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Bricks on wheels face road closure

March 23, 2014 in Carbon Dioxide, Economy, European Union, Road Transport, Safety, Technology, United Kingdom

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A brick on wheels? The traditional British lorry may before lone give way to a new and perhaps safer design Image: By Adrian S Pye via Wikimedia Commons

A brick on wheels? The traditional British lorry may before long give way to a new and perhaps safer design
Image: By Adrian S Pye via Wikimedia Commons

By Kieran Cooke

The European Parliament has voted in favour of changing the design of goods lorries throughout the EU – from their present brick shape to a more streamlined-looking vehicle. The idea is not only to increase fuel efficiency and cut back on CO2 emissions, but also to reduce accidents.

LONDON, 23 March – It’s one of those small steps that could help in the battle against greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

Lorry design in the European Union at present is governed by legislation dating back to the mid-1990s, stipulating total maximum lengths for cabs and trailers.

This has resulted in the general adoption by road hauliers of a brick-shaped design for cabs on lorries: by making the cab more upright and shorter, transport companies have more space for goods.

But according to Transport & Environment (T&E), a Brussels-based group which campaigns for more sustainable and environmentally friendly transport policies within the EU, lorries have lagged seriously behind other vehicles in terms of environmental performance over the past 20 years.

“Whilst only three per cent of vehicles (in the EU), lorries account for a quarter of Europe’s road transport emissions. That share is expected to grow as traffic increases further”, it says.

Improving protection

T&E says the brick-shaped design is not only inefficient in terms of fuel consumption – it is also dangerous: “Lorries also have a dreadful safety record: every year 15% of all fatal collisions – around 4,200 deaths – involve lorries.”

About 75% of freight in Europe is delivered by lorry. Studies indicate road freight transport is one of the fastest-growing sources of CO2 emissions in the EU, with emissions from the sector likely to increase by more than 20% over the next 15 years. The EU imports 500 million barrels of oil each year, wortharound €60bn, to power its freight fleet.

European Parliament members say relatively simple changes in design can bring about advances in fuel efficiency and cut back on CO2 emissions. Under the Parliament’s proposals, the brick-shaped cab design would be replaced by a more streamlined, aerodynamic nose. The rear of the vehicle would also have aerodynamic flaps and shaping.

T&E says giving lorries a rounder front and putting in place other improvements could improve fuel economy by between seven and ten per cent. It says a more curved cab front would also give drivers greater visibility, eliminate blind spots and so avoid accidents.

Powerful backing

“Today is a good day for pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, hauliers and the environment”, said William Todts of T&E following the EU Parliament vote. “This vote brings the end of the brick-shaped cab closer. It’s a key decision that will reduce road deaths and kickstart progress on lorry CO2 emissions after 20 years of stagnation.”

After a spate of fatal accidents involving lorries and cyclists, London’s mayor, Boris Johnson, has joined the call for changes in lorry design.

The era of more fuel-efficient, safer lorries in Europe is likely to be delayed for some time. Hauliers and truck manufacturers object to the costs of design changes.  To compensate for the haulage space lost due to any new shapes for lorries, the trucking industry is likely to press for bigger, longer vehicles.

The Parliament’s vote still needs to be confirmed by the full parliamentary body. It then goes forward to be considered by all member states. The brick on wheels could be charging down Europe’s roads for some time yet. – Climate News Network

Farming on sand

March 10, 2014 in Black Carbon, Deforestation, Development Issues, Flooding, Food security, Glaciers, Himalayas, Land Use, Monsoon, Rainfall, Soil, Water

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It was once a rice paddy but now it's only sand Image: Kieran Cooke

It was once a rice paddy but now it’s only sand
Image: Kieran Cooke

By Kieran Cooke

The Brahmaputra river is one of the world’s mightiest rivers, with millions dependent on its waters. The river also brings misery, with flooding and erosion major problems: climate change is likely to bring more hardship. Kieran Cooke, one of the editors of the Climate News Network, has been in Assam in northeast India, meeting villagers living on the Brahmaputra’s banks.

Laupani village, Assam, 10 March – The holes are dug laboriously in the dusty, sandy soil. Krishna Maya Sharma stops her work to wipe the sweat from her lined face.

“In the old days we would plant paddy here and have enough to sell at market” says Krishna, a 42 year old mother of six children.

“Now the soil is so bad, sweet potato is the only thing that will grow. The rest of our land is ruined.”

Laupani is a village in the north of the tea state of Assam, spread along the banks of the Brahmaputra river. In the distance, the pink evening light shines on the snow capped ridges of the eastern Himalayas.

The Brahmaputra, its waters rising more than 5,000 metres up on the Tibetan Plateau and flowing for about 3,000 kilometres through China, India and Bangladesh before joining up with the Ganges and out into the Bay of Bengal, is one of the world’s major rivers, 10 kilometres wide in places.

Widespread flooding

According to a recent report by India’s Third Pole organisation, the Brahmaputra carries a volume of water exceeded only by the Amazon and Congo rivers – and greater than the combined flow of Europe’s 20 largest rivers.

The river is a lifeline to millions, delivering vital nutrients to the soils of the plains but its fast flowing waters also cause widespread misery to people like Krishna.

Floods are frequent. There is widespread erosion and massive amounts of sand washed out of the river’s banks are deposited on surrounding fields, making once verdant areas into what looks like an enormous beach. The floods also bring invasive plant species that colonise agricultural lands.

More than 40% of Assam’s geographical area is designated as being flood prone: more than 1.5 million people were displaced by floods in 2012, lives were lost and whole villages were washed away.

Sand accumulations

“The waters were so deep and stayed so long that the grass was destroyed and our cattle died because they had no fodder” says Krishna.

“The sand means our land is no good anymore – my husband has given up being a farmer and is working in construction. Many young men go away to try and find jobs, there is nothing for them here.”

Locals – the majority of whom are poor, subsistence farmers – say river flows are becoming more unpredictable, with erosion and what’s called sandcasting becoming worse.

In part the flooding caused by the Brahmaputra’s waters is a natural phenomenon which has been going on for centuries. As the river’s waters cascade down from the Tibetan Plateau and Himalayas, millions of tons of sediment is washed onto the alluvial plains of Assam and others states in India’s northeast.

Earthquake danger

There are other forces at work: the region is a highly seismic zone. In 1950 the Brahmaputra river basin suffered one of the most violent earthquakes ever recorded. The geology of the area was changed and the river level was raised dramatically, by between eight and 10 metres in places.

Climate change is another factor, with a combination of rising temperatures and accumulations of what’s known as black carbon or soot in the high Himalayas and on the Tibetan Plateau causing glaciers which feed into upper reaches of the Brahmaputra to melt.

Increasingly unpredictable rainfall patterns, with periods of intense downpours, are also contributing to more volatile river flows.

Professor Jogendra Nath Sarma is a locally based geologist who has been studying the Brahmaputra for years.

“Over time different rivers in the Brahmaputra basin have merged, braiding over a very wide area. Thousands of square kilometres of land has been eaten away. Rampant deforestation is another big contributor to land erosion. “

In the past, says Professor Sarma, people would migrate to higher ground during the flood season but now, due to population growth and large scale immigration, there is nowhere for them to go.

Doubtful future

The future does not look good. According to models produced by scientists at the Indian Institute of Technology in Guwahati, Assam’s capital, climate change will result in the Brahmaputra valley region experiencing more flood events.

The Institute says that not only will river peak flows increase: so will the incidence of pre-monsoon flooding, endangering key phases of the agricultural cycle.

Talk of climate change is not of great interest to Krishna, digging holes for her sweet potato plants. She has more immediate things to worry about.

“Life is getting harder. Every time the floods come, I wonder what will happen. But where else can we go?” – Climate News Network


 

 

 

 

Evidence ‘suggests climate change is worsening UK winter’

February 9, 2014 in Climate deniers, Extreme weather, Flooding, Natural Variability, Rainfall, United Kingdom

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Flooding on the Somerset Levels in the West of England: Parts have been under water for weeks Image: Nigel Mykura via Wikimedia Commons

Flooding on the Somerset Levels in the West of England: Parts have been under water for weeks
Image: Nigel Mykura via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Kirby

Scientists at the UK Met Office say all the evidence supports the theory that the exceptionally wet and stormy winter affecting much of Britain is caused at least in part by climate change.

LONDON, 9 February – The British Government’s main climate science adviser, the UK Met Office, says the present exceptionally wet and stormy winter “could be a manifestation of climate change.”

Its chief scientist, Dame Julia Slingo, says the variable UK climate means there is “no definitive answer” to what is producing this winter weather, with the “most exceptional period of rainfall in 248 years”. But “all the evidence suggests there is a link to climate change”.

She said there was no evidence to counter what the basic science says will happen as the world warms – that heavy, fierce downpours of rain will occur more often.

“Nobody has come forward to counter the basic premise that if you have a warmer world you are going to get more intense heavy rain rates”

Dame Julia told BBC Radio: “We know that warmer air holds more water…As scientists we always go back to the evidence base. I always challenge the climate sceptics to provide me with the same level of scientific integrity of the evidence base. I can’t see it.

“Nobody has come forward to counter the basic premise that if you have a warmer world you are going to get more intense heavy rain rates…as we’re beginning to detect now over the UK.”

The Met Office, with the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology (CEH), has published a report, The recent storms and floods in the UK, which strikes a cautious note.

It concludes: “It is not possible, yet, to give a definitive answer on whether climate change has been a contributor or not” to the frequent and torrential rain, storms and floods affecting much of the UK since early December.

But deep in the detail of the report’s findings are clear statements by its authors showing they are convinced that climate change may be partly responsible, despite the well-known fickle nature of the British weather.

The report says, for example, that although the number of strong winter storms over the mid-latitude North Atlantic – the path of the current storms – has not increased since 1871, the storms’ average intensity has grown significantly. The continual run of deep depressions through December, January and into February is also unusual.

“What in the 1960s and 1970s might have been a 1 in 125 day event is now more likely to be a 1 in 85 day event”

There are questions as well about whether the jet stream “is making greater excursions north and south, and whether these waves in the jet stream are becoming more locked in one position.

“This is a critical question because it raises the possibility that disruption of our usual weather patterns may be how climate change may manifest itself.”

The report says there is now some emerging evidence that, over the United Kingdom, daily heavy rain events may be more frequent: “What in the 1960s and 1970s might have been a 1 in 125 day event is now more likely to be a 1 in 85 day event.”

It says there is an increasing body of evidence that shows that extreme daily rainfall rates are becoming more intense, and that the rate of increase is consistent with what is expected from fundamental physics. – Climate News Network

Oxford breaks 247-year rainfall record

February 4, 2014 in Extreme weather, Rainfall, United Kingdom

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By Ian Curtis

Large parts of England have just emerged from their wettest January since records began in 1910. But one city in the English Midlands, though its total rainfall did not match the national deluge, broke a much longer record.

OXFORD, 4 February – Weather observers at Oxford University have confirmed that the rain which fell on the afternoon of 31 January made the month the wettest since their records began almost 250 years ago. The downpour meant that the total recorded at the University’s Radcliffe Meteorological Station overtook the previous high of 138.7mm, a record which has stood since January 1852.

Parts of south-east and central southern England had already recorded twice their average rainfall – with 175.2mm -  between 1 and 28 January, breaking a century-long sequence.

But Oxford’s January rainfall of 146.9mm, though below the national figure, is nearly three times the month’s long-term average of 52.5mm.  Dr Ian Ashpole, the Radcliffe Meteorological Observer at the School of Geography and Environment, says: “It has been the very high number of ‘very wet’ days this January – rather than a few monster ones – that has led to the record. Oxford residents have had to endure consistently miserable weather conditions all month, with only one rain-free day.”

Since records began in the 1760s only 14 out of nearly 250 Januaries have had more than 100mm of rain. “This really shows how extreme this year has been”, said Dr Ashpole.

“January 2014 has been the wettest-ever of any of the three winter months of December to February. It beat the 143.3mm of December 1914, one hundred years ago. Our December-January combined total has also been a record-breaker with 244.6mm.”

Dr Ashpole measures the 10.0mm of rain that took January's total into the record books Image: Courtesy of Ian Curtis

At Green Templeton College, Dr Ashpole measures the 10.0mm of rain that took January’s total into the record books
Image: Courtesy of Ian Curtis

For those passionate about their statistics Dr Ashpole has also identified another extreme: “In the 45 days from 18 December when the rain was settling in we recorded more at the Radcliffe than for any other 45-day winter period. The total of 231.3mm was way ahead of the next nearest  – 209.4mm from 1 December 1914 to 14 January 1915 – in a database of nearly 9,000 such periods.”

January 2014 had 23 days with 2mm or more rain in a day, 14 days with more than 5mm of rain recorded and 4 days with above 10mm of rainfall. The only rainless day was 11 January.  The five previous wettest Januaries were 1852, with its 138.7mm; 1995 (131.4mm); 1948 (127.3mm); 1877 ( 115.1mm); and 1939 (112.8mm).

In a predictable cruel twist by the British weather, the formal final measurement at the Radcliffe station in Green Templeton College was made in blazing sunshine. And, despite (or possibly because of) some newspapers’ call to “bring us sunshine”, January was the 10th sunniest since records began in 1881: over 80 hours compared with the average of 54. The month was also very mild, the 15th warmest on record, with an average of 6.0°C compared with the long-term January average of 3.8°C.

The Radcliffe Meteorological Station at Oxford University possesses the longest series of temperature and rainfall records for one site in Britain. These records are continuous from January 1815, with irregular observations of rainfall, cloud and temperature from 1767. The Station is overseen by the School of Geography and Environment. It is located at the University’s Green Templeton College. - Climate News Network

Ian Curtis is on the staff of the School of Geography and Environment, University of Oxford

Penguins feel climate change’s impacts

February 1, 2014 in Antarctic, Climate, Extreme weather, Marine ecology, Rainfall, South America, Weather, Wildlife

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Adélie penguin chicks chase an adult in the hope of finding food Image: Liam Quinn from Canada via Wikimedia Commons

Adélie penguin chicks chase an adult in the hope of finding food
Image: Liam Quinn from Canada via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford

Scientists have identified climate change as the direct cause of rising mortality among penguin chicks hatched in Argentina.

LONDON, 1 February – Climate change is bad for penguin chicks. If rain doesn’t soak their feathers and kill them with cold, then extremes of heat could finish them off with hyperthermia.

Over a 27-year research project in the world’s largest colony of Magellanic penguins, on the arid Argentine coast, researchers have seen a greater number of deaths directly attributable to climate change.

“We’re going to see years where almost no chicks survive if climate change makes storms bigger and more frequent during vulnerable times of the breeding season”, says Ginger Rebstock, who, with Dee Boersma, reports on the state of penguin survival in the Public Library of Science journal PLOS One.

The two scientists, biologists from the University of Washington, Seattle in the US, believe starvation and weather are going to make life harder for the offspring of the 200,000 pairs of penguins that breed each year at Punta Tombo, on Argentina’s Atlantic coast.

The number of storms during the first two weeks of December – when all the chicks are less than 25 days old and their downy coats are not yet waterproof – has increased between 1983 and 2010.

Every new chick is at hazard: over the span of study, the researchers calculate that 65% of chicks do not survive, 40% of them die by starvation. But climate change has begun to offer new dangers.

A Magellanic chick, still too young to have an adult's waterproofing, in the rain Image: D Boersma/University of Washington

A Magellanic chick, still too young to have an adult’s waterproofing, in the rain
Image: D Boersma/University of Washington

Some years up to half of all chicks die because of the weather. Punta Tombo is historically an arid region. In the last 50 years, the scientists report, rainfall has increased. The number of wet days has increased, the number of consecutive wet days has increased and the level of rainfall during those days has continued to increase.

Air temperatures changed too. The minimum temperatures decreased by up to 3°C and the number of these colder days increased. Storms, too, make it more difficult for foraging parents to gather enough food to feed their chicks.

Sea ice changes

“Starving chicks are more likely to die in a storm”, says Prof Boersma. “There may not be much we can do to mitigate climate change, but steps could be taken to make sure the Earth’s largest colony of Magellanic penguins have enough to eat by creating a marine protected reserve, with regulations on fishing, where penguins forage while raising small chicks.”

Further south, extreme weather is beginning to make life difficult for the Adélie penguins of Ross Island in Antarctica. Amélie Lescroël from the CNRS in France and colleagues report in the same edition of PLOS One that abnormal sea ice conditions reduce access to food.

Antarctic penguins are of course adapted to sea ice: it is their preferred habitat. But they must respond to short and long term changes in ice levels. For 13 years, scientists have monitored the feeding success of the Ross Island colony and observed that the birds could cope in those seasons when there was less sea ice.

But climate change in Antarctica, too, creates new problems for the birds and limits their foraging efficiency.

“Our work shows that Adélie penguins could cope with less sea ice around their summer breeding grounds”, said Dr Lescroël. “However, we also showed that extreme environmental events, such as the calving of giant icebergs, can dramatically modify the relationship between Adélie penguins and sea ice.”

If the frequency of such extreme events increases, then it will become hard to predict how penguin populations will get by, she thinks. – Climate News Network

2013 was fourth warmest year recorded

January 22, 2014 in Climate deniers, El Niño, NOAA, Rainfall, Temperature Increase, Warming slowdown, Weather

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Drought in Ethiopia, one of the countries which experienced record warmth in 2013 Image: By USAID Africa Bureau via Wikimedia Commons

Drought in Ethiopia, one of the countries which experienced record warmth in 2013
Image: By USAID Africa Bureau via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Kirby

Arguments that global warming has slowed or even stopped since the turn of the century are undermined by US data which show that 2013 maintained the warming trend of recent decades.

LONDON, 22 JanuaryPeople who argue that global warming has stopped and the Earth’s average temperature has not risen this century should perhaps read no further. US scientists say 2013 was the fourth warmest year globally since records began in 1880.

The National Climatic Data Center (NCDC), part of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, says in its Global Analysis of the last year that 2013 ties with 2003 as globally the fourth warmest year on record.

The annual global combined land and ocean surface temperature was 0.62°C above the 20th century average of 13.9°C, marking the 37th consecutive year (since 1976) that the yearly global temperature was above average.

The warmest year on record is 2010, which was 0.66°C above average. Including 2013, nine of the 10 warmest years in the 134-year period recorded have occurred in the 21st century. Only one year during the 20th century – 1998 – was warmer than 2013.

The 2013 global average ocean temperature (0.48°C) was the highest since 2010, the last time El Niño conditions were present in the central and eastern equatorial Pacific. El Niño is a periodic weather disruption in the eastern Pacific which affects conditions over thousands of miles.

The NCDC says global annual temperature has increased at an average rate of 0.06°C per decade since 1880 and at 0.16°C per decade since 1970.

“…For 2013 as a whole, most regions across the globe were warmer than average”

Regionally, it says, most of the world experienced above-average annual temperatures in 2013. Over land, parts of central Asia, western Ethiopia, eastern Tanzania, and much of southern and western Australia experienced record warmth. Only part of the central United States was cooler than average over land.

Parts of the Arctic Ocean, a large swathe of the south-western Pacific Ocean and parts of the central Pacific, and an area of the central Indian Ocean also set new records for warmth.  Small regions scattered across the eastern Pacific and an area in the Southern Ocean south of South America were cooler than average. No part of the world experienced record cold in 2013.

Perhaps surprisingly for anyone who thinks of the last twelve months as memorable chiefly for the amount of rain that fell, the NCDC says precipitation measured at land-based stations around the globe was near average on balance for 2013, at just 0.31 mm above the long-term average.

However, it adds prudently: “As is typical, precipitation varied greatly from region to region. This is the second consecutive year with near-average global precipitation at land-based stations.”

Taking 2013 as a whole, it acknowledges that some regions were cooler than usual. But it says: “In summary for 2013 as a whole, most regions across the globe were warmer than average.

“Notably, Australia observed its warmest year since national records began in 1910, at 1.20°C above average and 0.17°C higher than the previous record warmest such period in 2005. New Zealand recorded its third warmest year since its national records began in 1909.” – Climate News Network

Rainy mountains speed CO2 removal

January 19, 2014 in Carbon Dioxide, Mountains, New Zealand, Rainfall, Soil

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The rainswept Southern Alps are young mountains and growing fast Image: Philip Capper from Wellington NZ via Wikimedia Commons

The rainswept Southern Alps are young mountains and growing fast, providing new rock for weathering
Image: Philip Capper from Wellington NZ via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford

The speed at which soil is produced by rain falling on mountain slopes proves to be much faster than science had realised – with significant implications for carbon in the atmosphere.  

LONDON, 19 January – US scientists have measured the rate at which mountains make the raw material for molehills – and found that if the climate is rainy enough, soil gets made at an astonishing speed. And in the course of this natural conversion of rock to fertile farmland and forest loam, carbon is naturally removed from the atmosphere.

Isaac Larsen of the University of Washington in Seattle and colleagues from California and New Zealand took a closer look at rates of weathering on the western slopes of the Southern Alps in New Zealand. They report in Science that, according to their measurements, rock is being transformed into soil more than twice as fast as previously believed.

On the ridge tops of the NZ mountains, soil was being manufactured by chemical weathering (which is scientific shorthand for rain splashing on rock) at the rate of up to 2.5mm a year.

“A couple of millimeters a year sounds pretty slow to anyone but a geologist”, said David Montgomery, one of the authors. “Isaac measured two millimeters of soil production a year, so it would take just a dozen years to make an inch of soil. That’s shockingly fast for a geologist, because the conventional wisdom is it takes centuries.”

The research matters because – once again – it throws new light on one of the dark regions of the climate machine: how carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere, at what rate, and where it goes and where it all ends up.

Temperature drop

The Southern Alps of New Zealand are in geological terms young, and still going up in the world: they include some of the fastest-uplifting mountains on the planet. They are also among the rainiest: more than 10 metres of precipitation a year, on average.

Uplift – the process of mountain-building – provides fresh new rock for weathering to work on. Rainclouds arrive on the prevailing winds from the Tasman Sea, hit the mountain sides, rise, condense and release their burden on the western slopes, to generate colossal run-off, lots of silt and rock fragments and dissolved silica, and to nourish dense, vigorous forests at the bottom of the slope.

And along with all this trickling water and new soil is a steady delivery of carbon, removed from the atmosphere’s carbon dioxide.

The hypothesis that mountains play a role in chemical weathering, carbon dioxide removal and climate change is not new. Decades ago scientists argued that when the continent of India slammed into Asia and lifted up the Himalayas and the Tibetan plateau more than 50 million years ago, this process generated conditions for monsoon rainfall that accelerated the removal of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at such a rate that global temperatures dropped dramatically and ushered in the Ice Ages.

Such an argument is difficult to clinch, but the latest research from NZ certainly lends support to the reasoning that new mountain chains are influential components in the climate machine.

Strenuous research

Larsen and colleagues calculate that the young, wet mountain chains of the world make up only 14% of the land area that drains into the ocean, but account for 62% of the sediment, 38% of the total dissolved solids and 60% of the dissolved silica delivered down the rivers and into estuaries and deltas and ultimately to the sea, where huge quantities of this run-off settle to become carbonate rock.

Mountains, in effect, are agencies that turn carbon dioxide from the air into limestone beneath the sea, and the evidence from the Southern Alps is that this happens more speedily than anyone first thought.

To complete the research, the scientists had repeatedly to take helicopter rides to the highest ridges, hike down to collect a burden of new soil, and then climb the steep mountain slopes again to await the return flight.

Back in Washington, they tested their soil samples for levels of beryllium-10, an isotope made at the Earth’s surface by cosmic rays, and therefore an indicator of the newness of the soil, and the rate at which it formed.

“I’ve worked in a lot of places,” said Larsen. “This was the most challenging fieldwork I have ever done.” – Climate News Network

Amazon forest loss threatens five states

December 29, 2013 in Amazonia, Deforestation, Development Issues, Drought, Food security, Forests, Pollution, Rainfall, South America, Water

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Deforestation in the Amazon has accelerated again in the last year, with implications far further afield Image: Ramonbicudo via Wikimedia Commons

Deforestation in the Amazon has accelerated again in the last year, with implications far further afield
Image: Ramonbicudo via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

Water, food supplies and energy production are all in jeopardy as the Amazon forest is felled for profit, campaigners say – and the damage is spreading beyond Amazonia itself.

LONDON, 29 December – The continued destruction of the Amazon to exploit its resources for mining, agriculture and hydro-power is threatening the future of the South American continent, according to a report by campaigning groups using the latest scientific data.

Five countries – Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru – share the Amazon, and for all of them the forest area occupies more than 40% of their territory. All face threats to their water supply, energy production, food and health.

In addition, the report says, because of the over-exploitation of the region rainfall will fall by 20% over a heavily-populated area far to the south of Amazonia known as the La Plata basin, covering parts of Argentina, Brazil, Bolivia, Paraguay and Uruguay.

Last month it was reported that deforestation in Amazonia had increased by almost a third in the past year, with an area equal to 50 football pitches destroyed globally every minute since 2000.

The report, the Amazonia Security Agenda, authored by the Global Canopy Programme  and CIAT, the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, says the prosperity of the region is based on the abundance of water.

There always seemed to be an endless supply of water, but the combination of industrial and agricultural pollution and droughts is creating a once unthinkable vulnerability for the five countries of Amazonia.

Profits syphoned off

The huge wealth being generated from the forests comes with large-scale environmental and social costs. Local people do not benefit, and the profits from minerals, mining and agriculture are syphoned out of the region.

The large-scale economic development of the region causes deforestation. That in turn is threatening not only the wellbeing of the local people but the economic stability of the industries themselves.

Climate change is adding to both the uncertainty and the instability. Increasing temperatures, as much as 3.5°C in the near future, changing rainfall patterns and more intense and frequent extreme weather events will have further impacts on the health and well-being of the population. Energy supply from hydro-electric dams will decline.

Big bill coming

Among those welcoming the report is Manuel Pulgar, Peru’s environment minister.  He will play a leading part when the country’s capital, Lima, hosts the 20th summit of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in December 2014. http://unfccc.int/2860.php

He said: “Climate change is a global problem, but one that will multiply local and regional problems in unforeseeable ways. In Latin America, we have taken Amazonia and its seemingly limitless water and forests as a given. But recent unprecedented droughts have shown us just what happens when that water security falters…”

The report says the impacts of environmental degradation that have so far been felt in other parts of the world are now likely to be felt in Amazonia, threatening economic development and security.

Governments in the region, it says, need to recognize that development cannot continue without recognising the damage caused to the water supply and the climate both globally and locally.  Policy makers need scientists to monitor changes to conditions and the economic risks they pose.

Trillions of tons of water

These findings must be shared between academic institutions and governments so that they can decide how to remedy the problem. Annual reviews of dangerous hotspots are also needed, and cross-border groups of experts who could help both national and regional development plans to be worked out.

Carlos Klink, Brazil’s national secretary for climate change and environmental quality, endorsed these findings. “We are understanding more and more how interdependent water, food, energy and health security are across our continent.

“There is also interdependence between the countries that share the Amazon, which recycles trillions of tons of water that all our people and economies rely on.

“The challenge that we are just beginning to recognise and act upon is one of transitioning to a more sustainable economy – one that values the role of a healthy Amazonia in underpinning long-term security and prosperity.” – Climate News Network

Climate change adds to East Africa’s food plight

December 19, 2013 in Africa, Agriculture, Drought, Food security, Insurance, Population, Rainfall

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Drought in Ethiopia, 2011: Livestock as well as people are at risk Image: US Army Africa via Wikimedia Commons

Drought in Ethiopia, 2011: Livestock as well as people are at risk
Image: US Army Africa via Wikimedia Commons

By Kieran Cooke

Agriculture dominates the economies of countries in East Africa: if plans aren’t made to adapt to climate change the region’s rapidly expanding population faces a grim future, says a new report.

LONDON, 19 December – The report, East African Agriculture and Climate Change, published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), looks at threats to food supplies in 11 countries in East and Central Africa – Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Rwanda, Sudan, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.

Agriculture accounts for more than 40% of gross domestic product across the region. The report says soil deficiencies in many parts mean agricultural productivity is falling.

Ecosystems are depleted, infrastructure is poor and there’s a lack of reliable information and policy coordination. Meanwhile weather systems are becoming more erratic and violent.

“Climate change will have far-reaching consequences for the poor and marginalized groups, among which the majority depend on agriculture for their livelihoods and have a lower capacity to adapt…this situation is likely to become more desperate and to threaten the very survival of the most vulnerable farmers as global warming continues”, says the study.

Bleak prospect

Crop production across the region depends overwhelmingly on rainfall. Many areas are likely to see less rainfall in future and an increased incidence of droughts. In 2011 there were prolonged droughts in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania.

Rising temperatures in many areas are likely to result in reduced crop yields: harvests of wheat, soybean, sorghum and irrigated rice could decline by between 5% and 20%, with irrigated rice production being the hardest hit. However, output of rain-fed maize and rain-fed rice might increase slightly, due to increased rainfall in some areas.

Endemic poverty affects more than 50% of the region’s 360 million people. Overall – unless adaptation measures, including the introduction of new crop varieties, better land management and the advancing of planting dates to cope better with changes in climate are adopted – the outlook for the region is bleak, warns the report.

“Recent trends and the current performance of agriculture expose a region that is progressively less able to meet the needs of its burgeoning population.”

Insurance unaffordable

The countries of East Africa have among the highest population increases in the world: between 1988 and 2008 the region’s population – excluding that of the DRC – increased by “a staggering” 74%. By 2050, that population could double.

While there’s growing urbanisation across the region and more industrial development, agriculture will continue to dominate the countries’ economies.

The report says there’s a role for insurance schemes which would enable farmers to cope better with changes in climate. But persuading those working on the land – mainly smallholders – to invest in such schemes is hard, with no spare cash available to spend on even small premiums.

The study is a collaboration between IFPRI, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) and regional scientists. Previous studies have looked at the impact of climate change on agriculture in West Africa and southern Africa. – Climate News Network

Reducing sunlight ‘will not cool Earth’

December 7, 2013 in Adaptation, Geoengineering, Rainfall

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Monsoon in Mumbai: Geo-engineering would risk disturbing weather systems Image: w:user:PlaneMad via Wikimedia Commons

Monsoon in Mumbai: Geo-engineering would risk disturbing weather systems
Image: w:user:PlaneMad via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford

The beguiling idea that we can moderate global warming by engineering the atmosphere has been given a rebuff by two scientists who found the attempt could disrupt rainfall patterns.

LONDON, 7 December – Two German scientists have just confirmed that you can’t balance the Earth’s rising temperatures by simply toning down the sunlight. It may do something disconcerting to the patterns of global rainfall.

Earlier this year a US-led group of scientists ran sophisticated climate models of a geo-engineered world and proposed the same thing. Now Axel Kleidon and Maik Renner of the Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry in Jena, Germany, have used a different theoretical approach to confirm the conclusion, and explain why it would be a bad idea.

The argument for geo-engineering goes like this: the world is getting inexorably warmer, governments show no sign of drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions, so why not control the planetary thermostat by finding a way to filter, block, absorb or reflect some of the sunlight hitting the Earth?

Such things can be done by pumping soot or aerosols into the stratosphere to dim the skies a fraction, or even floating mirrors in Earth orbit to reflect some of the sunlight back into space.

Either way, the result is the same: you have global temperature control, tuned perhaps to the average at the beginning of the last century, and you can then go on burning as much petrol or coal as you like.

But now the two biogeochemists at Jena report in the journal Earth System Dynamics that they used a simple energy balance model to show that the world doesn’t work like that. Water simply doesn’t respond to atmospheric heat and solar radiation in the same way.

No simple fix

If you make the atmosphere warmer, but keep the sunlight the same, evaporation increases by 2% per degree of warming. If you keep the atmosphere the same, but increase the levels of sunlight, evaporation increases by 3% per degree of warming.

Kleidon uses the simple analogy of a saucepan on a kitchen stove. “The temperature in the pot is increased by putting on a lid, or by turning up the heat – but these two cases differ by how much energy flows through the pot,” he says.

A stronger greenhouse effect would act as a kind of tighter-fitting atmospheric lid. In the kitchen a lid keeps the water from escaping from the saucepan and at the same time reduces the energy cost. But planetary energetics are not really comparable to kitchen economics.

That is because evaporation itself, and the traffic of water vapour around the planet, plays a powerful role in the making of climate. To change the pattern and degree of evaporation would inevitably disturb weather systems and disrupt agriculture, with unpredictable and potentially catastrophic consequences.

The authors say: “An immediate consequence of this notion is that climate geo-engineering cannot simply be used to undo global warming.” – Climate News Network