impose a massive new energy tax on every American," said the sponsor of the measure, Republican Blaine Luetkemeyer.
The House doesn't "like the message so they are killing the messenger," commented Mike MacCracken of the Climate Institute in Washington DC. Chris Field, IPCC contributor from Stanford University in California, said that about half the funding, around US$3 million in 2009, went to the IPCC Trust Fund, which supports the international coordinating team, with the other half covering American scientists' travel to meetings and a small team of staff. Without the federal support, Field said that there would be no ability to organize meetings and no ability to coordinate chapters. The meetings allow scientists, who volunteer their time, to combine their knowledge with the work of colleagues around the world. "A small amount of funding goes a long way," he said. A measure was also passed eliminating the salaries of the president's international climate change envoy and other top officials.
The Asian Development Bank (ADB) is warning that climate change will result in mass migrations of people. National governments and the international community must urgently address this issue in a proactive manner, the forthcoming report, Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific, concludes.
Bart Édes, who directs ADB's Poverty Reduction, Gender, and Social Development Division, predicted that climate-induced migration will affect poor and vulnerable people more than others. "In many places, those least capable of coping with severe weather and environmental degradation will be compelled to move with few assets to an uncertain future," he said. "Those who stay in their communities will struggle to maintain livelihoods in risk-prone settings at the mercy of nature's whims."
Researchers from Environment Canada and other institutions worldwide have shown that 24-hour rainfall events became more intense over the second half of the 20th century throughout North America, most of Europe and parts of Asia. "What we're seeing is not consistent with things like El Niño, it's more consistent with something that's acting globally, and the thing that's acting globally is the effects of global warming," said co-author Francis Zwiers, now of the University of Victoria in British Columbia, Canada.
The link with global warming rests on the fact that a warmer atmosphere is able to hold more water vapour. "If these events of this particular size become more frequent, then we're going to have to pay for damage more often," Zwiers said. "Once every ten years rather than once every 20 years, for example." The study was based on statistical analysis and climate model data. The real-world trend was found to be greater than predicted by the models.
Testifying to a congressional committee, Lisa Jackson, head of the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has attacked a draft bill, the Energy Tax Prevention Act of 2011, that aims to limit the EPA's powers to control greenhouse gas emissions. The EPA bases its authority in this area on a 2007 Supreme Court judgement that greenhouse gases had the potential to damage human health and well-being. "[The] bill would, in its own words, 'repeal' the scientific finding regarding greenhouse gas emissions," she said. "Politicians overruling scientists on a scientific question - that would become part of this committee's legacy," she continued.
The EPA's mandate is also being challenged at state level. Texas is challenging the rules in six lawsuits that are pending in federal appeals courts. Greg Abbott, Texas attorney general, has said that he would abandon the litigation if Congress passed legislation to block the EPA or if the administration backed down. "The EPA is acting in a way unconstrained by the Clean Air Act and causing industry as well as the states to have to deal with a moving target," he said. "We don't know if the administrative rules they've issued today are going to be the same ones they will issue tomorrow. We keep getting the impression they will keep coming up with new and ever-shifting and changing rules."
A new study from the United States centre of the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI-US) shows that climate change will aggravate water problems in the American Southwest, increasing the long-term shortfall caused by population and economic growth by up to a quarter. It could add up to US$1 trillion in extra costs over the coming 100 years. Rising temperatures will drive up demand in all areas, particularly in agriculture, and create intense competition for dwindling resources.
"Climate change is affecting Americans in many areas; the water crisis in the Southwest is one of the clearest examples," said lead author Frank Ackerman from the Climate Economics Group at SEI-US. "Climate policy choices we make today are not just about exotic environments and far-future generations – they will help determine how easy or hard it is to create a sustainable water system in the most arid region of the country."
The current La Niña event will be weakening in coming months, but its ability to last into the summer is uncertain, according to the United States Climate Prediction Center. "A majority of the models predict a return to neutral conditions by May-June-July 2011, although some models [predict] a weaker La Niña into the summer," the latest update states.
The 2010/11 event has been particularly intense. "In atmospheric terms it has to be termed one of the strongest ever La Niña episodes," reports Rupa Kumar Kolli, of the World Meteorological Organization. As well as flooding in Australia, the disruption in tropical and subtropical climates caused by La Niña has been responsible for extreme conditions in Asia, Africa and South America. Chile has put in place nationwide contingency plans in preparation for the impact of La Niña-induced drought.
Malaysia is felling an average of two per cent a year of Sarawak's rainforest, a report from Wetlands International finds. Most of the land is being converted to palm oil plantations. The analysis of satellite imagery shows that Malaysia is destroying forests three time faster than all of Asia combined. "We never knew exactly what was happening in Malaysia and Borneo," said Alex Kaat from Wetlands International. "Now we see there is a huge expansion [of deforestation] with annual rates that are beyond imagination."
Indonesia has admitted that a large number of mine and plantation companies are operating illegally on the island of Borneo. A presidential task force has found that violations of forest protection laws had "become widespread in a number of regions, especially in Central Kalimantan province." A University of Indonesia study concluded last year that the Indonesian military acted as coordinator, financier and facilitator for illegal loggers in Borneo. The forestry ministry has promised to cooperate with the Corruption Eradication Commission to enforce the law. A two-year moratorium on the clearing of natural forest and peatland was due to begin January 1st.
A new study by American scientists suggests that the higher frequency of drought over East Africa experienced over the past two decades is likely to persist as global warming develops. "Global temperatures are predicted to continue increasing, and we anticipate that average precipitation totals in Kenya and Ethiopia will continue decreasing or remain below the historical average," said contributor Chris Funk from the United States Geological Survey.
The proposed mechanism linking drought to global warming is that warmer air and increased humidity over the Indian Ocean is generating more frequent rainfall locally as the warm air rises. Having lost its moisture, the dry air then travels westward, descending over east Africa and causing drought conditions in Ethiopia and Kenya. "The decreased rainfall in Eastern Africa is most pronounced in the March to June season, when substantial rainfall usually occurs," Funk said. "Although drought is one reason for food shortages, it is exacerbated by stagnating agricultural development and continued population growth."
Global investment in solar photovoltaic (PV) technology could double by 2015 if governments put in place financial incentives and policies to achieve grid parity, according to a report from the European Photovoltaic Industry Association (EPIA) and Greenpeace International.
"Solar photovoltaic technology has, for many years now, shown increased power efficiencies and cost reductions," EPIA president Ingmar Wilhelm said. "Today's cost predictions, driven also by economies of scale in light of global photovoltaic capacity, totalling 40,000MW in 2010, show that the technology is on the brink of an economic breakthrough." To achieve grid parity, when the cost of PV becomes at least as cheap as conventional power, the report concludes that governments must, amongst other things, establish appropriate and flexible feed-in-tariffs.
Japan aims to put forward an alternative to the Kyoto Protocol, after heavily criticizing the existing framework at the time of the Cancún climate summit. It considers that the Protocol is out of date, covering only 30 per cent of the world's emissions and not addressing the issue of how to limit emissions. Developing countries view the continuation of the Kyoto Protocol as a critical commitment by the industrialized nations.
"We are not at all looking backward. We now think we should come up with a Japan proposal," said Ikuro Sugawara of the trade ministry's Industrial Science and Technology Policy And Environment Bureau. We should draw a vision of what the globe should be, he continued, making use of Japan's wisdom on clean-energy technology. Domestic legislation is before the Diet. The goal is to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent from 1990 levels by 2020, as long as other major countries also commit themselves to the target. Three principal measures are proposed to curb greenhouse gas emissions: domestic emissions trading; an environmental tax; and a system to buy electricity from renewable energy sources.
China is pushing ahead of the United States and Europe in the clean energy race, according to Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. "China is going to leave all of us in the dust," she said during a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Ernst & Young recently placed China above the United States in its quarterly index of countries most attractive for renewable energy projects. The nation increased spending on low-carbon energy technology by 30 per cent in 2009, Bloomberg New Energy Finance has reported. "You can leapfrog - you don’t have to follow the model of the north," Figueres said. "China is showing this."
New solar energy production methods make it the cheapest and least hazardous energy source, cheaper and safer than nuclear power, according to energy developer mO3 Power "The generation game has changed so much over the last decade that electricity generated from solar energy will be cheaper than electricity generated from nuclear plants, including the new ones planned to be set up in Britain," said mO3's Ken Moss.
Moss draws his conclusion from research published last year by analysts at Duke University in the United States. John Blackburn and Sam Cunningham showed that, in North Carolina, solar power costs had reached the point of "historic crossover" with the nuclear industry. "It can be predicted with some confidence that the same will be true in the United Kingdom by the time that the new nuclear reactors have been built," Moss said. "The cost of generating power from solar photovoltaic systems has steadily fallen over the last ten years while the projected costs of constructing the new nuclear plants have ballooned," he explained.
The European Commission suspended trading in carbon permits last week after permits worth millions of euros were stolen in online attacks on electronic registries. "It could be a concerted action by fraudsters to get access and steal permits from legitimate accounts to sell on spot markets before the thefts were discovered," said Maria Kokkonen, speaking for Connie Hedegaard, European commissioner for climate action.
"Although such incidents are negligible in terms of actual market impact, they will, over time, undermine the credibility of carbon trading as a policy measure to reduce emissions in Europe," commented Kjersti Ulset at Point Carbon. An alternative capital market approach, based on government-backed green bonds to help secure debt financing of low-carbon projects, is being promoted by some traders. The episode highlights the need to invest in more secure systems, according to Kokkonen. "By investing tens of thousands of euros to upgrade their IT systems, member states could prevent losses on the scale of millions of euros," she said.
Ban Ki-moon, United Nations secretary-general, has called for a global revolution to tackle the world's energy challenges. "Our challenge is transformation. We need a global clean energy revolution - a revolution that makes energy available and affordable for all," he said in his address to the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.
Ban's Advisory Group on Energy and Climate Change has put forward two ambitious targets for the year 2030: universal access to modern energy sources and a 40 per cent increase in energy efficiency. "To achieve this, we must invest in the intellectual capital that will create new green technologies. We need to increase private and public spending on research and development, and governments need to create the right incentives," he said. "So let us pledge to invest wisely. We need to get our priorities right. People everywhere should be able to enjoy the health, educational and social benefits that modern energy sources offer," he added.
Scientists from the United States Geological Survey (USGS) have produced a superstorm scenario for California, warning that the one in 100-200 year event could bring an unprecedented scale of destruction. The storm could last for 40 days, generate up to three metres of rainfall and cause as much as US$300 billion of damage.
The ARkStorm scenario is based on geologic flood history, modern flood mapping and climate-change projections. USGS head Marcia McNutt warned that the time to begin taking action is now, before a devastating natural hazard event occurs. "This scenario demonstrates first-hand how science can be the foundation to help build safer communities," she said.
In the absence of emissions control, Earth's climate could take 100,000 years or longer to recover from global warming induced by greenhouse gas emissions, according to a position statement from the Geological Society of London. "In the light of the evidence presented, it is reasonable to conclude that emitting further large amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere over time is likely to be unwise, uncomfortable though that fact may be," the statement ends.
Scientists in Canada have modelled the effects of stopping greenhouse gas emissions in the year 2010 and in 2100 on the climate of the current millennium. While many of the consequences of anthropogenic emissions are reversible, "there are some parts of the climate that have a lot of inertia and it will take many centuries before they start to reverse," commented researcher Shawn Marshall of the University of Calgary. Long-term warming of the Antarctic as the water masses and currents of the ocean slowly respond is predicted, as is desertification in parts of North Africa. In some regions, large differences in the projections occur between the two scenarios. "You sometimes hear that defeatist argument that it's too late and there are a lot of changes that are going to happen, so just worry about adaptation," Marshall said. "But I think you do see a big divergence in potential futures depending on if there are some reductions in emissions."
Better access to relevant climate data is essential if financial institutions are to manage risks and advise clients effectively, concludes a report backed by the United Nations. "To date the key role that financial institutions and other private sector decision-makers can play in increasing the climate resilience of economies and societies has been neglected at best," said Paul Clements-Hunt, head of the United Nations Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI).
"Financial institutions are experts in identifying, quantifying and pricing risks. This expertise can be of great value to society at large when faced with the sheer uncertainty linked with changing climate patterns and the significant risks of resulting impacts", observed Mark Fulton from Deutsche Bank, co-chair of UNEP FI's Climate Change Working Group. "This study confirms that what private sector institutions need in order to become real 'adaptation catalysts' is objective and reliable information." Continued research towards more reliable climate modelling and forecasting is needed, according to the study, as well as enhanced translation of scientific knowledge and existing information into user-friendly information. Intensive collaboration between users and suppliers, public and private actors, scientists and decision makers will be necessary.
Climate change may have intensified the monsoon rains responsible for record floods in the state of Queensland, Australia, report Australian scientists. "I think people will end up concluding that at least some of the intensity of the monsoon in Queensland can be attributed to climate change," said Matthew England of the Climate Change Research Centre at the University of New South Wales in Sydney. "The waters off Australia are the warmest ever measured and those waters provide moisture to the atmosphere for the Queensland and northern Australia monsoon."
Global warming may also be strengthening the impact of El Niño and La Niña conditions. "We've always had El Niños and we've had natural variability but the background which is now operating is different," commented David Jones of the Australia Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne. With more moisture in the atmosphere of a warmer world and stronger weather patterns, "El Niño droughts would be expected to be exacerbated and also La Niña floods because rainfall would be exacerbated," he said, cautioning it would be some years before the effect of climate change on these phenomena might become clear. The current La Niña is the strongest for some decades. It began abruptly in mid-2010 and has been responsible for drought across parts of Argentina, Brazil and Uruguay as well as heavy rains in Australia and a stronger South Asian monsoon.
The number of weather-related disasters in 2010 provides "further evidence of advancing climate change." according to re-insurance company Munich Re. Nine hundred and fifty natural disasters were recorded last year, the second highest number of natural disasters recorded since 1980, and nine-tenths of them were weather-related events such as storms, floods or heatwaves. The death toll over 2010 exceeded 295,000 and economic losses amounted to US$130 billion.
Following a season of severe hurricane activity in the North Atlantic sector, Peter Höppe, head of Munich Re's Geo Risks Research, warned of the threat posed by rising ocean temperatures. "This long-term trend can no longer be explained by natural climate oscillations alone," he said. "The probability is that climate change is contributing to some of the warming of the world's oceans." Together with the continuing natural warm phase in the North Atlantic, he concluded, this is likely to mean a further high level of hurricane activity in coming years.
Assam tea could be at risk as climate change affects the northeast of India. Rainfall levels have decreased by more than 20 per cent over the past 60 years and temperatures have increased. "Climate changing is definitely happening," said Mridul Hazarika of the Tea Research Association. "It is affecting the tea gardens in a number of ways."
An increase in winter temperatures, for example, has affected the dormancy period. Prabhat Bezboruah, a tea planter, reports that "now what's happening is we're not getting a dormancy. There is still some leaf on the bush." Erratic weather is also a factor. "We're at the thin edge where any inconsistency in weather or cropping pattern has an immediate spiking effect on prices," said Azam Monem of McLeod Russel India. Tea production in Assam has dropped from 564,000 tons in 2007 to an estimated 460,000 tons in 2010.
The flooding in Queensland, northern Australia, which has affected 200,000 people, is the result of the combined impact of a strong La Niña and a monsoonal trough, according to Jonathan Nott from James Cook University in Cairns, Queensland. "With the La Niña and monsoonal trough, conditions were absolutely set for these floods to occur," he said.
Nott says that pockets of heavy rain are common in the state. But this time the rain was unseasonably widespread and fell over the entire catchment area. "All of the tributaries that flow into the trunk stream, Fitzroy river, have been completely soaked," he reported. There is concern that the flood water may affect the Great Barrier Reef. Michelle Devlin of James Cook University warned that the event has the potential to alter how the reef operates. "There is just going to be this cocktail of water containing a lot of things that [corals] wouldn't necessarily have seen before," she said. "It is fresh, warm water and that will stress corals out as well."
The Indian government has proposed quadrupling power generation from renewable sources by the year 2022. The plan stems, in part, from coal supply concerns and international climate change commitments. It would increase renewables-based capacity from 11 per cent of total capacity at present (18,321 MW) to 15.9 per cent (72,400 MW) by 2022.
At present, 65 per cent of India's generation capacity is based on fossil fuels, largely coal, and energy consumption could double by 2035, according to estimates from the International Energy Agency. According to the National Action Plan on Climate Change, emissions intensity will be reduced by 20-25 per cent of 2005 levels by 2020. Around 60 per cent of India's carbon emissions are from the power sector.
The government of the Maldives has opened discussions with Bangladesh regarding a means of reducing its vulnerability to climate change. "They want to import soil from our country in defense against rising sea levels," said Muhammad Faruk Khan, Bangladesh commerce minister.
The rivers of Bangladesh have to be dredged because the large volume of sediment brought down from the Himalayas is making navigation difficult. The Maldives needs sand for its coastal protection measures. "We are more than happy if the deal works out because it will be beneficial for a brotherly nation," Khan said.
A British glaciologist has warned that record-breaking Arctic temperatures over the past year have resulted in the Greenland ice sheet retreating and thinning extensively. Very warm temperatures across Greenland "enhanced and extended melting into new northern and upper parts of the ice sheet generating huge quantities - at least double that compared with the previous year - of melt water which runs off the ice sheet into the ocean," Alun Hubbard of Aberystwyth University reported.
The rapid drainage lubricates the base of the ice sheet and hydraulically lifts it, overcoming friction with the underlying rock. It's much like the ice is suddenly aquaplaning or slipping on a banana skin," Hubbard explained. "What we observed using methods borrowed from earthquake monitoring, is that the ice sheet slides and accelerates massively when these lakes drain, but the effect is relatively short lived and that the flow does regulate as further melt water drains to the bed."
Christiana Figueres, executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, has called for the rapid launch of the new institutions and funds agreed at the Cancún climate summit to confirm that a new era of international cooperation on climate change is an established fact. "Many millions of the poor and vulnerable people of the world have been waiting years to get the full level of assistance they need. Industrialized nations will soon have a clear, comprehensive structure into which they can direct the funding they have promised," she said.
"Cancún has significantly expanded the menu of climate implementation and resources available to countries under the United Nations, and the United nations system together is ready to respond rapidly in line with countries' needs. The imperative to act is now," Figueres said. She has asked all countries, particularly the industrialized nations, to deepen their emissions reductions commitments. "Cancún was a big step, bigger than many imagined might be possible. But the time has come for all of us to exceed our own expectations because nothing less will do," she said.
The United Nations has approved the creation of the Intergovernmental Science Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES). The IPBES aims to catalyse a global response to the loss of biodiversity and the world's economically-important forests, coral reefs and other ecosystems. "IPBES represents a major breakthrough in terms of organizing a global response to the loss of living organisms and forests, freshwaters, coral reefs and other ecosystems that underpin all life, including economic life, on Earth," said Achim Steiner, head of the United Nations Environment Programme.
The IPBES will fulfil a function similar to that of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in bridging the gap between scientific knowledge and understanding of effective solutions and government action required to reverse degradation of the natural world. It will carry out high-quality peer scientific reviews covering the state, status and trends of biodiversity and ecosystems and policy options and responses, making sense of and bringing consistency to the variety of reports and assessments conducted by United Nations bodies, research centres, universities and others. A major role will be to catalyze funding to assist developing countries.
Nitrogen in waterways has driven part of the 20 per cent increase in atmospheric nitrous oxide over the century, according to a recent study. Based on analysis of production rates in 72 streams draining multiple land-use types across the United States, the researchers estimate that the role of rivers and streams as a source of nitrous oxide to the atmosphere appears to be three times as high as estimated by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
The growth of nitrogen fertilizers and the cultivation of crops that return nitrogen to the soil naturally increases nitrogen in streams and some of this nitrogen is converted to nitrous oxide. "Changes in agricultural and land-use practices that result in less nitrogen being delivered to streams would reduce nitrous oxide emissions from river networks," commented Jake Beaulieu of the United States Environmental Protection Agency, lead author of the report. The global warming potential of nitrous oxide is 300-fold greater than carbon dioxide.
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