Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

Canada senate kills climate bill ahead of UN summit

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s Conservative government has defeated a climate change bill calling for cuts in CO2 emissions.

Conservatives killed the motion backed by opposition parties 13 days before a UN climate change summit is held in Cancun.

The bill called for a reduction of greenhouse gases in the country by 25% from 1990 levels.

Canada’s House of Commons originally passed the legislation last year.

It was then reintroduced in May and passed again, before being struck down by the Conservative-led Senate late on Tuesday.

“This is a very sad day for Canada, for the environment, and for the role of Canada in the international stage on dealing with the crisis of climate change,” said New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton, adding that he was appalled by the Senate’s decision.

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A billion people will lose their homes due to climate change, says report

Sunday, November 28th, 2010

British scientists will warn Cancún summit that entire nations could be flooded

Devastating changes to sea levels, rainfall, water supplies, weather systems and crop yields are increasingly likely before the end of the century, scientists will warn tomorrow.

A special report, to be released at the start of climate negotiations in Cancún, Mexico, will reveal that up to a billion people face losing their homes in the next 90 years because of failures to agree curbs on carbon emissions.

Up to three billion people could lose access to clean water supplies because global temperatures cannot now be stopped from rising by 4C.

“The main message is that the closer we get to a four-degree rise, the harder it will be to deal with the consequences,” said Dr Mark New, a climate expert at Oxford University, who organised a recent conference entitled “Four Degrees and Beyond” on behalf of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. Tomorrow the papers from the meeting will be published to coincide with the start of the Cancún climate talks.

A key feature of these papers is that they assume that even if global carbon emission curbs were to be agreed in the future, these would be insufficient to limit global temperature rises to 2C this century – the maximum temperature rise agreed by politicians as acceptable. “To have a realistic chance of doing that, the world would have to get carbon emissions to peak within 15 years and then follow this up with a massive decarbonisation of society,” said Dr Chris Huntingford, of the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in Oxfordshire.

Few experts believe this is a remotely practical proposition, particularly in the wake of the failure of the Copenhagen climate talks last December – a point stressed by Bob Watson, former head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and now chief scientist at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. As he put it: “Two degrees is now a wishful dream.”

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Scientists Quantify Global Warming’s Threat to Public Health

Wednesday, November 3rd, 2010

From heat stress to sewage overflows, climate change promises to bring extreme weather that will challenge the ill-prepared U.S. public health infrastructure.

Extreme weather induced by climate change has dire public health consequences, as heat waves threaten the vulnerable, storm runoffoverwhelms city sewage systems and hotter summer days bake more pollution into asthma-inducing smog, scientists say.

The United States – to say nothing of the developed world – is unprepared for such conditions predicted by myriad climate models and already being seen today, warn climate researchers and public health officials.

“Climate change as it’s projected will impact almost every aspect of public health, both in the developed world and – more importantly – in the developing world,” said Michael McGeehin, director of the Environmental Hazards and Health Effects division at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“A flood is a major public health disaster,” he added. “A flood takes us back to the 1890s as far as the public health system is concerned.”

Last week, as the East Coast stewed its way through the first heat wave of the summer, researchers at Stanford University published a study suggesting exceptionally long heat waves and extreme temperatures could be commonplace in the United States within 30 years – sooner than expected.

“I did not expect to see anything this large within the next three decades,” Noah Diffenbaugh, assistant professor of environmental Earth system science at Stanford and lead author of the study, said in a statement. “It was definitely a surprise.”

The report was published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Using some of the highest-resolution computer models to date, Diffenbaugh and Moetasim Ashfaq, a former Stanford postdoctoral researcher now at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, were able to simulate daily temperatures across small sections of the country.

They found an intense heat wave – equal to the longest on record from 1951 to 1999 – could hit western and central United States as many as five times between 2020 and 2029.

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Nature’s sting: The real cost of damaging Planet Earth

Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

You don’t have to be an environmentalist to care about protecting the Earth’s wildlife.

Just ask a Chinese fruit farmer who now has to pay people to pollinate apple trees because there are no longer enough bees to do the job for free.

And it’s not just the number of bees that is dwindling rapidly – as a direct result of human activity, species are becoming extinct at a rate 1,000 times greater than the natural average.

The Earth’s natural environment is also suffering.

In the past few decades alone, 20% of the oceans’ coral reefs have been destroyed, with a further 20% badly degraded or under serious threat of collapse, while tropical forests equivalent in size to the UK are cut down every two years.

These statistics, and the many more just like them, impact on everyone, for the very simple reason that we will all end up footing the bill.

Costing nature

For the first time in history, we can now begin to quantify just how expensive degradation of nature really is.

A recent, two-year study for the United Nations Environment Programme, entitled The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (Teeb), put the damage done to the natural world by human activity in 2008 at between $2tn (£1.3tn) and $4.5tn.

At the lower estimate, that is roughly equivalent to the entire annual economic output of the UK or Italy.

A second study, for the UN-backed Principles for Responsible Investment (PRI), puts the cost considerably higher. Taking what research lead Dr Richard Mattison calls a more “hard-nosed, economic approach”, corporate environmental research group Trucost estimates the figure at $6.6tn, or 11% of global economic output.

This, says Trucost, compares with a $5.4tn fall in the value of pension funds in developed countries caused by the global financial crisis in 2007 and 2008.

Of course these figures are just estimates – there is no exact science to measuring humans’ impact on the natural world – but they show that the risks to the global economy of large-scale environmental destruction are huge.

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Rice yields ‘to fall’ under global warming

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

Global warming is set to cut rice yields in Asia, research suggests.

Scientists found that over the last 25 years, the growth in yields has fallen by 10-20% in some locations, as night-time temperatures have risen.

The group of mainly US-based scientists studied records from 227 farms in six important rice-producing countries such as Thailand, Vietnam, India and China.

This is the latest study to suggest that climate change will make it harder to feed the world’s growing population.

In 2004, other researchers found that rice yields in the Philippines were dropping by 10% for every 1C increase in night-time temperature.

That finding, like others, came from experiments on a research station.

The latest data, by contrast, comes from working, fully-irrigated farms that grow “green revolution” crops, and span the rice-growing lands of Asia from the Indian state of Tamil Nadu to the outskirts of Shanghai.

Describing the findings, which are published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), lead researcher Jarrod Welch said:

“We found that as the daily minimum temperature increases, or as nights get hotter, rice yields drop.”

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Math whiz tackles the big carbon sink puzzle

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Spotlight: Inez Fung, University of California at Berkeley

Inez Fung is on a mission to find and account for every gram of heat-trapping carbon dioxide on the planet. And she knows where most of it is hiding.

Fung is the director of the Berkeley Institute of the Environment at the University of California-Berkeley. Her work has led to a more complete understanding of the current and future role played by Earth’s so-called “carbon sinks” — features such as oceans and forests that suck carbon dioxide out of the air. Fung’s research shows that when the role of these carbon-absorbing mechanisms is taken fully into account, global warming is likely to accelerate even faster than scientists previously believed.

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– Research thanks to LA

Methane releases in arctic seas could wreak devastation

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

Massive releases of methane from arctic seafloors could create oxygen-poor dead zones, acidify the seas and disrupt ecosystems in broad parts of the northern oceans, new preliminary analyses suggest.

Such a cascade of geochemical and ecological ills could result if global warming triggers a widespread release of methane from deep below the Arctic seas, scientists propose in the June 28 Geophysical Research Letters.

Worldwide, particularly in deeply buried permafrost and in high-latitude ocean sediments where pressures are high and temperatures are below freezing, icy deposits called hydrates hold immense amounts of methane (SN: 6/25/05, p. 410). Studies indicate that seafloor sediments beneath the Kara, Barents and East Siberian seas in the Arctic Ocean, as well as the Sea of Okhotsk and the Barents Sea in the North Pacific, have large reservoirs of the planet-warming greenhouse gas, says study coauthor Scott M. Elliott, a marine biogeochemist at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

Many oceanographic surveys have already discovered plumes of methane rising from the ocean floor, particularly in the Arctic, Elliott notes. The climate warming expected in coming decades will likely extend even into the deep sea, melting or destabilizing hydrates and releasing their trapped methane, he explains. Some scientists estimate that increased temperatures across some swaths of ocean floor between 300 and 600 meters deep — where methane hydrates are now stable but may not be in the future — could eventually release as much as 16,000 metric tons of methane each year.

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Government Report Forecasts 43% Rise in Global CO2 Emissions by 2035

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) released a report summary earlier this week projecting a 43 percent rise in global carbon emission by 2035 under current policies and expected economic and population growth, particularly from developing countries.

The EIA summary says that emissions will rise from 29.7 billion metric tons in 2007 to 42.2 billion tons in 2035, with world energy consumption rising 49 percent.

Most of that increasing energy demand will come from developing countries, rising 84 percent and doubling their greenhouse gas emissions by 2035. Energy consumption in the developed world will increase by 14 percent as emissions remain close to current levels, according to the report.

In 2007, industrialized nations contributed about half the world’s carbon emissions. By 2035, that share will drop to about one third, as developing world economies quickly expand.

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Government review to examine threat of world resources shortage

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Study commissioned following sharp rises in commodity prices on world markets and food riots in some countries

[British] Ministers have ordered a review of looming global shortages of resources, from fish and timber to water and precious metals, amid mounting concern that the problem could hit every sector of the economy.

The study has been commissioned following sharp rises in many commodity prices on the world markets and recent riots in some countries over food shortages.

There is also evidence that some nations are stockpiling important materials, buying up key producers and land and restricting exports in an attempt to protect their own businesses from increasingly fierce global competition.

Several research projects have also warned of a pending crisis in natural resources, such as water and wildlife, which have suffered dramatic losses due to over-use, pollution, habitat loss, and, increasingly, changes caused by global warming.

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– research thanks to Tony H.

Mankind warming the oceans – report

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

The world’s oceans are warming up and the rise is both significant and real, according to one of the most comprehensive studies into marine temperature data gathered over the past two decades.

Measuring the temperature of the oceans has not been easy, but the scientists behind the latest study believe there is now incontrovertible evidence to show that the top few hundred metres of the sea are warming – and that this temperature rise is consistent with man-made climate change.

The findings are important because ocean temperatures are seen as a more reliable and convincing signal of global warming than land-based measurements, which are prone to huge variability. This is due to the fluctuating influences of the weather and the spread of cities, which can artificially increase local terrestrial temperatures by the urban “heat island” effect.

Scientists involved in the study have looked at temperature recordings gathered by flotation devices that take measurements of the top 700m of the ocean. They conclude that this upper layer of ocean has warmed significantly between 1993 and 2008 – the period covered by the study – and that this is slightly faster than earlier estimates used in the last report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

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