Africa's fabled eastern glaciers will vanish in two decades

ICMD, Oct 19, 2021: Africa's fabled eastern glaciers will vanish in two decades, 118 million poor people face imminent drought, floods or extreme heat, and climate change could also shave three per cent off continental GDP by mid-century, the UN climate agency warned on Tuesday. The latest report on the state of Africa's climate by the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO), partnered with African Union agencies, paints a dire picture of the continent's ability to adapt to increasingly frequent weather disasters. According to one data set, 2020 was Africa's third-warmest year on record, 0.86 degrees Celsius above the average temperature in the three decades leading to 2010. It has mostly warmed slower than high-latitude temperate zones, but the impact is still devastating. "The rapid shrinking of the last remaining glaciers in eastern Africa, which are expected to melt entirely in the near future, signals the threat of ... irreversible change to the Earth system," WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas said in a foreword to the report. It forecast that on current rates all three of Africa's tropical ice fields — Tanzania's Kilimanjaro, Kenya's Mount Kenya, and Uganda's Rwenzoris — would be gone by the 2040s. In addition, "By 2030, it is estimated that up to 118m extremely poor people (living on less than $1.9 per day) will be exposed to drought, floods and extreme heat ... if adequate response measures are not put in place," the African Union's Agriculture Commissioner Josefa Sacko said. Africa, which accounts for less than 4pc of greenhouse gas emissions, has long been expected to be severely impacted by climate change. Its croplands are already drought-prone, many of its major cities hug the coast, and widespread poverty makes it harder for people to adapt. Apart from worsening drought on a continent heavily reliant on agriculture, there was extensive flooding recorded in East and West Africa in 2020, the report noted, while a locust infestation of historic proportions, which began a year earlier, continued to wreak havoc. The report estimated that sub-Saharan Africa would need to spend $30-$50 billion, or 2-3pc of GDP, each year on adaptation to avert even worse consequences. An estimated 1.2m people were displaced by storms and floods in 2020, nearly two and half times as many people as fled their homes because of conflict in the same year.

Seas will continue to rise even after achieving 1.5 degree Celsius target

ICMD, Oct 13, 2021: Even if humanity beats the odds and caps global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels, seas will rise for centuries to come and swamp cities currently home to half-a-billion people, researchers warned on Tuesday. In a world that heats up another half-degree above that benchmark, an additional 200 million of today’s urban dwellers would regularly find themselves knee-deep in sea water and more vulnerable to devastating storm surges, they reported in Environmental Research Letters. Worst hit in any scenario will be Asia, which accounts for nine of the ten mega-cities at highest risk. Land home to more than half the populations of Bangladesh and Vietnam fall below the long-term high tide line, even in a 2C world. Built-up areas in China, India and Indonesia would also face devastation. Most projections for sea level rise and the threat it poses to shoreline cities run to the end of the century and range from half-a-metre to less than twice that, depending how quickly carbon pollution is reduced. But oceans will continue to swell for hundreds of years beyond 2100 — fed by melting ice sheets, heat trapped in the ocean and the dynamics of warming water — no matter how aggressively greenhouse gas emissions are drawn down, the findings show. “Roughly five per cent of the world’s population today live on land below where the high tide level is expected to rise based on carbon dioxide that human activity has already added to the atmosphere,” lead author Ben Strauss, CEO and chief scientist of Climate Central, said. Today’s concentration of CO2 — which lingers for hundreds of years — is 50pc higher than in 1800, and Earth’s average surface temperature has already risen 1.1C.

Most people in Asean say no to coal, yes to renewables as climate risks grow: Survey

ICMD, Sep 17, 2021: The majority of people in Asean want to shift away from polluting fossil fuels and embrace renewable energy to tackle climate change as floods, loss of biodiversity and sea level rise loom as the top three climate threats in the region, a survey of public attitudes released on Thursday (Sept 16) shows. Most governments in the region are not doing enough on climate change and need to enact climate-friendly policies and increase green spending, respondents said in the 2021 South-east Asia Climate Outlook published by the Climate Change in Southeast Asia Programme at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute. Overall, 70 per cent of respondents said climate change is a serious and immediate threat, reflecting the region's vulnerability to the growing impacts of stronger storms, floods, droughts and rising sea levels. The survey was conducted online from June 11 to Aug 2 and involved 610 respondents from all 10 Asean member states. They came from a range of backgrounds, including academia and governments, business, students, civil society and media. A total of 79 per cent said they felt the urgency of cutting reliance on coal, the single largest source of planet-warming carbon dioxide (CO2). In Indonesia and Singapore, 85.9 per cent and 85.2 per cent held this view respectively. The majority of Singaporean, Vietnamese and Indonesian respondents also believe that the reduction of dependence on fossil fuels will yield short-term pain but long-term gains. There was also a strong consensus on the potential of tapping the renewable energy sector that is emerging across the region. All the respondents from Brunei and Laos agreed with this statement. In both Singapore and Indonesia, 96.7 per cent agreed, while 95 per cent did so in Vietnam. A total of 46.1 per cent of respondents felt their government is aware of the threats of climate change but has not allocated sufficient resources to address them. A further 24.8 per cent said their government is not giving enough attention to climate change. Only 15.7 per cent said their government has allocated sufficient resources. Singapore respondents (41.8 per cent) ranked the highest in their views that their government considers climate change an urgent national priority and has allocated sufficient resources to address climate threats, compared with just 2.9 per cent of Thai respondents. The findings are similar to a climate survey of 17 advanced economies, including Singapore, released on Tuesday (Sept 14) by Pew Research Centre, which found widespread concern about the personal impact of climate change. The survey also found there was less confidence in efforts, particularly by China and the United States, to solve the problem. "There is indeed a lack of confidence in the government's role in climate action in the region," said Ms Melinda Martinus, a lead researcher at ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute and co-author of the report. "Most South-east Asians are not climate deniers, and they are relatively excited about the economic opportunities arising from green transformation. But, they are not sure and not confident that their government is doing enough to limit global warming to 1.5 deg C," she told The Straits Times. In the Asean survey, 30.7 per cent picked the European Union as showing the greatest climate leadership, followed by Japan at 19.3 per cent, China at 7.7 per cent, Australia at 5.4 per cent and the US at 4.8 per cent. Respondents remained uncertain (44.3 per cent) or otherwise divided (23.9 per cent) over whether Asean is effective as a regional organisation in tackling climate change. They strongly believe that governments need to encourage businesses to adopt green practices, enact climate laws, and allocate more public financial support for green solutions that cut carbon emissions. -- The Straits Times.

Humanity must tackle the grave risks of biodiversity loss and climate change together

ICMD, Sep 4, 2021: The world's leading global conservation congress opened on Friday, with warnings that humanity must tackle the grave risks of biodiversity loss and climate change together. The key message from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) is that disappearing species and the destruction of ecosystems are no less existential threats than global warming. "The battle for the climate -- against climate change -- is twinned with the battle to preserve and restore biodiversity," said French President Emmanuel Macron in a speech at the opening ceremony in the French port city of Marseille. But efforts to stem the losses of the world's wildlife had fallen behind, he warned. How to reverse relentless habitat destruction, unsustainable agriculture, mining and a warming planet will dominate discussion during the conference. "We are facing huge challenges. We are seeing the climate changing and impacting hugely our societies," said IUCN chief Bruno Oberle in a speech before the congress opened. "We are seeing biodiversity disappearing and the pandemic hitting our economies, our families, our health." The meeting, delayed from 2020 by the pandemic, comes ahead of crucial UN summits on climate, food systems and biodiversity that could shape the planet's foreseeable future. Previous IUCN congresses have paved the way for global treaties on biodiversity and the international trade in endangered species. But efforts to halt extensive declines in numbers and diversity of animals and plants have so far failed to slow the destruction. In 2019 the UN's biodiversity experts warned that a million species are on the brink of extinction -- raising the spectre that the planet is on the verge of its sixth mass extinction event in 500 million years. Protesters in Marseille, with banners that read "Nature is not for sale!" and "Change the system not the climate!", urged more urgent action. "It's hard to read the headlines: floods, fires, famines, plagues and tell your children that everything is alright," said actor Harrison Ford, who has become a vocal environmental campaigner, the opening ceremony. "It's not alright. Dammit, it's not alright!" 'Our right to exist' The nine-day IUCN meeting will include an update of its Red List of Threatened Species, measuring how close animal and plant species are to vanishing forever. Experts have assessed nearly 135,000 species over the last half-century and nearly 28 percent are currently at risk of extinction, with habitat loss, overexploitation and illegal trade driving the loss. Big cats, for example, have lost more than 90 percent of their historic range and population, with only 20,000 lions, 7,000 cheetahs, 4,000 tigers and a few dozen Amur leopards left in the wild. The IUCN will also, for the first time in its seven-decade history, welcome indigenous peoples to share their knowledge on how best to heal the natural world as voting members. Oberle thanked indigenous groups for joining the IUCN's membership and bringing a "wealth of experience" on how to have a different relationship with the planet. Recent research has warned that rampant deforestation and climate change are pushing the Amazon towards a disastrous "tipping point" which would see tropical forests give way to savannah-like landscapes. Rates of tree loss drop sharply in the forests where native peoples live, especially if they hold some degree of title -- legal or customary -- over land. "We are demanding from the world our right to exist as peoples, to live with dignity in our territories," said Jose Gregorio Diaz Mirabal, lead coordinator for COICA, which represents indigenous groups in nine Amazon-basin nations. Motions on the table include protecting 80 percent of Amazonia by 2025, tackling plastic in the oceans, combating wildlife crime and preventing pandemics. Macron has said the conference should lay the "initial foundations" for a global biodiversity strategy that will be the focus of UN deliberations in China in April next year. The international community is trying to frame interim goals for this decade as well as longer-term aims for 2050.

Unclear if Fukushima cleanup can finish by 2051: IAEA

ICMD, Aug 29, 2021: Too little is known about melted fuel inside damaged reactors at the wrecked Fukushima nuclear power plant, even a decade after the disaster, to be able to tell if its decommissioning can be finished by 2051 as planned, a U.N. nuclear agency official said Friday, August 27, 2021. “Honestly speaking, I don’t know, and I don’t know if anybody knows,” said Christophe Xerri, head of an International Atomic Energy Agency team reviewing progress in the plant's cleanup. He urged Japan to speed up studies of the reactors to achieve a better long-term understanding of the decommissioning process. A massive earthquake and a tsunami in March 2011 destroyed cooling systems at the Fukushima plant in northeastern Japan, triggering meltdowns in three reactors in the worst nuclear disaster since the 1986 Chernobyl accident. Japanese government and utility officials say they hope to finish its decommissioning within 30 years, though some experts say that's overly optimistic, even if a full decommissioning is possible at all. -- Courtesy AP

Earth’s ocean surface will change by end of century if carbon emissions not reigned in

ICMD, Aug 27, 2021: Up to 95 percent of Earth’s ocean surface will have changed by the end of the century unless humanity reins in its carbon emissions, according to research published on Thursday. Ocean surface climates, defined by surface water temperature, acidity and the concentration of the mineral aragonite — which many marine animals use to form bones and shell — support the vast majority of sea life. The world’s seas have absorbed around a third of all carbon pollution produced since the Industrial Revolution. But with atmospheric CO2 levels increasing at a rate unprecedented in at least three million years, there are fears that ocean surface climates may become less hospitable to the species it hosts. US-based researchers wanted to see what effect carbon pollution has already had on ocean surface since the mid-18th century. They also projected the impact of emissions through to 2100. To do so, they modelled global ocean climates across three time periods: the early 19th century (1795-1834); the late 20th century (1965-2004); and the late 21st century (2065-2014). They then ran the models through two emissions scenarios. The first — known as RCP4.5 — envisions a peak in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 followed by a slow decrease across the rest of the century. The second scenario — RCP8.5 — is a “business as usual” approach, where emissions continue to rise throughout the next 80 years. Writing in the journal Nature Scientific Reports, the researchers found that under the RCP4.5 scenario, 36 percent of the ocean surface conditions present throughout the 20th century are likely to disappear by 2100. Under the high emissions scenario, that figure rises to 95 percent. The team also found that while ocean surface climates showed little sign of change during the 20th century, by 2100, up to 82 percent of ocean surface may experience climates not seen in recent history. These include seas that are hotter, more acidic and that contain fewer minerals vital for sea life to grow. Lead study author Katie Lotterhos, from Northeastern University’s Marine Science Center, said the ocean’s changing composition due to carbon pollution would likely impact all surface species. “Species that are narrowly adapted to a climate that is disappearing will have to adapt to different conditions,” she said. “A climate in which the temperature and chemistry of the water is common today will be rare or absent in the future.” While surface species have so far been able to move around in order to avoid anomalously warm or acidic areas of ocean, Thursday’s study suggests that in the future their options may be limited due to near-uniform warming and acidification. “Already, many marine species have shifted their ranges in response to warmer waters,” said Lotterhos. “The communities of species that are found in one area will continue to shift and change rapidly over the coming decades.” She said that governments needed to monitor future shifting habits in marine surface species. But, ultimately, the world’s oceans need the emissions driving their heating and acidification to cease. “Without (emissions) mitigation, novel and disappearing climates in the sea surface will be widespread around the globe by 2100,” said Lotterhos. Courtesy AFP

Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurates Pakistan's first smart forest in Rakh Jhok Forest, Sheikhupura

ICMD, Aug 25, 2021: Prime Minister Imran Khan inaugurated on Wednesday Pakistan's first smart forest in Rakh Jhok Forest, Sheikhupura as part of Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project, which he said would address a host of issues, contribute an estimated $40 billion to the country's economy and create around one million jobs. Addressing the forest's inauguration ceremony, the premier dubbed the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project "one of the biggest projects in Pakistan's history”, and one that would significantly contribute to addressing environmental and other challenges faced by the country. He further elaborated that Pakistan's biggest issue was water shortage and since it was among the countries most affected by climate change, planting trees and projects such as the smart forest could help address the issue. He added that three barrages would be built on Ravi River under the Ravi Riverfront Urban Development Project, as a result of which the level of groundwater, which was dropping, would rise and once the construction of the project was started, other related industries would also get a boost. The premier said the project's execution was quite challenging and had it been easy, the project would have been completed by previous governments. "But [Chief Minister Usman] Buzdar's team will complete it as they are committed to the purpose," he assured.

Scientists sound alarm as Greenland ice summit sees rain for first time on record

ICMD, Aug 21, 2021: While many places around the globe are experiencing unusually hot and dry times and would welcome a bit of rain, one place where even a little bit of rain is a major cause of concern is Greenland. Scientists sounded the alarm on Friday, noting that rain had fallen at the highest point on the Greenland ice sheet last week for the first time on record, another worrying sign of warming for the ice sheet already melting at an increasing rate. "That's not a healthy sign for an ice sheet," said Indrani Das, a glaciologist with Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. "Water on ice is bad ... It makes the ice sheet more prone to surface melt." Not only is water warmer than the usual snow, it's also darker – so it absorbs more sunlight rather than reflecting it away. That meltwater is streaming into the ocean, causing sea levels to rise. Already, melting from Greenland's ice sheet – the world's second-largest after Antarctica's – has caused around 25% of global sea level rise seen over the last few decades, scientists estimate. That share is expected to grow as global temperatures increase. The rain fell for several hours at the ice sheet's 3,216-meter (10,550-feet) summit on Aug. 14, where temperatures remained above freezing for around nine hours, scientists at the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center said. Temperatures at the ice cap almost never lift above freezing, but have now done so three times in less than a decade. In total, 7 billion tonnes of rain fell across Greenland over three days, from Aug. 14 through Aug. 16 – the largest amount since records began in 1950. The rain and high temperatures triggered extensive melting across the island, which suffered a surface ice mass loss on Aug. 15 that was seven times above the average for mid-August. The record-breaking rain is the latest in a string of warning signs about how climate change is affecting Greenland's ice sheet. Greenland experienced a massive melting event in late July, when enough ice melted in a single day to cover the U.S. state of Florida in 2 inches (5 cm) of water. That melting event and last week's rain were both caused by air circulation patterns which meant warm, moist air temporarily covered the island. "This alarming rain at the summit of Greenland is not an isolated event," said Twila Moon, deputy lead scientist with the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center. Along with rising floods, fires and other extremes, it is one of many "alarm bells" signaling the need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, she said. "We really have to stay laser-focused on adapting, as well as reducing the potential for those to become truly devastating.

Dozens of homes burn as California wildfire siege continues

ICMD, Aug 19, 2021: A small wildfire swept through a mobile home park, leaving dozens of homes in ashes, the latest in a series of explosive blazes propelled by gusts that have torn through Northern California mountains and forests. The drought-parched region was expected to see red flag warnings for dangerously high winds and hot, dry weather through Thursday. Those conditions have fed a dozen uncontrolled wildfires, including the month-old Dixie Fire and the nearby Caldor Fire in the northern Sierra Nevada that incinerated much of the small rural towns of Greenville and Grizzly Flats. No deaths have been reported despite the speed and damage of the blazes. On Wednesday, a grass fire driven by winds up to 30 mph (48 kilometers per hour) destroyed dozens of mobile homes in Lake County and injured at least one resident before firefighters stopped its progress, fire officials said at an evening briefing. Rows of homes were destroyed on at least two blocks and television footage showed crews dousing burning homes with water. Children were rushed out of an elementary school as a field across the street burned. Some 1,600 people were ordered to flee, with Lake County Sheriff Brian Martin warning of “immediate threat to life and property.” Lake County has experienced repeated wildfires in the past decade that have destroyed hundreds of homes. At least 16,000 other homes remain threatened by California wildfires, which are among some 100 burning throughout a dozen Western states, fire officials said. Tens of thousands of people remain under evacuation orders. No deaths have been reported, despite the speed and ferocity of the blazes, which have at times created their own erratic winds from heated air swirling into smoke clouds. Flames also have leapfrogged miles ahead of the front lines as winds scattered embers, hot ash and chunks of wood into dry vegetation, said Thom Porter, chief of the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. “This is not going to end anytime soon,” he said of the Dixie Fire. “Everybody’s going to be sucking smoke for a long time.” Fire crews were able to make some progress on the Dixie Fire Wednesday, increasing containment to 35%, and some evacuation orders were lifted in Plumas and Tehama counties, where some people hadn’t seen their homes for a month. But the Dixie and Caldor fires still menaced many small clusters of homes within and around national forests along with larger communities, including Pollock Pines, with a population of 7,000 and Susanville, population 18,000, which is the county seat of Lassen County. Eldorado National Forest and Lassen Volcanic National Park were closed. Wildfires rage across Western US The Dixie Fire is the first to have burned from east to west across the spine of California, where the Sierra Nevada and Cascade mountains meet. It had burned more than 1000 square miles (2,590 square kilometers) and was only a third contained. On Wednesday, dozens of fire engines and crews were transferred from that battle to fight the Caldor Fire, which exploded through heavy timber in steep terrain since erupting over the weekend southwest of Lake Tahoe. The fire has blackened nearly 220 square miles (570 square kilometers) and on Tuesday ravaged Grizzly Flats, a community of about 1,200. Dozens of homes burned, according to officials, but tallies were incomplete. Those who viewed the aftermath saw few homes standing. Lone chimneys rose from the ashes, little more than rows of chairs remained of a church and the burned out husks of cars littered the landscape. Chris Sheean said the dream home he bought six weeks ago near the elementary school went up in smoke. He felt lucky he and his wife, cats and dog got out safely hours before the flames arrived. “It’s devastation. You know, there’s really no way to explain the feeling, the loss,” Sheean said. “Maybe next to losing a child, a baby, maybe. … Everything that we owned, everything that we’ve built is gone.” California’s wildfires are on pace to exceed the amount of land burned last year — the most in modern history. The blazes also have destroyed areas of the timber belt that serve as a centerpiece of the state’s climate reduction plan because trees can store carbon dioxide. “We are seeing generational destruction of forests because of what these fires are doing,” Porter said. “This is going to take a long time to come back from.” Most of the fires this year have hit the northern part of the state, largely sparing Southern California, which was expected to see clouds and even a chance of drizzle in some areas Thursday. Fire conditions in the region are expected to get worse in the fall. -- NYP