Environmental News & Global Warming

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Is Tony Abbott's Australian administration the most hostile to his nation's environment in history?



In Western Australia, endangered great white sharks are being slaughtered. In Queensland, dredging spoil is to be dumped on the Great Barrier Reef. In Tasmania, ancient forests – harbouring some of the planet’s tallest trees – are in danger of being stripped of their World Heritage listing.

Australians could be forgiven for wondering if the federal government they elected last September is the most conservation-hostile in living memory.

Critics warn that moves by Tony Abbott and his Environment Minister, Greg Hunt, will not only degrade the country’s most outstanding natural assets, but make Australia an international laughing-stock. The UN has already threatened to list the Great Barrier Reef as “in danger” when its World Heritage watchdog committee meets in Qatar in June.

Compounding the right-wing government’s apparent disregard for Australia’s unique environment, say conservationists and scientists, is its resistance to any meaningful action to tackle climate change.

Mr Abbott has axed three key agencies, including one which supported private investment in renewable energy. So contemptuous is he of the science behind climate change – of any science, for that matter – that he has not even bothered appointing a science minister.


The Great Barrier Reef faces multiple threats (Getty)
In Queensland, the health of what is widely considered Earth’s greatest reef is being risked so that Australia can ship yet more coal to China and India, and fuel greenhouse gas-emitting industries. In Tasmania, the prize is timber. Precious wilderness and rainforest areas will be logged if the government convinces the UN committee to remove their World Heritage protection.

In Western Australia, Mr Hunt has exempted the state government from federal laws protecting great whites, so that it can go ahead with a cull. That was despite marine scientists saying there is no evidence that such measures reduce the number of attacks, and warning that apex predators are essential to the ocean ecosystem.

The cull, which prompted mass protests around the country last weekend, was announced in response to seven fatal shark attacks in Western Australian waters in the past three years. Baited drum lines have been set up a kilometre off popular beaches; any great white, tiger or bull shark bigger than 3 metres which is caught there is killed.


A reef shark swims past as Sydney Aquarium divers unveil a Greenpeace banner urging UNESCO to save the Great Barrier Reef in 2012 (Getty)
One letter-writer lamented in the Sydney Morning Herald this week: “This crowd [the government] have been in office for less than six months. Imagine the damage they can do in three years [the parliamentary term].”

The Great Barrier Reef already faces multiple threats: storms, warmer water, agricultural run-off and poisonous crown-of-thorns starfish. Now Mr Hunt has approved the expansion of a nearby coal terminal into the biggest port of its kind in the world – and the dumping in the reef’s waters of millions of tonnes of sludge from the massive dredging operation that requires.

Scientists had urged him to veto the plans for Abbot Point, because of the risk to a host of marine life including endangered turtles and dugongs [sea cows]. Tourism operators fear the impact on their business, and on Australia’s image abroad. But the country intends to triple its coal exports by 2030 – and Abbot Point, along with Gladstone, another port near the reef, are key to that vision.

At the opposite end of the country – in a move which the leader of the Australian Greens, Christine Milne, says will make Australia “a global laughing-stock” – the government has asked the UN’s World Heritage Committee to de-list 74,000 hectares of the wilderness and rainforest for which Tasmania is internationally renowned.


Prime Minister Tony Abbott is regarded as anti-science (Getty)
Mr Hunt claims the area – among 170,000 hectares listed only last year, at the request of the previous Labor government – is degraded as a result of being logged, and should not have been listed. But that is disputed by, among others, Peter Hitchcock, an international consultant on world heritage values, who says about 90 per cent of it is pristine.

Mr Hitchcock told The Australian that the forests in question were “outstanding by any stretch of the imagination”. According to Environment Tasmania, a leading conservation group, they are part of a unique tall eucalypt ecosystem – the southern hemisphere’s equivalent of California’s redwoods, with some trees more than 400 years old and up to 100 metres high.

Even Tasmania’s timber industry opposes the move, because the 170,000-hectare listing was the centrepiece of a “peace deal” struck between the industry, unions and green groups in 2011 after decades of warring over the forests.

If the UN committee does brand the reef as “in danger”, Australia will join 32 other countries with World Heritage sites in that category, rubbing shoulders with the likes of Syria, Afghanistan and the Central African Republic. But while conservationists are tearing their hair out, the government seems to care little about the international embarrassment.


A Hawksbill sea turtle is seen swimming in the Great Barrier Reef (Getty)
It ought to care about the impact on tourism, which adds more than $42bn (£23bn) a year to Australia’s Gross Domestic Product. Like the reef, Tasmania’s forests are a major draw.

In Western Australia, killing sharks is supposed to persuade tourists that it’s safe to visit the state and swim off its beaches. However, Richard Branson – one of a number of high-profile figures to criticise the cull – believes it will have the opposite effect.

Interviewed on Australian radio last week, he said: “You’re advertising a problem that doesn’t exist, in a major way, and you’re deterring people from wanting to come to Perth and your beautiful countryside around it.”

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    A last stand against the floods: Defiant Sam Notaro's home appears set to succumb to water





    A house appears like an island amid acres of flooded land engulfed by a seemingly neverending flow of icy cold brown water.

    It's a set of images that has come to represent a particularly British type of defiance when faced with the floods wreaking havoc across the country, deluging homes and destroying businesses and livelihoods.

    The building in the images is Sam Notaro's house on the edge of the village of Moorland - which was evacuated amid rising flood waters on Friday.

    And today, despite his best efforts, Mr Notaro's £1m new build home seemed set to succumb to the floods as so many other homes have.

    A makeshift barricade constructed hastily from mud and clay appeared to be failing as overhead pictures showed water seeping beneath Mr Notaro's defences.

    The house had until yesterday been protected by the wall which was constructed as the waters rose.

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    Now the two most famous scientific institutions in Britain and the US agree: 'Climate change is more certain than ever'



    Climate change is one of the defining issues of our time and the indisputable warming of the world over the past century is largely the result of human activities, according to the two most august science bodies in Britain and the United States.

    The speed of global warming is now 10 times faster than at the end of the last ice age, which represents the most rapid period of sustained temperature change on a global scale in history - and there is no end in sight if carbon emissions continue to increase, the Royal Society and the US National Academy of Sciences have warned.

    Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are the highest for at least 800,000 years and 40 per cent higher than they were in the 19th century. They are set to increase even further without a binding global agreement on significant cuts in industrial emissions, the scientists said.

    Average global surface temperatures have increased by 0.8C since 1900 and the last 30 years have been the warmest in 800 years. On the current carbon dioxide trajectory, global warming could increase further by between 2.6C and 4.8C by 2100, which would be about as big as the temperature difference between now and the last ice age, they said.

    “Detailed analyses have shown that the warming during this period is mainly the result of the increased concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. Continued emissions of these gases will cause further climate changes in regional climate,” says a joint report by the two academies.

    In a foreword to “Climate Change Evidence and Causes”, Ralph Cicerone, president of the National Academy of Sciences, and Sir Paul Nurse, president of the Royal Society, say that climate change is now more certain than ever and that many lines of evidence point to human activity as the cause.

    “The evidence is clear. However, due to the nature of science, not every single detail is ever totally settled or completely certain. Nor has every pertinent question yet been answered,” the two presidents say.

    “Some areas of active debate and ongoing research include the link between ocean heat content and the rate of warming, estimates of how much warming to expect in the future, and the connections between climate change and extreme weather events,” they say.

    The aim of the joint report, written as a series of answers to 20 questions, is to make a clear statement to policy makers and the wider public about the scientific basis of climate change and its uncertainties, which should not distract from the main message about what needs to be done, said Professor Tim Palmer of Oxford University, one of the report’s main authors.

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    Climate change could wipe out wildlife and is ‘major risk’ to UK forests



    Climate change poses a “major risk” to forests all over the world, threatening widespread tree deaths that could wipe out wildlife, exacerbate global warming and hurt the economy, a major new UN report will warn today.

    According to a leaked final draft of the latest UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, “tree mortality and associated forest dieback will become apparent in many regions sooner than previously anticipated”.

    “Forest dieback is a major environmental risk with potentially large impacts on climate, biodiversity, wood production, water quality, amenity and economic activity,” says the draft report, seen by The Independent on Sunday.

    The dieback will be triggered by the increase in severe droughts, heatwaves, wildfires, storms and pest outbreaks that are expected to result from global warming, it says.

    The impact will be felt in forests around the world. “Recent indications are that the temperate forests are beginning to show signs of climate stress, including a reversal of tree growth enhancement in some regions [including Europe], increasing tree mortality and changes in fire regimes, insect outbreaks and pathogen attacks.”

    Forests store huge amounts of carbon dioxide, and widespread tree deaths threaten to accelerate climate change because dead trees not only release their carbon into the atmosphere but are also no longer able to absorb new CO2.

    Experts say climate change poses risks to British woodland. Dr James Morison, of the Forestry Commission’s Forest Research unit, said: “The climate is changing and we need to be planning around that. If we don’t do anything the problems created by drier summers and droughts could be severe.”

    He recommends increasing the number of trees planted and broadening the variety grown by importing new species – and existing ones with different provenances. It is important to mix them up because it is difficult to predict exactly how different species will be hit by climate change, he said.

    The threat posed by climate change comes on top of a growth in deadly pests and tree diseases amid growing international plant and animal trading and rising imports of “harmful non-native species”, Dr Morison added.

    Dr Keith Kirby, at Oxford University’s Department of Plant Science, said: “There has probably been a slight rise in general drought deaths over the last 40 years – although data has not been collected on this. We also have to be more alert to the possibility of forest fires being a serious threat to woodland.” He believes forests in southern England could come to resemble a “more Mediterranean structure, with more open and scrubby woodland” as trees compete for dwindling soil-water supplies.

    Overseas, the impact on forests could wipe out the valuable habitat of species such as tigers, snow leopards, chimpanzees, gorillas and orang-utans. The threat to woodland is part of a much broader threat posed to the world by climate change, the IPCC report will say.

    Hundreds of scientists, politicians and UN delegates will wrangle over the final wording of the report in Yokohama, Japan, today ahead of its official release tonight. Climate change will displace hundreds of millions of people by the end of this century, increasing the risk of violent conflict and wiping trillions of dollars off the global economy, the report will warn.

    Based on thousands of peer- reviewed studies, the report predicts that climate change will reduce median crop yields by 2 per cent per decade for the rest of the century – at a time of rapidly growing demand for food. This will push up malnutrition by about a fifth, it predicts.

    A rare grassy coastal habitat unique to Scotland and Ireland is also likely to suffer, as are grouse moors in the UK and peatlands in Ireland. The UK’s air pollution is likely to worsen as burning fossil fuels increase ozone levels, while warmer weather will increase the incidence of asthma and hay fever.

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    IPCC report: ‘Climate change is happening and no one in the world is immune’

    The negative effects of climate change are already beginning to be felt in every part of the world and yet countries are ill-prepared for the potentially immense impacts on food security, water supplies and human health, a major report has concluded.

    In the most comprehensive study yet into the effects of rising levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that global warming could undermine economic growth and increase poverty.

    The IPCC found that the negative impacts of climate change have already extended beyond any potential benefits of rising temperatures and that they will worsen if global-average temperatures continue to rise by the expected lower limit of 2C by 2100 – and will become potentially catastrophic if temperatures rise higher than 4C.

    In a blunt and often pessimistic assessment of climate-change impacts – the fifth assessment since 1990 – the IPCC scientists give a stark warning about what the world should expect if global temperatures continue to rise as predicted without mitigation or adaptation.

    “In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans,” says the report Climate Change 2014 Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, formally released early this morning by the IPCC after a final editorial meeting in Yokohama, Japan.

    “Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hot spots of hunger,” the report states.

    Scientists in Britain said it is the clearest warning yet of what could happen if the world continues to prevaricate over cuts in emissions. “Climate change is happening, there are big risks for everyone and no place in the world is immune from them,” said Professor Neil Adger of Exeter University, one of the many lead authors of the report.

    Nearly 2,000 experts from around the world contributed to the report, written by 436 authors and edited by 309 lead authors and review editors of the IPCC’s working group II. It was by far the most detailed investigation to date of the global impacts of climate change – extending from oceans to mountains and from the poles to the equator.

    Christopher Field, of the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology in California and co-chair of working group II, said that the observed impacts of climate change are already widespread and that “we’re not talking about hypothetical events”.

    The much-touted benefits of climate change – such as the ability to grow some crops such as vineyards at higher northerly latitudes – dwindle into insignificance compared to the enormous challenges produced by the much bigger downsides of a warmer and more stressed world, the report suggests.

    “It is true that we can’t find many benefits of climate change and I believe it’s because there aren’t many benefits, even though we tried really hard to find them,” Dr Field said. “There are a few places where there are a few benefits of warming but there are many other places where there are widespread negative impacts,” he said.

    The evidence for climate-change impacts is the strongest and most comprehensive for natural systems, such as melting mountain glaciers and polar ice, and the earlier and earlier signs of spring. However, impacts on human systems, such as a rise in certain tropical diseases, can also be attributed to climate change.

    “We live in an era of man-made climate change. In many cases, we are not prepared for the climate-related risks that we already face,” said Vicente Barros, co-chair of the IPCC working group II.

    The climate-related impacts studied by the IPCC included:

    Food security

    Crop yields have increased in general over recent decades but the rate of improvement would have been even faster had it not been for climate change. The signature of rising temperatures and heat stress are already showing on yield of wheat and maize, the report says.

    “All aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change, including food access, utilisation and price stability,” it says.

    Freshwater supplies

    As global temperature rise, then so does the fraction of the human population that are affected by either water scarcity or river flooding. “Climate change over the 21st century is projected to reduce renewable surface water and groundwater resources significantly in most dry subtropical regions,” the IPCC says.

    Loss of species

    The risk of plant and animal extinctions increases under all climate change scenarios, but they get worse with higher temperatures. Loss of trees and forest dieback will be a particular problem in a warmer world, the report says.

    “A large fraction of both terrestrial and freshwater species face increased extinction risk under projected climate change during and beyond the 21st century, especially as climate change interacts with other stressors such as habitat modification, over-exploitation, pollution and invasive species,” it says.

    Ocean acidification

    Coral reefs and shelled marine creatures, especially the smaller animals at the base of the marine food chain, are at special risk of rising carbon dioxide concentrations, which are causing the oceans to become more acidic and less alkaline. This in turn will affect human populations that rely on sea fish as a food source.

    Global economy

    Economic losses due to climate change are difficult to assess and many past estimates have not taken into account the catastrophic changes that could result from the climate passing a “tipping point”. Losses, however, are more likely than not to be greater, rather than smaller, than an estimated range of between 0.2 and 2 per cent of global income loss due to a temperature rise of about 2C.

    Human security

    Climate change can indirectly increase the risk of violent conflicts, such as civil wars, by amplifying the well-documented “drivers” such as poverty and economic shocks. Climate change will also increase the risk of unplanned displacement of people and a change in migration patterns, the report says.

    Scientists said that the messages about the threat posed by climate change in the 21st century have never been clearer but there is still time to mitigate the worst effects by cutting greenhouse gas emissions with sustainable energy sources as well as to adapt to the expected changes with technological improvements.

    Professor Corinne Le Quere, director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research at the University of East Anglia, said that the study is not “just another report” but the scientific consensus reached by hundreds of scientists.

    “The human influence on climate change is clear. The atmosphere and oceans are warming, the snow cover is shrinking, the Arctic sea ice is melting, sea levels are rising, the oceans are acidifying, some extreme weather events are on the rise, ecosystems and natural habitats will be upset.

    Climate change threatens food security and world economies,” Professor Le Quere said.

    Meat and cheese may have to be off the menu if there is to be any hope of hitting climate change targets.

    A separate study says cutting greenhouse gas emissions from energy use and transport will not be enough on its own to hold down the global temperature rise.

    The research indicates it will also be necessary to slash emissions from agriculture – meaning curbing meat and dairy consumption. Without such action, nitrous oxide emissions from fields and methane from livestock may double by 2070, making it impossible to meet the UN target.

    The lead scientist, Dr Fredrik Hedenus of Chalmers University of Technology in Sweden, said: “We have shown that reducing meat and dairy consumption is key to bringing agricultural climate pollution down to safe levels.”

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    Smog expert: Worsening Saharan dust storms to become an annual Spring fixture as climate changes

    The Saharan dust storms thickening Britain’s smog and coating cars from Cornwall to Aberdeen will become increasingly strong in the coming years as a “nasty mixture” of drought, development and intensive farming in North Africa pushes up air pollution, a leading dust expert warned yesterday.

    The rapid population growth in Western Sahel countries such as Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritani in the past 20 to 30 years has prompted a surge in agriculture which has greatly increased the amount of dust, Dr Robert Bryant, of Sheffield University, told The Independent.

    He said there was every sign that the trend – which has also seen cars in Devon, London and Northern Ireland covered in a fine reddish-brown dust and caused breathing difficulties in asthma and chronic bronchitis sufferers – will continue.

    “There has been a dramatic increase in some aspects of dust flux [emissions], which have doubled over the last 50 years. Population pressure alone is likely to exacerbate the problem and if current trends continue the amount could double again over the next 50 years,” said Dr Bryant, a Reader in Dryland Processes at the University of Sheffield.

    Creating farmland generates dust because it often involves replacing the natural vegetation that keeps the soil in place, with a much sparser cover of crops that exposes the ground to the wind. Furthermore, as climate change increases the frequency and intensity of droughts, the amount of dust blown into the air will increase as more crops die and the soil becomes drier, Dr Bryant said.

    The growing population in the Sahara has also generated a huge rise in other types of pollution, such as emissions from power stations, cars and mining, he added.

    “These other types of pollution get mixed up with the dust to create a nasty mixture that can include airborne diseases such as foot and mouth and kind of extreme event could have serious health implications for the UK,” Dr Bryant said.

    Foot and mouth disease is thought to have caused by a cloud of infected dust blown from the Sahara.

    A spokesman for Department Energy and Climate Change spokesman, dismissed rumours that the Saharan dust might be radioactive. “We routinely monitor for radiation and the detected levels have not increased at all over the past few days.”

    Caroline Barrere, a retired journalist from Kensington staying in the Madeiran capital of Funchal, told The Independent that she saw a giant cloud heading towards Britain at 3am on Tuesday morning as she stood on the balcony of her hotel suite overlooking the sea.

    “I’ve never seen a black, charcoal mushroom cloud so enormous. It was tinged orange-pink and I thought it was the end of the world. It was really thick and enormous, like Hiroshima – it was terrifying.”

    Back in Britain, people continued to feel the impact of the elevated pollution. The London Ambulance service reported a 14 per cent rise in calls for patients with respiratory issues as the city and much of the south east experienced the maximum level of 10 on the government’s air pollution index. When pollution hits these levels people are advised to “reduce physical exertion, particularly outdoors, especially if you experience symptoms such as sore eyes, cough or sore throat”.

    Mike McKevitt, head of patient services at the British Lung Foundation, said: “It would be surprising if we didn’t see an overall increase in the number of hospital admissions as a result of the pollution, certainly among people with respiratory conditions such as asthma and COPD [Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease].”

    “It isn’t just people with lung and heart disease that should be diligent. Anyone noticing that they are more breathless, or are coughing or wheezing more than normal, should contact their GP, even if they haven’t experienced any problems,” he added.

    Experts said that while the amount of Saharan dust and general pollution has been high this week, it was even highly in early March and at peak times last year.

    They attribute the massive publicity this bout of pollution has received to the Met Office taking responsibility for providing official pollution forecasts for the government from Ricardo-AEA, a much lower-profile private firm.

    Timothy Baker, of King’s College London, said: “The Met Office has taken over and been leading its TV weather forecasts with pollution. Overnight this has pushed public awareness of pollution up to unprecedented levels – the only time it came close was in the 2003 heatwave.”

    “I am very excited about the increased level of awareness because public awareness and engagement is the first step to getting action,” said Mr Baker, deputy manager of Air Quality Monitoring at King’s College’s Environmental Research Group.

    But not everyone has been influenced by the recent publicity around pollution.

    David Cameron came under fire for seeming to dismiss this week’s smog as entirely – rather than partly - generated by Saharan sand.

    “I didn’t go for my morning run this morning. I chose to do some work instead. You can feel it. But it’s a naturally occurring weather pollution problem. It sounds extraordinary, Saharan dust, but that’s what it is,” he told BBC 1’s Breakfast programme.

    His comments were in contrast to the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, which said: “The high level of air pollution this week is due to a combination of local emissions, light winds, pollution from the continent and dust blown over from the Sahara”.

    Labour’s Shadow Environment Secretary Maria Eagle said: “David Cameron is wrong to say our air quality crisis is due to just wind movement across continents. The real issue is that the government has no plan to address air pollution and has tried to hide the problem.”

    Keith Taylor, a Green Party MEP, added: “Despite the ongoing threat of air pollution and the fact that the EU is taking legal proceedings against the UK on this issue, the Prime Minister has the audacity to lay the entire blame for the smog on Saharan dust.”

    Boris Johnson was also criticised after telling ITV London: “I think we need to keep a little bit of sense of proportion. I cycled perfectly happily around today. I understand asthmatics and people who are particularly vulnerable perhaps need to be cautious but there’s no reason why people shouldn’t go about their daily lives.”

    Onkar Sahota, a health spokesman for the London Assembly Labour group called the London Mayor’s comments “dangerously complacent”.

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    Philippine experts divided over climate change action

    Scientists and farmers make competing claims for cutting-edge science and low-tech sustainable farming to tackle the issue



    As governments meet in Berlin, scientists and farmers on the frontline of climate change in the Philippines are at odds over how best to adapt agriculture to the much higher temperatures and weather extremes expected over the next century.

    While one group argues that hi-tech rice varieties will withstand the greater floods, droughts and storms forecast this week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), others say small farmers can best respond by avoiding chemicals and addressing problems such as soil fertility and water shortages.

    In one corner is the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, funded with $96m (£58m) from the US and UK governments, as well as major organisations such as Kellogg's and the Gates Foundation. There, with help from the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, scientists in the 1960s crossed rice varieties and, by using herbicides and inorganic fertilisers, more than doubled rice yields. The Asian "green revolution" was born, even as the continent was experiencing serious food shortages, and the Los Baños scientists were credited with pulling the region back from the edge of famine.

    Today IRRI sees climate change as the greatest challenge in 50 years. Temperatures at the research station have risen 2-4C in 40 years, yields are below 1982 levels and minimum temperatures are rising. If the IPCC scientists are correct, yields may fall a further 25% over the next 40 years, potentially triggering the greatest food crisis the world has seen.

    "The challenge when IRRI was set up was to grow more rice and to avert hunger," says the institute's deputy director general, Bruce Tolentino. His office occupies the old laboratory where on 29 November 1966, where the first strain of IR8 "miracle" rice was developed by crossing a Chinese dwarf, Dee-geo-woo-gen, with Peta, a tall variety from Indonesia.

    Climate change, says Tolentino, needs a new green revolution: "The challenge now is to rapidly adapt farming with modern varieties to climate change and feed a fast-growing global population, half of which depends on rice as a staple food. One billion people go hungry every day.

    "In the 1990s rice yields were growing 2% a year; now they are just 1%. We are unable to keep up with population growth. Temperatures have risen 2-4C. Climate change will reduce productivity. Rainfall is unpredictable and rice is grown in areas like deltas that are prone to sea level rises. We have to gear up for more challenging agro-ecological conditions, we need to be able to use swampy areas and develop varieties that can be grown in salty or flooded areas. We have already launched flood-tolerant rice and we are now introducing salt-tolerant varieties," he says.

    Flood-tolerant varieties



    "The results [of IRRI work] are staggering," says Abdelbagi Ismail, the Sudanese principal scientist who helped develop scuba rice, which can survive flooding for 17 days. He and others crossed a flood-tolerant variety traditionally grown by poor farmers in Orissa state, India, with a more high-yielding variety widely grown across Asia. Using marker-assisted gene tracing, but not genetic modification, the scuba rice plant becomes dormant in waters up to 1.5 metres deep and starts growing again only when the floodwater recedes.

    Scuba rice is being grown by up to 4 million people in flood-prone areas of Bangladesh, Burman and India, Ismail says. "I was recently in tribal areas of Orissa and scuba rice was like something from the sky for them. They told me that every three years they have a disaster. The poverty there is amazing: most people are landless and only have food for six months. Now they can get 2.5 tonnes per hectare. Once they have food then other things like education can follow. It is so satisfying when you see how it has changed people's lives. But we are just at the beginning – the target is to make it available to millions of farmers."

    Drought, salt and more flood-tolerant varieties developed with conventional plant-breeding techniques are being tested at Los Baños, but within a few years GM varieties modified to synthesize betacarotene, a precursor of vitamin A, and others that will contain added iron and zinc may be available. IRRI is also working on an all-purpose GM rice variety that should be able to withstand flooding, drought and salinity.

    But the holy grail at Los Baños, what some scientists call a game-changer is genetically modified C4 rice, which would mimic maize and a few other crops by using photosynthesis far more efficiently. An international group of scientists, funded by Gates and the UK government to the tune of about $27m a year, is several years into a 20-year C4 programme, but no date is given as to when it might be ready. "If we managed to re-engineer C4 rice it could give yields 30-50% greater yields," says Tolentino.

    Even as IRRI scientists race to develop climate-ready rice to solve future hunger, thousands of small farmers, who make up 60% of the population of the Philippines, say they are not waiting for hi-tech science but are adapting to climate change in other ways. The high-yielding seeds promised by the green revolution have not helped small farmers get out of poverty, they say. Instead they have gone deeply into debt to pay for chemicals and seeds on the promise of higher yields and better markets. Instead, climate change, in the form of erratic seasons and intense rains, has often ruined crops while middlemen have offered them the lowest prices.

    "We take loan for the seeds, and we pay upon harvest. We are usually left with empty sacks. So we take out loans for food and family expenses, and inputs to be able to plant for the next season. Upon harvest, we have leftover debt," says a man in a film produced by the Farmer Scientist Partnership for Development, or Mosipag, a network of 630 farmers' groups, scientists and Filipinos.

    Sustainability



    Mosipag president Chito Medina says IRRI does not look at sustainability. "Scientists in IRRI are hi-tech scientists, thus you would expect hi-tech farming as their solutions," he adds. "They are highly specialised but this strength is also their weakness when their specialised knowledge is applied to farming, which is a complex system." In the real world of farming in developing countries such as the Philippines, he says, decisions are made not just according to seed types but depending on soil types, water availability, the presence of pests, the financial ability to buy inputs and issues such as land ownership.

    Climate change means farmers need to reduce their exposure to weather-related risk, he says. If they use little capital, when a calamity strikes, even if the crops are damaged, they may get hungry but at least they have no debts. "High-input modern farming methods expose them to more risk because farmers must borrow money to buy seeds, fertilisers and pesticides. When a calamity strikes they get hungry, but more than that, they are indebted."

    Since 1986, Mosipag farmers have collected 1,300 traditional rice varieties, about 28% of the original traditional rice varieties before the green revolution. Hundreds now breed rice on their own farms and together have identified 18 drought tolerant rice varieties, 12 flood tolerant, 20 salt water tolerant, and 23 pest and disease resistant rice varieties. They are rejecting chemicals and using alternative growing methods such as the system of rice intensification (SRI), which aims to increase yields by stimulating the roots of plants. It has been found to increase yields by 20-100% in many countries including India, Cambodia and Vietnam.

    "The flood-tolerant, drought-tolerant varieties developed by IRRI require a high amount of input of chemical fertiliser and pesticides that are not affordable by the majority of poor farmers. Methods like SRI and organic farming are attractive because they are available and affordable and give a better net income. The yield of organic farms and chemical farms are not significantly different but the net income of our organic farmers is significantly higher than chemical farming in the Philippines," he says.

    Seeds are just one resource, and IRRI is not looking at others, say farmers in Mindanao and Luzon, who are also turning to organic farming. "We get higher yields, have lower production costs, higher biodiversity and therefore better food supplies with SRI," said a farmer at a Met Office event for weather prediction training with Oxfam, last week.

    Antony Dayson, who farms in Sorsogon in Luzon, said: "We are adapting by diversifying our crops, selecting varieties that we know are better and returning to traditional varieties. We have been to the old farmers in upland areas who are growing varieties like wagwag, dinorado and wado varieties, which are better suited to wet conditions."

    Rene Jaranilla, another farmer from Luzon, said: "I use only 5-15kg per hectare instead of the whole bag like I used to. It saves seeds and water and it generates employment. More farmers are seeing higher yields; people in my area get 3 tonnes an acre, but I get 6 tonnes by using SRI. Those who are using it are seeing better yields. People think it's something new but when they try it they are convinced."

    The two different approaches to farming, of cutting-edge science and low-tech sustainable farming, have produced inevitable tensions and mutual distrust, not helped when last year Filipino farmers, including members of groups linked to Mosipag, destroyed a GM trial at IRRI.

    Each group now throws doubt on the other. "SRI is a package. When you break it down it has to do with selecting the right sees applying varying levels of nutrients. It's best practice. We hesitate to label it SRI because each farmer has their own approach. Some of the results have been remarkable in small, controlled plots but not on a wide scale. There have been some outlandish claims but a lot are anecdotes," says Tolentino.

    "IRRI scientists don't like the approach we take. They say demonstrations have failed, but they are embarrassed that they have not done it for themselves," says Jaranilla. "There are so many local varieties of rice developed in Asia by farmers. The scientists at IRRI are simply reinventing them through different methods. It is not the variety that counts under the extremes of climate change, but how farmers can spread the risks by growing different crops. These simply need local knowledge, not hi-tech science."

    source Guardian
     
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    UN urges huge increase in green energy to avert climate disaster

    'Triple or quadruple renewables', say experts, as pressure grows for UK to deliver on eco priorities



    David Cameron's commitment to the green agenda will come under the fiercest scrutiny yet this week when top climate-change experts will warn that only greater use of renewable energy – including windfarms – can prevent a global catastrophe.

    A report by the world's leading authorities will expose a growing gulf between a Tory party intent on halting construction of more onshore windfarms and the world's leading scientists, who see them as one of the cheapest ways to provide energy while at the same time saving the environment.

    Mitigation of Climate Change, by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a panel of 200 scientists, will make it clear that by far the most realistic option for the future is to triple or even quadruple the use of renewable power plants. Only through such decisive action will carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere be kept below the critical level of 480 parts per million (ppm), before the middle of the century. If levels go beyond this figure, the chances of curtailing global mayhem are poor, they will say.

    The report – the third in a series by the IPCC designed to highlight the climate crisis now facing the planet – is intended as an urgent wake-up call to nations to commit around 1-2% of GDP in order to replace power plants that burn fossil fuels, the major cause of global warming, with renewable sources.



    Its conclusions represent a huge challenge for Cameron and the Conservative party – which is now laying plans to block the construction of new onshore windfarms in Britain, the country's only realistic, reasonably priced renewable energy option other than solar power, which has limited potential in the UK.

    Having promised to lead "the greenest government ever", Cameron now stands accused by the green lobby of watering down his commitments in response to the threat of Ukip, which campaigns heavily against windfarms.

    The prime minister's green credentials have also been called into question by the appointment in 2012 of Owen Paterson, a climate-change sceptic, as environment secretary. Paterson said in September 2013: "People get very emotional about this subject and I think we should just accept that the climate has been changing for centuries."

    An Opinium/Observer poll – which today puts Ukip on 18% support – also finds that just 15% of voters think Cameron has lived up to his promises on the environment, against 46% who think he has not. In addition, only 20% disagreed with the suggestion that the government was giving priority to short-term economic growth over the sustainable use of the environment.

    Last week local government secretary Eric Pickles announced he had taken personal control over all future decisions about new onshore windfarms, while Grant Shapps, the Conservative party chairman, said wind turbines were no longer "environmentally friendly". Shapps also suggested that the Tories would pledge to curb them in their 2015 election manifesto and instead approve only offshore windfarms.

    However, the move would cripple the ability of the government to play a full part in curtailing carbon dioxide emissions, and experts warn it could lead to higher energy prices.

    Onshore wind power costs around £90 per megawatt hour to generate, but for offshore windfarms this rises to £150. Other renewable energy sources are either of limited use in Britain or are not yet fully developed, such as tidal power. Nuclear energy is one alternative, but is controversial, and a major construction programme would take decades to approve and construct.

    "Renewable energy is backed by the public; wind power has the support of two thirds (66%) of Britons and the CBI has called on action to tackle climate change," said Christian Aid's senior climate change advisor, Mohamed Adow. "The government should be doing all it can to put the UK at the forefront of this energy revolution not blowing hot and cold on the issue.

    Joss Garman, Greenpeace's deputy political director, said: "These scientists have shown us that it's not too late and we can still avoid the worst impacts of climate change, but only if we get behind the clean energy solutions that can slash carbon pollution. Renewable energy technologies are already the least-cost option in a growing number of major markets, and they're getting cheaper all the time.Rather than turning back towards dirty fuels like coal and gas, now is the time for Ministers to double down on our transition towards a cleaner energy system. This report shows that the sooner we act, the cheaper it will be."

    The new report has taken four years to compile. It is expected to say the UN target – to limit global warming to 2 degrees celsius (3.6 degrees fahrenheit) – is feasible only if surging carbon emissions are swiftly braked and then reversed.

    The first report forecast that global temperatures would rise by 0.3-4.8C this century, on top of roughly 0.7C since the industrial revolution. Seas are forecast to rise by 26-82cm by 2100. The second report, which was issued last month, dwelt on the likely impacts and warned that the risk of conflict, hunger, floods and mass displacement increased with every minuscule rise in temperature.

    The panel will issue a résumé of all three reports in Copenhagen in October, prior to the next major UN climate summit, which is scheduled to open in Paris in December 2015.

    The last IPCC assessment report, published in 2007, formed the core of the international debate on climate at the UN's Copenhagen Summit in 2009. The event degenerated into a political brawl and climate negotiations have been stuttering ever since. Climate experts say this failure to act cannot be allowed to continue. UN members must agree to a climate pact that will come into force in 2020. Any later and the costs of mitigating climate change will soar exponentially because there will then be so much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

    UK economist Sir Nicholas Stern said: "All political leaders should recognise that a powerful case has been presented for accelerating action against climate change by building cleaner and more efficient economies."Dr Stephan Singer, WWF director of global energy policy, added: "Renewable energy can no longer be considered a niche market. Renewables must – and should – eventually take the full share of the global energy market within the next few decades."

    source Guardian
     
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    Fires could turn Amazon rainforest into a desert as human activity and climate change threaten ‘lungs of the world’, says study

    The Amazon rainforest is becoming increasingly vulnerable to catastrophic forest fires due to a combination of droughts, climate change and human activities such as deforestation, farming and habitat fragmentation, a major study has concluded.

    One of the last great wildernesses on earth – known as the lungs of the world – is balancing dangerously close to a “tipping point” where forest fires will become so commonplace and extensive that they will change much of the landscape forever, scientists said.

    Although fires have always occurred in Amazonia, they have been largely controlled by the natural humidity of the region. Now, however, the drying out of the rainforest threatens to ignite the tree-filled habitat – with its rich biodiversity – and convert it almost overnight into barren desert, they warned.

    For the first time, scientists have shown in experiments on the ground how extreme, dry weather combined with the effects of human activities can create a tinderbox environment where intensely damaging forest fires can spread easily, killing trees that have taken hundreds of years to grow.

    The study, carried out on three large experimental plots of rainforest monitored by satellite, showed that droughts abruptly increased the risk of intense forest fires compared to non-drought years, and this effect can be exacerbated significantly in areas influenced by human activities.

    “These results provide, to our knowledge, the first experimental evidence of the link among extreme weather events, widespread and high-intensity fires and associated abrupt changes in forest structure, dynamics and composition,” said the scientists from the US and Brazil.

    “This mechanism of rapid forest degradation could operate over a larger geographical area, such as the ‘arc of deforestation’, where droughts, forest fragmentation and forest fires are already common,” they said in a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

    The researchers monitored the three 50-hectare plots of Amazon rainforest over an eight-year period. During this time they subjected two of the plots to controlled fires, either on an annual or a three-year basis, and left the third plot untouched as a control for comparison.

    They found that while the rainforest did not burn very much in years with normal rainfall, it burned intensively and extensively in drought years, which are expected to increase in both frequency and severity due to climate change causing shorter, more intense rainy seasons and longer dry seasons.

    Trees in the tropical rainforests, unlike more temperate woodlands, are not naturally immune to forest fires and are easily killed by flames. The study found that this vulnerability caused a collapse of the overhead canopy cover and an invasion of the forest by more flammable vegetation from the inhabited forest edges, causing a cascade of events that increased the chances of an irreversible “tipping point” triggered by fire.

    “Agricultural development has created smaller forest fragments, which exposes forest edges to the hotter dryer conditions in the surrounding landscape and makes them vulnerable to escaped fires,” said Marcia Macedo of the Woods Hole Research Centre in Falmouth, Massachusetts.

    “These fragmented forests are more likely to be invaded by flammable grasses, which further increase the likelihood and intensity of future fires,” Dr Macedo said.

    The researchers emphasised that most computer models of how the Amazon will respond to climate change do not take into account the true scale of the threat posed by forest fires, which is a serious flaw in the assessment of what could happen over the coming decades of warmer global temperatures.

    “This study shows that fires are already degrading large areas of forests in southern Amazonia and highlights the need to include interactions between extreme weather events and fire when attempting to predict the future of Amazonian forests under a changing climate,” said Paulo Brando of the Instituto de Pesquisa Ambiental da Amazonia in Belem, Brazil, and lead author of the study.

    Over the past 10 years, the Amazon has experienced several unusual droughts. In 2005, a drought occurred over a wide area that was calculated to be a one-in-100-year event, however, an even more extensive drought occurred in 2010.

    On both occasions, scientists believe the Amazon went from being a net absorber of carbon dioxide to a net producer. In 2005, for instance, researchers calculated that it turned from being a net absorber of about 2 billion tonnes of CO2 to a net producer of as much as 5bn tonnes of CO2 – almost as high as the 5.4bn tonnes emitted annually by the US.

    However, in the drought of 2010 was far larger, causing the massive Rio Negro river – the biggest tributary of the Amazon – to fall to its lowest level since record began more than a century ago. On this occasion, the forest expelled some 8 billion tonnes net of CO2, scientists said.

    A more regional drought in 2007, which mainly affected southeast Amazonia, caused a significant increase in forest fires in the area, which burned about 10 times more forest than in typical years – an area equivalent to a million soccer fields.

    The scientists believe that the findings show that the response of the Amazon to rising global temperatures and the increased risk of severe drought years can be unpredictable and “non-linear” because of a sudden breach of an irreversible tipping point.

    “None of the models used to evaluate future Amazon forest health include fire, so most predictions grossly underestimate the amount of tree death and overestimate overall forest health,” said Michael Coe, another Woods Hole researcher and member of the joint US-Brazil team.

    source independent
     
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    Massive Solar Electricity Plant Provides Power to California Homes

    The Ivanpah Solar Electric Generating System is seen in an aerial view on February 20, 2014 in the Mojave Desert in California near Primm, Nevada. The largest solar thermal power-tower system in the world, owned by NRG Energy, Google and BrightSource Energy, opened last week in the Ivanpah Dry Lake and uses 347,000 computer-controlled mirrors to focus sunlight onto boilers on top of three 459-foot towers, where water is heated to produce steam to power turbines providing power to more than 140,000 California homes.





     
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    Coal: The Fuel Of The Future, Unfortunately

    WHAT more could one want? It is cheap and simple to extract, ship and burn. It is abundant: proven reserves amount to 109 years of current consumption, reckons BP, a British energy giant. They are mostly in politically stable places. There is a wide choice of dependable sellers, such as BHP Billiton (Anglo-Australian), Glencore (Anglo-Swiss), Peabody Energy and Arch Coal (both American).

    Other fuels are beset by state interference and cartels, but in this industry consumers--in heating, power generation and metallurgy--are firmly in charge, keeping prices low. Just as this wonder-fuel once powered the industrial revolution, it now offers the best chance for poor countries wanting to get rich.

    Such arguments are the basis of a new PR campaign launched by Peabody, the world’s largest private coal company (which unlike some rivals is profitable, thanks to its low-cost Australian mines). And coal would indeed be a boon, were it not for one small problem: it is devastatingly dirty. Mining, transport, storage and burning are fraught with mess, as well as danger. Deep mines put workers in intolerably filthy and dangerous conditions. But opencast mining, now the source of much of the world’s coal, rips away topsoil and gobbles water. Transporting coal brings a host of environmental problems.

    The increased emissions of carbon dioxide from soaring coal consumption threaten to fry the planet, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reminded everyone in a new report this week (see "Global warming: Another week, another report"). The CO{-2} makes the oceans acid; burning coal also produces sulphur dioxide, which makes buildings crumble and lungs sting, and other toxic chemicals. By some counts, coal-fired power stations emit more radioactivity than nuclear ones. They release tiny, lethal particulates. Per unit generated, coal-fired stations cause far more deaths than nuclear ones, and more even than oil-fired ones.

    But poverty kills people too, and slow growth can cost politicians their jobs. Two decades of environmental worries are proving only a marginal constraint on the global coal industry. Some are trying to get out: in America Consol Energy is selling five mines in West Virginia to concentrate on shale gas. Big coal-burners such as American Electric Power and Duke Energy are shutting coal-fired plants. Yet despite America’s shale-gas boom, the federal Energy Information Administration reckons that by 2040 the country will still be generating 22% of its electricity from coal (compared with 26% now). The International Energy Agency has even predicted that, barring policy changes, coal may rival oil in importance by 2017. As countries get richer they tend to look for alternatives--China is scrambling to curb its rising consumption. But others, such as India and Africa, are set to take up the slack.

    America’s gas boom has prompted its coal miners to seek new export markets, sending prices plunging on world markets. So long as consumers do not pay for coal’s horrible side-effects, that makes it irresistibly cheap. In Germany power from coal now costs half the price of watts from a gas-fired power station. It is a paradox that coal is booming in a country that in other respects is the greenest in Europe. Its production of power from cheap, dirty brown coal (lignite) is now at 162 billion kilowatt hours, the highest since the days of the decrepit East Germany.

    Japan, too, is turning to coal in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster. On April 11th the government approved a new energy plan entrenching its role as a long-term electricity source.

    International coal companies face two worries. One is that governments may eventually impose punitive levies, tariffs and restrictions on their mucky product. The other is the global glut. Prices for thermal coal (the kind used for power and heating) are at $80-85 a tonne, which barely covers the cost of capital. Some Australian producers are even mining at a loss, having signed freight contracts with railways and ports that make them pay for capacity whether they use it or not.

    One answer to that is cost-cutting and efficiency, much stressed by companies such as BHP Billiton. Unlike oil and gas, coal is geologically simple and does not require a costly array of drills, platforms and pipes. If the price is too low, companies can decide to stop production and await better times. But thriftiness with capital has its limits: the cost of mining is going up, as the easiest coal seams are worked out.

    Some companies have tried to switch efforts to "met" (metallurgical) coal, which fuels smelters. This was thought to be scarcer and more profitable. But that theory has suffered. Supplies of met coal have proved more abundant than expected.

    Perhaps the biggest hope for all involved in the coal industry is technology. Mining and transporting coal will always be messy, but this could be overlooked were it burned cheaply and cleanly. Promising technologies abound: pulverising coal, extracting gas from it, scrubbing emissions and capturing the CO{-2}{-.} But none of these seems scalable in the way needed to dent the colossal damage done by coal. And all require large subsidies--from consumers, shareholders or taxpayers.

    A $5.2 billion taxpayer-supported clean-coal plant in Mississippi incorporates all the latest technology. But at $6,800 per kilowatt, it will be the costliest power plant yet built (a gas-fired power station in America costs $1,000 per kW). At those prices, coal is going to stay dirty.

    source businessinsider
     
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    America’s wake-up call: ‘Climate change, once seen as issue for the future, has moved into present’



    The malign impact of man-made climate change – denied by many on the American right – is already being felt by the United States, according to a sobering new report published by the Obama administration.

    The National Climate Assessment, released by the White House on Tuesday, calls for an urgent curb on man-made emissions to tackle worsening heat waves, wildfires, torrential rains and other extreme weather events, and lays out in plain English the everyday consequences of climate change for average Americans. “Climate change, once considered an issue for a distant future, has moved firmly into the present,” the report explains.

    “Corn producers in Iowa, oyster growers in Washington State and maple-syrup producers in Vermont are all observing climate-related changes that are outside of recent experience. So, too, are coastal planners in Florida, water managers in the arid South-west, city dwellers from Phoenix to New York and native peoples on tribal lands from Louisiana to Alaska.”

    The 800-page report, compiled by a group of more than 240 scientists, outlines the region-by-region impact of climate change on food production, water supply and public health. “Summers are longer and hotter, and extended periods of unusual heat last longer than any living American has ever experienced,” the report says. “Winters are generally shorter and warmer. Rain comes in heavier downpours. People are seeing changes in the length and severity of seasonal allergies, the plant varieties that thrive in their gardens, and the kinds of birds they see in any particular month in their neighbourhoods.”

    The assessment found that the decade from 2001 to 2012 was the warmest on record in the US. Heat waves, already the country’s biggest cause of weather-related deaths, are expected to intensify and spread. The amount of rainfall from extreme weather events has increased by as much as 71 per cent in the North-east. According to the report, sea levels have risen by 8in since 1880, and will rise by between 1ft-4ft before 2100, threatening the homes of around 5 million people who live close to the high-tide level on the US coastline. Certain diseases have become more prevalent due to decreased air quality, and the report also blamed climate change for a devastating outbreak of mountain pine beetles in the forests of the American West.

    The average US temperature has increased by less than two degrees Fahrenheit since the end of the 19th century, with most of that increase occurring since 1970. But the report warned that temperatures could go up by as much as 10 degrees Fahrenheit during the 21st century if greenhouse-gas emissions continue to expand at their current pace. In recent years, the US has been overtaken by China as the world’s biggest single producer of fossil-fuel emissions, but its emissions per capita remain more than double those of the Chinese.

    The National Climate Assessment addresses head-on the most politically controversial aspect of climate change: whether it is man-made. The report states that new and varied items of evidence “confirm that human activities” have contributed to climate change, in particular emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. According to satellite data cited in the assessment, solar activity and volcanic eruptions have had little or no effect on climate change, while the report attributes a recent “pause” in global warming to “cyclic changes in the oceans and in the sun’s energy output”.

    In 1990, Congress mandated a major scientific report on climate change be published every four years, but only two such assessments have been compiled before now, in 2000 and 2009. This week’s assessment was approved before its publication by a committee including representatives from two major oil companies, government departments, the National Academy of Science and Nasa. President Obama was expected to grant interviews to national and local television weather forecasters, in a bid to publicise its findings.

    At a press conference in Washington DC, John P Holdren, the President’s science adviser, said the National Climate Assessment was “the loudest and clearest alarm bell to date” on climate change in the US. The White House counsellor John Podesta told reporters that the assessment contained “a huge amount of practical, usable knowledge that state and local decision-makers can take advantage of as they plan on or for the impacts of climate change.”

    In February, the US Department of Agriculture introduced a series of so-called “climate hubs”: networks to connect farmers to universities, industry groups and government agencies, so they can better prepare for climate-related events such as drought and flooding. The administration intends to use the new report to bolster support for Mr Obama’s Climate Action Plan, set out last year, which calls for new regulations to curb polluters, and the establishment of a $1bn (£590m) “climate resiliency fund” to finance preparations for the effects of continued climate change. The report claims that in 2012 alone, climate and weather disasters cost the US more than $100bn.

    However, many Republicans oppose the President’s plan, saying it will damage the US economy. “Instead of making the environment drastically better, the President’s strategy will make the climate for unemployed Americans even worse,” said Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming. The Heartland Institute, a conservative think-tank that is sceptical of man-made climate change, said that the National Climate Assessment “consistently reaches overly pessimistic conclusions”.

    source independent
     
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    Australia shark cull: Government destroys 50 sharks in trial programme – but fails to catch a single great white blamed for fatalities



    More than 170 sharks have been caught and 50 destroyed as part of Australia’s controversial culling policy, government figures have revealed.

    Officials said the programme was “successfully restoring confidence” among beachgoers in Western Australia, but opponents have been critical after it emerged that the animals caught did not include a single great white – the species most often blamed for fatal attacks.

    The trial scheme involved placing drum lines along seven of the state’s most popular beaches, and while tiger sharks were the most commonly caught there were also five protected makos, four of which were either killed or found already dead on the line.

    The largest shark caught measured was at Floreat Beach, and measured 4.5m (15ft). All the animals destroyed were longer than 3m (10ft).

    The government is now seeking permission to extend the programme for the next three years, but opposition politicians described attempts to justify the cull as “utter nonsense”.

    Greens MP Lynn MacLaren told Australia’s ABC News that tiger sharks had not been implicated in a human fatality for almost 100 years, and that reducing their numbers “does nothing to improve beach safety”.

    She said: “We know that the great white shark is the shark that has been implicated in fatalities off our coast, and no great white sharks were captured on the drum lines in this whole programme.”

    Labor’s fisheries spokesman Dave Kelly said the policy had proved “very unpopular”, adding: “It has hardly caught any of the sharks it was destined to catch and the government hasn't produced any scientific evidence to say that the policy is working.”

    Yet Ken Baston, the fisheries minister for Western Australia, said the combination of tagging and destroying sharks was both “greatly contributing to scientific knowledge” and “restoring confidence among swimmers, surfers and divers”.

    “The human toll from shark attacks in recent years has been too high”, Mr Baston said. “Our carefully implemented policy targeted the most dangerous shark species known to be in our waters - white, tiger and bull sharks.

    “While of course we will never know if any of the sharks caught would have harmed a person, this Government will always place greatest value on human life.”

    source guardian
     
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    Antarctic ice sheet disappearing at twice the rate predicted





    The Antarctic ice sheet is disappearing at twice the speed of when it was last surveyed, losing 159 billion tonnes of ice to the ocean every year.

    Three years of observations from the European Space Agency’s (ESA) CryoSat satellite have surpassed scientists’ worst fears.

    A 20-year mean average determined from a combination of techniques on the ground predicted the the continent’s ice would be melting at half the current rate.

    Polar ice sheets are a major contributor to the global rise in sea levels and the losses in Antarctica alone are enough to raise levels by 0.45mm every year.

    Researchers at the UK’s Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling showed glaciers are rapidly thinning in the Amundsen Sea sector of West Antarctica.



    University of Leeds professor Andrew Shepherd, who led the study, said the satellite had allowed the group to study coastal and high-latitude regions of Antarctica that were beyond the capability of past missions.

    “Although we are fortunate to now have, in CryoSat, a routine capability to monitor the polar ice sheets, the increased thinning we have detected in West Antarctica is a worrying development,” he added.

    “It adds concrete evidence that dramatic changes are underway in this part of our planet.”

    From 2010 to 2013, West Antarctica, East Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula lost 134 billion, 3 billion and 23 billion tonnes of ice each year respectively.

    It is still a small fraction of the total area of Antarctica, which holds more than 26 million cubic km of ice.



    The research, published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, was made possible by the CryoSat mission that launched in 2010 to measure the variation in ice thickness in unprecedented detail.

    The satellite surveys 96 per cent of the Antarctic continent, reaching to within 133 miles of the South Pole.

    Dr Malcolm Macmillan from Leeds University, who was the lead author of the study, said ice losses were most pronounced along fast-flowing streams in the Amundsen Sea.

    He said they were disappearing at rates of 4 to 8 metres a year where ice streams are lifted from the land and float into the sea.

    The area has long been identified as the most vulnerable to changes in climate and assessments suggest its glaciers may have passed a point of irreversible retreat.

    source independent
     
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    Climate change: Global temperatures in May hit an all-time record high



    Global temperatures - from Australia to Alaska - hit an all-time record high for the month of May, driven by exceptionally warm sea-surface temperatures according to the US's leading climate organisation.

    The combined average temperatures for the land and ocean around the world was 0.74C higher than the 20th Century average of 14.8C for May, said the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

    Although global land temperatures were the fourth highest for May, average temperatures across the oceans reached a record monthly high of 0.59C above the 20th Century average of 16.3C.

    The temperature records show that May 2014 tied with June 1998, October 2003 and July 2009 as the highest departure from the century average for any month on record, NOAA said.

    Exposing the myth that global warming has “stopped”, the latest temperature data show that it was also the second warmest March to May period, after 2010, in terms of land-surface temperatures and the third warmest in terms of global ocean surface temperatures, it said.

    “Four of the five warmest Mays on record have occurred in the past five years: 2010 (second warmest), 2012 (third warmest), 2013 (fifth warmest), and 2014 (warmest); currently, 1998 has the fourth warmest May on record,” NOAA said.

    “Additionally, May 2014 marked the 39th consecutive May and the 351st consecutive month (more than 29 years) with a global temperature above the 20th Century average,” it said.

    “The last below-average global temperature for May occurred in 1976 and the last below-average temperature for any month occurred in February 1985,” it added.

    Most of Europe experienced above-average temperatures during spring with some countries having one of their 10 warmest May months. Latvia and Norway both had the warmest spring temperatures on their respective records, while Britain experienced its third warmest spring, with Scotland breaking its March-May record.

    NOAA found that the higher global May temperatures were spread fairly evenly between the northern and southern hemispheres, with the Northern Hemisphere having its second highest average spring temperature, behind 2010, and the Southern Hemisphere observing its fourth highest autumn temperatures.

    Sea surface temperatures are rising in the South Pacific Ocean, indicating that there is a 70 per cent chance of an El Nino forming this summer, and an 80 per cent chance that it will be seen in winter, NOAA said.

    El Nino, a sea-surface temperature anomaly, is a natural phenomenon that can cause weather disturbances around the world. It contributed to the high land surface temperatures seen in 1998.

    source independent
     
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    Melting glaciers are caused by man-made global warming, study shows



    The dramatic melting of the world’s mountain glaciers – from the Alps to the Himalayas – is mostly the result of man-made global warming rather than natural variability in the climate, a study has found.

    Scientists have laid to rest the idea that glaciers as far apart as Patagonia and Indonesia are melting primarily because of natural changes to the climate caused by such things as solar variability and volcanic eruptions.

    An assessment of about 200,000 glaciers in the world, some of which have been monitored since the mid 19th century, has found that about two thirds of the current rate of glacial melting is due to human influences on the climate.

    Scientists found that while much of the melting a century or more ago was most probably due to natural variability in the climate, it is now primarily caused by anthropogenic global warming resulting from industrial greenhouse gases.

    “We can clearly detect an anthropogenic effect on glaciers and it’s been steadily rising over the last 100 years,” said Ben Marzeion, a climate scientist at the University of Innsbruck in Austria.

    “In the 19th century and first half of the 20th century we observed that glacier mass loss attributable to human activity is hardly noticeable but since then it has steadily increased,” said Dr Marzeion, the lead author of the study published in the journal Science.

    In comparison to anthropogenic warming caused carbon dioxide emissions, variations in solar radiation and the effects of volcanic eruptions, which can lower temperatures by blocking solar radiation, now play only a minor role in influencing whether a glacier recedes or expands, the scientists found.

    The study found that about 25 per cent of the global loss of glacier ice that occurred between 1851 and 2010 could be attributable to human influences, but that this rose to about 69 per cent between 1991 and 2010, based on computer simulations of the climate that included natural and man-made effects.

    “The influence of anthropogenic warming becomes robust around the middle of the 20th century. It seems obvious that if it gets warmer, glaciers will melt but no-one has actually shown that before – and it’s possible to say that now this is primarily caused by humans,” Dr Marzeion said.

    “While we keep factors such as solar variability and volcanic eruptions unchanged, we are able to modify land use changes and greenhouse gas emissions in our models,” he said.

    “In our data we find unambiguous evidence of anthropogenic contribution to glacier mass loss. What is happening in recent decades is not explicable by natural climate effects such as variations in solar radiation or volcanic activity,” he added.

    It widely accepted that the global trend in glacier melting began in the mid 19th century, at the end of the “little ice age” when temperatures in some parts of the world were below average for many decades.

    It can take decades or even centuries for glaciers to adjust to climate change and the real effects of the more recent human influences on the climate have not been clear until this study, Dr Marzeion said.

    “There is a lag response of several decades which means that we are only seeing a fraction of the total anthropogenic effects on melting glaciers that we will eventually see as a result of the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere now,” he said.

    Although mountain glaciers store less than one per cent of the total ice on earth, they are a major cause of global sea-level rise over the 20th century because they have melted so rapidly. The smaller glaciers of the Alps and Rocky Mountains are among the fastest disappearing masses of non-polar ice.

    source independent
     
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    The butterfly effect: climate change ‘forced species to adapt’



    A British butterfly species has made climate-change history by becoming the first known animal of any kind to lose the ability to do something after global warming forced it to move to a new environment and adapt its behaviour.

    The brown argus butterfly has spread from long-established sites in the south of England further north to areas such as Lincolnshire and South Yorkshire as climate change has made them warmer and more habitable.

    But in the move the species has lost its ability to eat one of the two plants on which it has traditionally survived because it is not prevalent in its new home, according to new research.

    “To our knowledge, this is the first time that the loss of adaptive variation during evolutionary responses to recent climate change has been demonstrated in any animal,” said one of the report’s authors, Dr Jon Bridle, of the University of Bristol.

    The research found that butterflies from long-established southern sites laid eggs on two food plants: rockrose and wild geranium. By contrast, females from recently colonised populations further north will only lay eggs on the widespread geranium and not the rockrose, which is far scarcer due to the lack of limestone rock in the area.

    Essentially, the butterflies have become so focused on geraniums in their new habitat that they have lost the ability to eat – and therefore lay eggs on – rockrose, the research found.

    “Such narrowing... may have implications for [the species’] further expansion northwards,” said the report, a joint project with Glasgow University that has been publicised in the journal Ecology Letters.

    The study noted that narrowing its diet has helped the brown argus – or Aricia agestis – spread into new areas, although it was unable to determine why. However, Dr Bridle said the loss of its prediliction for rockrose may limit its ability to move further north.

    The researchers conducted their experiments by using shopping baskets to transplant female butterflies between habitats across the UK, and counting the number of eggs they laid on larval food plants in different areas.

    These results show the importance of conducting experiments in natural habitats as well as in laboratory environments, the report said.

    source independent
     
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    Plastic rubbish heaps at sea pose bigger threat to Earth than climate change, claims ocean expert



    The world’s leading expert on the poisoning of the oceans said he was “utterly shocked” at the increase in plastic floating on the sea in the past five years and warned that it potentially posed a bigger threat to the planet than climate change.

    Charles J Moore, a captain in the US merchant marine and founder of a leading Ocean research group, has just finished his first in-depth survey of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch – one of five major expanses of plastic drifting in the world’s oceans - since 2009.

    “It’s choking our future in ways that most of us are barely aware,” said Captain Moore, who first caught sight of the patch in the North Pacific Ocean in 1997, while returning to southern California after the Los Angeles to Hawaii TransPacific yacht race.

    He has since revisited the area with a team of scientists 10 times, noting an alarming increase in rubbish.

    “Although it was my tenth voyage to the area, I was utterly shocked to see the enormous increase in the quantity of plastic waste since my last trip in 2009. Plastics of every description, from toothbrushes to tires to unidentifiable fragments too numerous to count floating for hundreds of miles without end,” Captain Moore wrote in a column in the New York Times.

    “We even came upon a floating island bolstered by dozens of plastic buoys used in oyster aquaculture that had solid areas you could walk on,” he added.

    Plastics are now one of the most common pollutants of ocean waters in the world. Pushed by winds, tides and currents, plastic particles form with other debris into large, swirling glue-like accumulation zones, known to oceanographers as "gyres", which comprise as much as 40 per cent of the planet’s ocean surface, said Captain Moore, who founded the Algalita Marine Research Institute in Long Beach, California.

    In a previous study of Southern California’s urban centres, he calculated that they spilled 2.3bn pieces of plastic – from polystyrene foam to tiny fragments and pellets – into the area’s coastal waters in just three days of monitoring.



    Once in the sea, the plastics biodegrade extremely slowly, breaking into tiny fragments in a centuries-long process. During this period, they entangle and slowly kills millions of sea creatures, while hundreds of species mistake the plastic for food, ingesting toxicants that cause liver and stomach problems in fish and birds and often choke them to death.

    “We suspect that more animals are killed by vagrant plastic waste than by even climate change – a hypothesis that needs to be seriously tested,” Captain Moore said.

    The problem is exacerbated by the fishing industry, which uses huge amounts of plastics in its floats, lines and nets that often get lost accidentally and in storms.

    Although a handful of methods do exist to help reduce the volume of plastic at sea, they pale into insignificance against the scale of the garbage heaps.

    “The reality is that only by preventing manmade debris – most of which is disposable plastic – from getting into the ocean in the first place will a measurable reduction in the ocean’s plastic load be accomplished.”

    “The real challenge is to combat an economic model that thrives on wasteful products and packaging and leaves the associated problem of clean-up costs. Changing the way we produce and consume plastics is a challenge greater than reining in our production of carbon dioxide,” Captain Moore added.
    How to reduce ocean plastic

    There are no high-tech methods for reducing the volume of plastic at sea. In fact, those techniques we do have are surprisingly mundane.

    1- Plastic bag tax: The best way to reduce the amount of plastic is to use less of it, and the best way to do this is to cut down on plastic bags.
    2- Sieve-like skimmers: These come in a variety of shapes and sizes but essentially they aim to scoop up debris out of the water.
    3- Screens: Covering gutters and catch basins in urban areas with 5mm screens has reduced the amount of debris flowing down rivers into the sea.
    4- Circular economy: The basic idea is to recycle as much as possible and to design products in such a way that as little has to be thrown away as possible.

    source independent
     
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    Myth of arctic meltdown: Stunning satellite images show summer ice cap is thicker



    The speech by former US Vice-President Al Gore was apocalyptic. ‘The North Polar ice cap is falling off a cliff,’ he said. ‘It could be completely gone in summer in as little as seven years. Seven years from now.’

    Those comments came in 2007 as Mr Gore accepted the Nobel Peace Prize for his campaigning on climate change.

    But seven years after his warning, The Mail on Sunday can reveal that, far from vanishing, the Arctic ice cap has expanded for the second year in succession – with a surge, depending on how you measure it, of between 43 and 63 per cent since 2012.

    To put it another way, an area the size of Alaska, America’s biggest state, was open water two years ago, but is again now covered by ice.

    source infowars
     
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    Extent of Antarctic sea ice reaches record levels, scientists say

    Scientists say the extent of Antarctic sea ice cover is at its highest level since records began



    Scientists say the extent of Antarctic sea ice cover is at its highest level since records began.

    Satellite imagery reveals an area of about 20 million square kilometres covered by sea ice around the Antarctic continent.

    Jan Lieser from the Antarctic Climate and Ecosystems Cooperative Research Centre (CRC) said the discovery was made two days ago.

    “This is an area covered by sea ice which we’ve never seen from space before,” he said.

    “Thirty-five years ago the first satellites went up which were reliably telling us what area, two dimensional area, of sea ice was covered and we’ve never seen that before, that much area.

    source infowars
     
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