Monday, March 31, 2008

Banking on wetlands reform

ScienceNow: The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) today announced much-anticipated regulations to guide the restoration of wetlands and streams around the country. "The implications are huge," says Melissa Samet, a water resources analyst at American Rivers, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. Although Samet and others are just beginning to analyze the regulations, they are concerned that the standards will not require sufficient restoration to offset the continued destruction of wetlands....

Photo of North Fork wetlands (in New York) by Colin Palmer, Wikimedia Commons

Climate change badly affects Pakistan's food security

A brief piece on South Asian adaptation from the Daily Times (Pakistan): Exerts say that climate change was a global issue and its link with sustainable development and security (food, water, energy, social) was crucial. The climate problem could not be resolved through environment policy, but has to be integrated with development, said Dr Adil Najam, a renowned scholar and a distinguished professor at the Boston University, USA. He expressed these views at a seminar organized by LEAD Pakistan.

“Pakistan has faced a water crisis, a food crisis, among many things, which indicate that we have a problem related to climate change. We need to monitor climate data and carry-out more research for action.”...

Flag of Pakistan, "Pumbaa80," Wikimedia Commons

A holistic way to measure ecosystem health

A new study devises a more comprehensive method for measuring ecosystem health. From New Scientist: When it comes to measuring ecosystem health, top predators such as tigers get all the ink. Their numbers are relatively easy to measure, they are sensitive to pollution – and they are great for publicity.

However, a more holistic analysis suggests that prey species may be a better overall indictor of health. Tobias Roth and Darius Weber at the Swiss Biodiversity Monitoring Programme in Basel, analysed data on plant, bird and butterfly species richness from across Switzerland. They compared the richness of sites where birds of prey had been spotted to areas where they were absent.....

Don't focus only on predators -- yawning lion shot by John Storr, Wikimedia Commons

Bacteria are releasing a serious greenhouse gas – nitrous oxide

Terra Daily: Unlike carbon dioxide and methane, laughing gas has been largely ignored by world leaders as a worrying greenhouse gas. But nitrous oxide must be taken more seriously, says Professor David Richardson from the University of East Anglia in Norwich, UK, speaking today (Monday 31 March 2008) at the Society for General Microbiology's 162nd meeting being held this week at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre.

"It only makes up 9% of total greenhouse gas emissions, but it's got 300 times more global warming potential than carbon dioxide", says Prof Richardson. "It can survive in the atmosphere for 150 years, and it's recognised in the Kyoto protocol as one of the key gases we need to limit".

The potent gas is mainly coming from waste treatment plants and agriculture. Its release is increasing at the rate of 50 parts per billion or 0.25% every year. This means that it can be better controlled with suitable management strategies, but only if the importance of nitrous oxide (N2O) is widely recognised first....

Photo of laughing Buddha by Aaron Logan, Wikimedia Commons

Egypt heading toward natural disaster

From the Middle East Times, an article by Joseph Mayton: Egypt could be on the receiving end of a natural disaster of Biblical proportions, experts warn. Although numerous scenarios are being studied by scientists, two things appear certain in all of them: Alexandria, Egypt's second largest city on the Mediterranean Sea coast will disappear and North Africa is in for some troublesome years ahead.

"Many of the towns and urban areas in the north of the [Nile] Delta will suffer from a rise in the level of the Mediterranean with effect from 2020, and about 15 percent of Delta land is under threat from the rising sea level and its seepage into the ground water," Egypt's Environment Minister George Maged told a parliamentary committee in Cairo earlier in March. He said joint studies by his ministry and the United Nations have assessed the situation is urgent, adding that Egypt is planning to start an international campaign to look for solutions….

…Generally, scientists predict the Mediterranean will rise by as little as 30 centimeters (one foot) to one meter (3.3 feet) by the end of the century. Even a one-meter rise in the level will submerge Alexandria.

Egypt, like the entire Middle East region, needs to be prepared for what is to come, Munqeth Mehyar, the director of Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME) said ahead of his organization's presentation of a security risk assessment of climate change in the Middle East for the annual U.N. conference on climate change in Bali, Indonesia.

Map of Egypt, CIA World Factbook, Wikimedia Commons

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Do or die for threatened Australian species

Sydney Morning Herald, by environment editor Marian Wilkinson: Australia needs to urgently identify land that can act as refuges for native wildlife and plants threatened by climate change and decide how to minimise the number of species that will face extinction, a disturbing report by the CSIRO has warned. While saving species should be a priority, the report finds, "it is almost certain that some species will become extinct in the wild".

The sweeping report highlights signs of climate change likely to impact on Australia's wildlife, such as the threat in the alps to the pygmy possum as reduced snow cover exposes it to predators while feral horses, pigs and rabbits prosper in the warmer temperatures.

In a major challenge to state and federal governments, the sweeping report by Michael Dunlop and Peter Brown calls for a re-examination of Australia's "core" conservation principles in the light of climate change. Instead of trying to prevent environmental change, the report says, governments and park managers will need to, "embrace the task of managing the change to minimise the loss"….

The forest kingfisher is now breeding twice per year, instead of once. Photo of forest kingfisher, Todiramphus macleayii, on Moreton Island by Glen Fergus, Wikimedia Commons

Warming a threat to birds, coral reef

Honolulu Advertiser: Hawai'i has some advantages over other areas when it comes to climate change, but the state's native forest bird and coral reef populations could be severely damaged, a climate change biologist said this week.

Conservation International scientist Lee Hannah said that while projected temperature change in Hawai'i is less than elsewhere, native species could still suffer from climate change. But he also said extinctions of species in Hawai'i and around the world are not inevitable and that policymakers need to limit greenhouse gas emissions and improve conservation strategies. "It's certainly not a case where all is lost," he said. "Climate change is another factor, and we need to respond to it, but it's certainly not a reason to give up hope because we have good conservation tools. We just need to employ them in ways that take climate change into account."

Hannah was among the scientists who spoke at this week's Forum on Climate Change in Hawai'i, which was sponsored by the Hawai'i Conservation Alliance, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey….

Ka'anapali from the air, shot by Mike Johnston from Atlanta, Wikimedia Commons

Strategic implications of water availability

Muhammad Zamir in the Daily Star (Dhaka): ….Certain areas of the world are faced today not only with dwindling freshwater supplies and inequitable access but also with a growing corporate control of water sources. Juxtaposed, they are emerging as serious strategic threats to sustainable development as well as to survival. This brew is also being further compounded through climate change from fossil fuel emissions and conflicting greed for freshwater -- between nations, rich and poor, public and private interest, rural and urban populations and the competing needs of the natural world as opposed to the industrialised economics.

… There is a lesson here for all developing countries including Bangladesh. Our policy planners also need to address water security issues with utmost seriousness. Efforts and perspective planning in this regard should include finding the necessary energy to extract water from underground aquifers, transporting water through pipelines and canals, managing and treating water for reuse and desalinating brackish and sea water for use in the coastal areas. If need be, this could be undertaken through a public and private partnership, with private sector providing the necessary technology and funding support. Management of such enterprises could also be through public and private joint endeavour.

… In this context it would be important for all countries in South Asia to treat this issue as a common end and not confine in bilateral connotations. We have more water than we can handle during the monsoons and the ensuing floods. At other times we have massive draughts that affect agriculture, the environment as well as economic opportunities. To that has been added the threat of arsenic poisoning. This uncertainty has been made further complex through climate variability….

India southwest summer monsoon, "Ayack" from a map by "Saravask," Wikimedia Commons

Wet winter raises water levels for Arizona, but drought persists

Arizona Republic: …..Runoff from the winter's bounty has nearly filled Roosevelt Lake, which was almost half-empty at the end of last summer. It's still possible the reservoir will reach full capacity for the first time since the dam was raised 77 feet in 1996.

That's good news for Valley cities, which draw much of their water supplies from the lake and its sibling reservoirs on the Salt and Verde rivers. But experts say they can't yet call an end to the state's ongoing drought. A wet year often interrupts long dry spells, and in the desert, dry spells can easily span 20 years.

… SRP's reservoirs will near capacity for just the second time in more than a decade. (Although 2005 produced more runoff, the reservoirs began with less water then than this year.) The gush of runoff allowed SRP to cancel an order for Colorado River water and reduce planned groundwater pumping from an estimated 275,000 acre-feet to just 75,000 acre-feet.
The two reservoirs on the Verde River, Horseshoe and Bartlett, filled by the end of January, which forced SRP for several weeks to divert the overflow downstream into the lower Salt, through Tempe Town Lake and on to the Gila River near Avondale.
Most of the snow has melted on the Verde watershed, and the Salt River has reached its expected peak. As of Friday, Roosevelt Lake had risen to 97 percent of capacity, its water levels 12 feet higher than the top of the old dam, 6 inches higher than the peak set in 2005 and just 3 feet below the full mark….

Climate experts won't declare a drought over on the strength of one wet year, especially not in the middle of such a persistent dry period. Full reservoirs paint only a partial picture of water and climate conditions in Arizona. Most rural communities rely on groundwater that still suffers from significant moisture deficits. Water managers also must watch the Colorado River, which supplies the state with about one-third of its water….

2004 photo of Arizona border welcome sign by Wing-Chi Poon, Wikimedia Commons

Tourism, agriculture need bad-weather coverage

Daily Gleaner (Jamaica): Advocates of climate-proof development worry about the possible economic fallout if Government and stakeholders do not move urgently to negotiate affordable insurance to protect the critical sectors of agriculture and tourism from the ill effects of adverse weather. This is critical, they argue, because the probability of a hurricane strike on the island has risen in recent times from one in 16 years to one in three years, due to global climate change.

Climate-proofing involves the adaptation of the natural and built environment to withstand or minimise the adverse effects of climate change. Local environmentalists and development experts lament that successive governments have not enforced legislation and policies to guide development, including a master plan that was developed for the tourism sector in 2000….

"It is very clear that we need to have a conversation with the insurance industry in this island, how they are going to help us, because they are a very important players in the discussion on climate change," he tells The Sunday Gleaner.

Director General of the Office of Disaster Preparedness and Emergency Management, Ronald Jackson, supports McDonald, adding that the country's main foreign-exchange earner, tourism, needs protection. ...

Clarence White's 1903 photo of drops of rain, Wikimedia Commons

Saturday, March 29, 2008

2008 Stockholm Water Prize goes to ‘virtual water’ innovator

OneWorld South Asia: Professor John Anthony Allan from King’s College London and the School of Oriental and African Studies has been named the 2008 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate. The US$ 150,000 Stockholm Water Prize is a global award founded in 1990 and presented annually by the Stockholm Water Foundation to an individual, organisation or institution for outstanding water-related activities.

Professor Allan, 71, pioneered the development of key concepts in the understanding and communication of water issues and how they are linked to agriculture, climate change, economics and politics. In 1993, he introduced the ‘virtual water’ concept, which measures how water is embedded in the production and trade of food and consumer products.

For example, a cup of coffee uses 140 litres of water used to grow, produce, package and ship the beans. A hamburger needs an estimated 2,400 litres of water. Per capita, Americans consume around 6,800 litres of virtual water every day - more than thrice that of a Chinese person. Virtual water has major impacts on global trade policy and research, especially in water-scarce regions, and has redefined discourse in water policy and management.

National, regional and global water and food security, for example, can be enhanced when water-intensive commodities are traded from places where they are economically viable to produce to places where they are not.

While studying water scarcity in the Middle East, Professor Allan developed the theory of using virtual water import, via food, as an alternative water ‘source’” to reduce pressure on the scarce domestic water resources there and in other water-scarce regions.

Professor Allan also developed the idea and terminology of ‘hydro-hegemony’ and ‘problemshed’. His work has led to a better understanding of potential and real conflicts in trans-boundary regions such as the Nile basin, where water resources are shared between countries, while providing a perspective on economic and political processes that can make food and water security possible for all nations in such water basins.

Allen’s work has led to greater awareness among policymakers, scientists, water professionals and the general public, about the role of water in the production of different types of products and its impact on global trade and economy.

…Professor Allen is a leading voice for sustainable water development and expert adviser on balancing population growth and increasing food demand in developing countries, institutional reform, valuing water, conflict resolution, and on the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region.

Photo of a dew drop by Friedrich Böhringer, Wikimedia Commons

The Mekong: charting a sustainable future

Eric Coull is the Regional Representative for the World Wildlife Federation Greater Mekong Programme, which covers Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam. He wrote an editorial in the Bangkok Post about a regional meeting underway right now: Not far from where regional heads of state are meeting for the triennial Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) summit in Vientiane runs the Mekong River, a flowing thread that weaves its way through China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam. The Mekong River is a powerful symbol of national pride, connectivity and vitality _ the most productive inland fishery in the world, the river with the highest biodiversity in Asia, and home to at least 1,300 species of fish including the Mekong giant catfish, the largest freshwater fish on Earth.

…As the GMS becomes one of the fastest growing regions in the world, the challenge facing the governments is increasingly clear; how to sustain rapid economic growth while making sure the Mekong River and the region's ecosystems continue to support the needs of people and nature.

At stake are rivers and forests that provide vital ecosystem services which we all rely on, supporting economies, and yet that often remain overlooked in investment decisions. It is for this reason that the World Wildlife Fund encourages the leaders of the GMS to recommit to a vision of growth where environmental sustainability is the foundation for development.

There is no time to lose. A report by the non-governmental organisation Oxfam that was published in 2007 stated that ''the ability of natural resources to continue to support poor peoples' livelihoods in the Mekong is at a crisis point. Forests and rivers are in a state of rapid ecological decline caused by human over-exploitation''.

…Three years ago, GMS leaders committed themselves to one vision: an integrated, harmonious and prosperous sub-region that is partly based on Biodiversity Conservation Landscapes. These are large expanses of forest and freshwater _ approximately 60,000 square kilometres _ that were identified as being vital for ecological functions and ecotourism. Now, in the face of climate change and its projected impact on the people of the GMS, the foresight of designing these landscapes is increasingly relevant.

Identifying conservation landscapes is the necessary first step; but there is an urgent need to take more tangible measures within a new management framework. This framework would not only define the landscapes and river basin priorities, but also regional standards for sustainable infrastructure and climate change adaptation measures over the long term.

A true vision of the GMS is one where the Mekong River continues to meet the needs of the region over the coming decades in a sustainable way. The question is, can the GMS ensure the integrity of diverse and productive ecosystems in order to foster sustainable growth? Can it buffer countries and people against the worsening impact of climate change? Only the leaders attending the Greater Mekong Sub-region summit have the answer.

Photo of the Mekong River in Laos by Ondřej Žváček, Wikimedia Commons

Canada's water resources in jeopardy, professor says

Exchange Morning Post (Canada): Canada isn't doing enough to ensure the security and sustainability of its water resources. That's the finding of a first-ever national assessment by researchers at the University of Guelph. Despite Walkerton, climate change and recent water-export controversies pushing concerns about Canada's water resources to the forefront, most provinces still have not put adequate measures in place to address water threats, especially those related to scarcity and the environment, the report said.

"In Canada we are still caught up in the myth of abundance," said geography professor Rob de Loë, a lead researcher in the Guelph Water Management Group, which conducted the two-year assessment of Canada’s water-allocation systems. "We think we have lots of water, so what's the problem? But the truth is, we are not immune to water scarcity. Shrinking water supplies are a problem across the globe, and in Canada we aren't dealing with it very well."

Among other things, the researchers found that water monitoring and enforcement are not happening at a satisfactory level in all parts of Canada. "Monitoring is essential because it helps us know whether or not we're addressing the water-security challenges that exist,” de Loë said.

In addition, most provinces and territories aren't doing enough to anticipate the effects of climate change on future water supplies, he said. "Historical patterns and observed trends continue to guide our water-allocation decisions, despite the fact that these patterns and trends aren't likely to be representative of future conditions due to global warming."

This is problematic because Canada's water resources have already faced numerous threats over the past decade, he said. "Severe droughts have been experienced in the Prairies, stress on aquatic ecosystems is evident in many watersheds, and growth and development are putting pressure on water resources in many parts of the country. All of these current threats will simply magnify with climate change."

...The report, which was funded by the Walter and Duncan Gordon Foundation, was just released online. For a copy of the report, visit the Guelph Water Management Group website.

Map of Canada's rivers by "Qyd," Wikimedia Commons

As sea water rises, the toll to Florida is logged

St. Petersburg Times (Florida): Global warming is boosting the sea level along Florida's gulf coast and already causing profound environmental changes, scientists say….

"People have a hard time accepting that this is happening here," said University of Florida professor Jack Putz, who has led a Levy County research effort since 1992. Seeing the dying palms, he said, "brings a global problem right into our own backyard."

What is happening is not just a minor botanical alteration in a few isolated places. The scientists studying the phenomenon see it as a harbinger for major changes in the state's geography — submerging islands and turning swamps into open bays. Those changes alone can create a serious economic impact on businesses such as fishing.

The rising sea generally has crept up so slowly that it has been barely noticeable. In the Tampa Bay area, for instance, "we've actually seen an increase of about an inch a decade" since measurements began in the 1940s, said Holly Greening, executive director of the Tampa Bay Estuary Program. Now, the rate at which the sea level is rising appears to be picking up speed.

It's often difficult to detect along urban coastlines because seawalls and renourished beaches can obscure or blunt the impact, said Mike Savarese, a Florida Gulf Coast University marine science professor. But the changes wrought by higher seas are more obvious in wilderness areas such as state and national parks. In those natural areas, "we're seeing some real indications of a change out there," Savarese said.

….Florida is a good place to study the rising sea level because its a coastal state where seas have risen and fallen for tens of thousands of years. That enables scientists to see what happened in the past and compare it to what's occurring now.

...How long will it take before sea level rise begins to cause major changes? If you ask Harold Wanless, chairman of the University of Miami's geological sciences department who studies how the coastlines of South Florida have evolved over the past 4,000 years, he will give you one answer.

Wanless believes the rate will continue increasing until it surpasses 3 feet by the end of this century, and could even reach 5 feet. That "basically takes all of our barrier islands and makes them close to unlivable," he said.

But Wanless' predictions surpass what scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey have found so far in their studies from around the nation's coastline.

…The scientific uncertainty has left public officials unsure how to deal with the problem. "I don't think that anybody's really pinned down numbers that make sense yet," said Ed Chesney, Clearwater's environmental manager. "You're talking eight inches or eight feet . . . The jury's still out on that timetable.''...

NASA image of Florida, Wikimedia Commons

Kyoto Protocol’s Adaptation Fund board launched

Africa Science News Service: Under the chairmanship of Mr. Richard Muyungi of Tanzania, the Adaptation Fund Board concluded its inaugural meeting in Bonn Friday in what is widely seen as a major step forward in delivering funding for developing countries to deal with the impacts of climate change. UN efforts expected to usher In new era in environmental financing Muvungi’s Tanzania, is one of countries in sub-Saharan Africa expected to suffer the most from climate change impacts but with little mitigation measures in place.

Severe impacts are already visible around the world and are set to worsen in the future, making adaptation inevitable even under the most optimistic emission reduction scenarios.

Rising sea levels, coastal inundation and shortages of water and food will put billions of people at risk, particularly those living in developing countries. In his opening remarks at the meeting, Yvo de Boer, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the UN’s top climate change official, called the launch of the Adaptation Fund a historic moment. “This is a unique fund, with mitigation action paying for adaptation. It is not reliant on donor funding or overseas development assistance. This is the climate regime beginning to become self-financing”, Mr. de Boer said.

The Adaptation Fund was established under the Kyoto Protocol to finance concrete adaptation projects to help developing countries cope with the effects of climate change. Currently, the Adaptation Fund is filled by means of a 2% levy on projects from the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and is worth about 37 million euros. Considering the number of CDM projects in the pipeline, this figure will rapidly increase to an estimated 80-300 million USD in the period 2008-2012.

The Adaptation Fund Board will ensure that the guidelines and procedures for accessing the Fund are established. “The comprehensive international climate change deal that will be reached at the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in 2009 will need to generate billions of dollars in funding for adaptation, with the carbon market likely to play a key role,” said Mr. de Boer.

Governments agreed at the United Nations Climate Change Talks in Bali last December that the Adaptation Fund would be supervised and managed by the Adaptation Fund Board. The Board comprises 16 members and 16 alternates representing developing and developed countries and is expected to meet at least twice a year….

Map of Tanzania from Wikimedia Commons

Friday, March 28, 2008

Wildfire smoke reaches higher and farther

Environmental Research Web: Smoke from wildfires disperses more widely than previously believed, according to a team of US scientists who used space-based stereo imaging, rather than LIDAR (light detection and ranging) observations, to analyse the height reached by smoke plumes. The team found that at least 10% of 650 wildfire smoke plumes in the Alaska-Yukon region during the summer of 2004 reached the free troposphere.

"Computer models are used to predict the climate and health impacts of aerosols, by simulating the way the atmosphere disperses smoke and other particles," Ralph Kahn, who is now at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center after time at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, told environmentalresearchweb. "Most such models currently assume that wildfire smoke is injected only into the near-surface boundary layer. If smoke is instead injected above the boundary layer, the particles are likely to travel farther, and to remain in the atmosphere longer."

Kahn believes that improving the way smoke is represented in air quality and climate prediction models is particularly important as wildfires are expected to become even more common in some regions as a result of climate change.

He and colleagues at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at California Institute of Technology, Columbus Technologies and Services, and Harvard University used data from the Multi-angle Imaging SpectroRadiometer (MISR) instrument onboard the Terra satellite. This uses nine cameras with slightly different viewing angles, collecting data in four colour bands – blue, green, red and short-wave infrared.

"Over a period of seven minutes, each of MISR's cameras successively images the same location along a roughly 400 km wide strip nearly from pole to pole, so we end up with nine multi-angle views of the entire swath," explained Kahn. "MISR images the entire planet about once per week, at spatial sampling as high as a quarter of a kilometre."

MISR observations provide information about everything on Earth that scatters light differently at different angles – the surface, clouds, and particles of dust, smoke and pollution suspended in the atmosphere. "The multi-angle data tell about the amount, size, shape, and brightness of aerosols," said Kahn. “And from the hyper-stereo of the multiple views, we can derive the heights of clouds and smoke plumes."

Space-based LIDAR has to date found smoke only near the surface in the vicinity of wildfires. "LIDAR can measure the heights of aerosol layers much thinner than those for which the multi-angle stereo technique works," said Kahn. "But multi-angle imaging provides vastly greater spatial coverage, and in particular, often observes active wildfires missed by the extremely narrow lidar swath."

…The researchers reported their work in Geophysical Research Letters.

Smoke from this August 2006 wildfire at the Devils Backbone, Crater Lake National Park, Oregon, USA, may have reached into the troposphere. Photo by Wing-Chi Poon, Wikimedia Commons

Hong Kong begins a study on climate change

Xinhua: The Environmental Protection Department of the Hong Kong government Thursday entered into a consultancy agreement with ERM-Hong Kong Ltd to undertake a comprehensive study on climate change in Hong Kong.

"With the recent release of findings of major international studies on climate change, in particular those published by the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, there is a need to conduct a comprehensive and up-to-date study to assess the likely impact of climate change on Hong Kong," a department spokesman said.

The study will review and update the inventories of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in Hong Kong; project local GHG emission trends under different scenarios; characterize the impacts of climate change on Hong Kong; recommend additional policies and measures to reduce GHG emissions and facilitate adaptation to climate change; and assess the cost-effectiveness of the proposed measures.

The spokesman said that the study will provide a solid scientific basis for the government to formulate long-term strategies and measures for Hong Kong to mitigate GHG emissions and adapt to climate change. It will also provide useful information for preparing a submission to the Central People's Government for meeting the national communications obligations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, added the spokesman.

The study will span around 18 months, and is expected to be completed in late 2009. ERM-Hong Kong Ltd is an environmental, safety, health and risk consultancy...

Hong Kong's coat of arms rendered by "Zscout370," Wikimedia Commons

Bangladesh: Climate change battle limps for lack of funds

The Daily Star (Dhaka): Despite being at the forefront of countries affected by climate change, Bangladesh has received only $10 million in foreign aid over the past decade, even as recent donor estimates put future climate change adaptation bill for the country around $4 billion.

Meanwhile, a climate change research centre and a government climate change data centre are in the pipeline to allow Bangladesh to use better models and data for mainstreaming climate change adaptation into government projects and to attract funds for long term adaptation plans.

Although some NGO officials claim that climate change specific funding might have been much lower than $10 million in the last decade, government records obtained by The Daily Star show that climate change adaptation fund to Bangladesh has been between $9 million to $10 million since 1996. Experts say that Bangladesh has failed to attract funds largely due to its failure to absorb and implement the funds, and for a lack of accountability.

But a donor country official, working with the research centre proposals, told The Daily Star that Bangladesh has also failed to 'voice enough concerns at the global level, and have not managed knowledge about climate change well enough to make the country's case overseas'. "The country has been unable to tap into massive global climate change funds because of a lack of data about the country," the official said.

Official records show only one out of the fifteen planned projects under the National Adaptation Programme of Action (Napa) received funds, while none of the projects under Global Environment Facility (GEF) has yet been implemented. One GEF project, on forestation, has already been withdrawn, according to sources….

A donor country official, working with climate change, said future project funding should also come in forms of grants rather than loans to reduce the burden of repayment.

In 2006, 32 donor countries pledged $3.13 billion to fund projects between 2006 and 2010. GEF allocates and disburses about $250 million dollars a year to projects for developing energy efficiency, renewable energies, and sustainable transportation, as the financial mechanism of the Climate Convention. Bangladesh could also take advantage of two special funds under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) --- the Least Developed Countries Fund, and the Special Climate Change Fund.

Meanwhile, the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), and the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies (BCAS) signed a memorandum of understanding with International University Bangladesh (IUB) to set up a global research institute here….

Bangladesh map from the CIA's World Factbook, Wikimedia Commons

Hotter and drier: The American West's changed climate

Natural Resources Defense Council has just published a new study about the quickening impacts of warming on the Western United States: Human activities are already changing the climate of the American West. This report by the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization (RMCO) and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), drawn from 50 scientific studies, 125 other government and scientific sources, and our own new analyses, documents that the West is being affected more by a changed climate than any other part of the United States outside of Alaska. When compared to the 20th century average, the West has experienced an increase in average temperature during the last five years that is 70 percent greater than the world as a whole. Responding quickly at all levels of government by embracing the solutions that are available is critical to minimizing further disruption of this region's climate and economy.

Global warming: The more you know, the less you care, apparently

Environment News Service: A new public opinion poll has found that the more people know about global warming, the less they care. A telephone survey of 1,093 Americans by two Texas A&M University political scientists and a former colleague indicates that trend, as explained in their recent article in the peer-reviewed journal "Risk Analysis."

"More informed respondents both feel less personally responsible for global warming, and also show less concern for global warming," states the article, titled "Personal Efficacy, the Information Environment, and Attitudes toward Global Warming and Climate Change in the USA."

The study showed that high levels of confidence in scientists among Americans led to a decreased sense of responsibility for global warming. The diminished concern and sense of responsibility flies in the face of awareness campaigns about climate change.

The research was conducted by Paul Kellstedt, a political science associate professor at Texas A&M; Arnold Vedlitz, Bob Bullock Chair in Government and Public Policy at Texas A&M’s George Bush School of Government and Public Service; and Sammy Zahran, formerly of Texas A&M and now an assistant professor of sociology at Colorado State University.

Kellstedt says the findings were unexpected. The focus of the study, he says, was not to measure how informed or how uninformed Americans are about global warming, but to understand why some individuals who are more or less informed about it showed more or less concern. "In that sense, we didn't really have expectations about how aware or unaware people were of global warming," he says….

Sleeping dog photo by Rick Audet, Wikimedia Commons

Thursday, March 27, 2008

A point of no return?

Several sources have been referring to this study by Oxford Analytica: Does climate change have a 'tipping point', or a level at which the momentum for change becomes unstoppable? More simply put, how warm is too warm?

A gradual awareness is building in the scientific community that our stressed ecosystems are perched on a cliff edge. Given the right nudge, they are capable of slipping rapidly from a seemingly stable state to flood or drought. An Earth that is just a few degrees Celsius hotter may push the planet's climate system past critical thresholds.

A recent study, 'Tipping elements in the Earth's climate system', published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, reviews 14 earth systems to assess how small changes can have large long-term consequences on human and ecological systems....

University of Michigan 'ballast-free ship' could cut costs while blocking aquatic invaders

How do you keep invasive species out of bilge water? There is a way, according to Environmental Researchweb: University of Michigan researchers are investigating a radical new design for cargo ships that would eliminate ballast tanks, the water-filled compartments that enable non-native creatures to sneak into the Great Lakes from overseas. At least 185 non-native aquatic species have been identified in the Great Lakes, and ballast water is blamed for the introduction of most—including the notorious zebra and quagga mussels and two species of gobies.

This week, the U.S. Saint Lawrence Seaway Development Corp. will implement new rules designed to reduce Great Lakes invaders. Ships will be required to flush ballast tanks with salt water before entering the Seaway, a practice corporation officials describe as an interim measure, not a final solution.

Meanwhile, Congress is considering legislation that would force freighters to install costly onboard sterilization systems to kill foreign organisms in ballast water. The systems use filters, ultraviolet irradiation, chemical biocides and other technologies, and can cost more than $500,000.

The U-M ballast-free ship concept offers a promising alternative that could block hitchhiking organisms while eliminating the need for expensive sterilization equipment, said Michael Parsons, professor of naval architecture and marine engineering and co-leader of the project.

…Ships take on ballast water for stability when they're not carrying cargo. They discharge ballast when they load freight, expelling tons of water and anything else—from pathogenic microbes to mollusks and fish—that's in it.

Instead of hauling potentially contaminated water across the ocean, then dumping it in a Great Lakes port, a ballast-free ship would create a constant flow of local seawater through a network of large pipes, called trunks, that runs from the bow to the stern, below the waterline. "In some ways, it's more like a submarine than a surface ship," Parsons said. "We're opening part of the hull to the sea, creating a very slow flow through the trunks from bow to stern. You're continuously sweeping water through the ship and out," he said. "So you're always filled with local sea water, not hauling water from one part of the world to the other."…

For invasive species, ship's bilges like this one, taken by "Clipper," are the preferred method of travel. Wikimedia Commons

NOAA to study ice seals for possible listing under Endangered

NOAA: NOAA’s Fisheries Service has accepted a petition from a California environmental group seeking protection under the Endangered Species Act for an ice seal called the “ribbon seal” that inhabits Alaska’s Bering Sea. “In addition reviewing the ribbon seal, we are also preparing status reviews on bearded, spotted and ringed seals for possible listing,” said Doug Mecum, Acting Administrator for the Alaska Region of NOAA Fisheries Service. “While the four species of ice seals in Alaska all utilize various types of sea ice habitats, they use the ice in different ways. Therefore, careful status reviews of each species is warranted.”

NOAA’s Fisheries Service has until the end of this year to prepare a status review and make a decision whether to list the ribbon seals, so that species will be the initial focus of NOAA experts. Status reviews of the other three species of ice seals will be completed after the ribbon seal review. In late December 2007, the San-Francisco-based Center for Biological Diversity petitioned NOAA’s Fisheries Service to list the ribbon seal as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. Their petition states that global warming threatens ribbon seals with extinction because of the rapid melt of sea ice habitat. The agency decided the petition provided enough information to indicate that action may be warranted under the law.

NOAA’s finding was based, in part, on predicted changes in ribbon seals’ sea ice habitat as a result of global climate change, the high allowable seal harvest set by the Russian federation in recent years, the potential impacts of oil and gas development and production in both the United States and Russia and the potential impacts of commercial fisheries and climate change on ribbon seal prey distribution and abundance.

Ribbon seals use the marginal sea ice zone in the Bering and Okhotsk Seas for reproduction, molting and as a resting platform. In the summer and fall, they forage in the Bering and Chuckchi seas. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NOAA’s Fisheries Service) is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation’s living marine resources through scientific research, management, enforcement, and the conservation of marine mammals and other protected marine species and their habitat.

Photo of ribbon seal by NOAA

Business Continuity Expo survey says climate change a top risk Climate change will be considered a major threat to business in the next ten years according to a survey out today on “emerging risks” conducted by Business Continuity Expo 2008 and sponsored by Marsh, the world’s leading insurance broker and risk adviser. 87% of businesses see climate change as the single biggest threat in terms of risk assessment and the effect it could have on their businesses future growth, with many at a loss as to what can be done in order to prepare or plan for this eventuality. This threat to the continuity and long-term success of their business is ahead of terrorism, pandemic flu, flooding, the credit crunch, government red-tape and outsourcing and offshoring. The survey was conducted amongst 150 major UK and European companies.

Also of great concern to 83% of businesses is the risk that traditional sources of energy will reduce and the cost of oil and gas will rise so significantly over the next 5 years that it will have an adverse effect on the smooth running of their business. Sixty percent are not prepared for this eventuality and see it as a major threat which indicates a gap in their knowledge regarding alternative sources of energy and are awaiting an answer instead of pro-actively seeking an answer.

At next week’s Business Continuity Expo, which will be held at London’s Excel from 2nd-3rd April, one of the most popular seminar and keynote sessions is expected to be around the issues of business continuity and outsourcing. This is mirrored in the concerns of business continuity practitioners who have responded to the survey and have grave concerns over the shortcomings and risks of their own outsourcing and offshoring practices. Although these have been undertaken as a means of cutting costs, 65% are worried that the they have underestimated and poorly understood the risks associated with outsourcing and offshoring with 46% admitting that in some cases the risks outweigh the anticipated benefits and they are not prepared for interruptions or breaks in their outsourcing and offshoring practices.

…Following the floods of 2007 and the recent storms, 74% of businesses see adverse weather as a real threat of which 70% are prepared. However, 40% of small manufacturing firms and 50% of large retails firms who see adverse weather as having a significant effect on British business admit to not having a plan in place.

Martin Caddick , Leader of Marsh’s Business Continuity Management team, said: “Climate change and energy risk consistently rank among the biggest challenges facing global businesses in 2008. While the majority of firms surveyed have accurately identified the major risks that could affect their businesses, fewer seem to be successful in tackling them head on. This lack of preparedness continues to be a major issue for European firms in today’s turbulent times.”

The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927, U.S. Route 51 between Mounds, Illinois, and Cairo, Illinois. River stage at Cairo, 52.8 feet. From "The Floods of 1927 in the Mississippi Basin", Frankenfeld, H.C., 1927 Monthly Weather Review Supplement No. 29. From Wikimedia Commons

Logging road threatens rare peat dome -- shame on Asia Pulp & Paper

Science Daily: In an investigative report published March 26 by Eyes on the Forest, evidence shows that a new logging road in Riau Province -- strongly indicated as illegally built by companies connected to Asia Pulp & Paper (APP) -- is cutting into the heart of Sumatra's largest contiguous peatland forest, a rare hydrological ecosystem that acts as one of the planet's biggest carbon stores.

The road would allow APP and affiliated companies to restart clearance of natural forest and destruction of deep peat soil at any time in a globally recognized conservation area, according to Eyes on the Forest, a coalition of local NGO network Jikalahari, Walhi Riau, and WWF-Indonesia. The Kampar peninsula is one of the world's largest contiguous tropical peat swamp forests, with more carbon per hectare than any other ecosystem on Earth.

"It is morally reprehensible for one of the world's largest paper companies to so brazenly ignore Indonesian laws and destroy the natural resources that belong to the people of Riau," said Teguh Surya of Walhi Riau. "We strongly urge APP to join the ranks of responsible businesses and conduct its operations within the law. Until that time, the world's paper buyers and investors should stop doing business with APP."

The Kampar peninsula area is also considered one of the last havens for critically endangered Sumatran tigers, whose wild population is estimated to be down to just 400-500. The landscape was designated a "regional priority" tiger conservation landscape by the world's leading tiger scientists in 2006. A preliminary estimate by WWF-Indonesia shows that a well-managed Kampar peninsula could be home to as many as 60 tigers.

"Even as our investigators were out surveying the site last month, they came across tiger tracks walking along the APP logging road," said Nursamsu of WWF-Indonesia and Eyes on the Forest coordinator. "But the tigers of Kampar don't stand a chance once APP begins logging full-scale and the poachers discover there's easy access to this critical tiger habitat."

…."APP claimed that it was building this state-of-the-art, paved highway for the benefit of the local communities," said Susanto Kurniawan of Jikalahari. "It's shameful to see a multibillion-dollar enterprise hiding behind the needs of desperately poor, isolated villagers, who will receive absolutely no benefit from this road but will likely suffer the consequences of APP's activities."

The two new logging concessions that the road does connect to are affiliated with APP and both are based on licenses issued by District heads, who are not supposed to issue such licenses. The Ministry of Forestry has issued definitive licenses to the two concessions. However, clearance of natural forest for plantation development in these concessions would not be allowed as it is considered deep peat soil and is natural forest in good condition.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

An Indian artist responds to climate change

The Statesman (India): Renowned sand artist Mr Sudarshan Patnaik created the miniatures of popular heritage monuments like the Jagannath temple in Puri, the shore temple in Mammalapuram in Tamilnadu, and the Gateway of India in Mumbai along the sea beach here, with an aim to highlight the threat to India's cultural heritage sites along the coastline from global warming induced sea level rise.

Mr Patnaik used about seven tones of sand and took almost two days to prepare the seven feet sculpture. “The issue of global warming is close to my heart. I imagine the kind of ruin temperature rise would bring to the live of millions of people. Flood, draught, water shortage, sea surge all combined would devastate everything we have.” Mr Patnaik said. “The impact of climate change is already evident and must not be allowed to go out of control. It chills my spine to even think that Orissa will create 4 million climate victims as estimated in Greenpeace report,” he added.

Meanwhile, the environment activists’ group Greenpeace released “Blue Alert” yesterday and alerted the Indian government and people of the subcontinent to the massive humanitarian crisis the South Asian region could face if global cross two degree tipping point. “Blue Alert ~ Climate Migrants in South Asia: Estimates and Solutions”, a paper authored by Dr Sudhir Chella Rajan , professor of Humanities and Social Sciences at IIT Madras, and a climate expert, estimates the number of people who could be displaced from their homes at 125 million in India and Bangladesh alone.

The report warns that if greenhouse gas emissions continue to grow under the business-as-usual scenario as projected, leading to global temperature rise by four-five degree centigrade, the south Asian region could face a wave of migrants displaced by the impacts of climate change, including sea level rise and drought associated with shrinking water supplies and monsoon variability.

Dr Chella Rajan, the author of the report, recommended that “India should seek policy options that are proactive in terms of developing international strategies to reduce the risk of destructive climate change. “We cannot wait for the inevitable to happen and hope to adapt to it.”

Photo of the Jagannath Temple, which Patnaik has replicated in a sand sculpture to dramatize the dangers of sea level rise. Photo by Shiva-Nataraja, Wikimedia Commons

Drought in Israel -- a selection of stories

Israel's drought among its worst
Philadelphia Inquirer, PA - Mar 20, 2008
JERUSALEM - Israel is suffering its worst drought in a decade and will have to stop pumping from one of its main sources of drinking water, ...
Bracing For ‘Severe’ Water Shortage
New York Jewish Week, USA - 2 hours ago
Bromberg said “it isn’t surprising” that Israel and its neighbors are experiencing a drought. “We go through a period of drought every seven years on ...
Army teams up with industry to fill gaps in workforce
Jerusalem Post, Israel - 11 hours ago
But the problem for employers looking for middle and lowlevel employees with technical training is less a brain drain than a brain drought. As Israel ...
Israel Suffers Worst Drought in Decade
Guardian, UK - Mar 19, 2008
AP foreign By LAURIE COPANS AP Writer JERUSALEM (AP) - Israel is suffering its worst drought in a decade and will have to stop pumping from one of its main ...

Satellite photo of Israel, NASA, Wikimedia Commons

Ice shrink in Arctic sea may attract oil firms

Just what the delicate, imperiled polar regions need -- a yee-haw oil rush. From Environment News Network, via Reuters: Winter sea ice around a Norwegian Arctic island has thinned to less than one meter (3 feet) since the 1960s, according to a study on Tuesday of a region that may be more attractive to oil firms because of climate change.

The Norwegian Polar Institute said ice around Hopen island southeast of the Svalbard archipelago had become more than 40 cms (16 inches) thinner in the past 40 years, in what it called the first long-term study of ice thickness in the Barents Sea.

... Oil and gas companies are pushing north into the Barents Sea, seeking new reserves. Scientists say climate change may make the region less inhospitable and prices around $100 a barrel can justify exploration despite high costs. Norway's biggest oil firm, StatoilHydro, operates the Snoehvit gas field in the south of the Barents Sea that opened in September last year. Russian gas giant Gazprom holds a 51 percent share in the company that plans to develop the vast Shtokman gas field to the east. France's Total owns 25 percent and StatoilHydro 24 percent.

New polar bear haven -- an oil rig photographed by Chad Teer, Wikimedia Commons

Advanced concrete busting technology for urban search and rescue

PR Newswire: Raytheon Company has developed and demonstrated a rapid concrete breaking technology to advance capabilities for urban search and rescue teams in disaster situations. The Controlled Impact Rescue Tool, or CIRT, uses shock waves to pulverize concrete, which enables rescue workers to remove the material more quickly than using existing techniques.

This revolutionary approach decreased by 50 percent the time it takes to reach a victim trapped by concrete, increasing the probability of a successful rescue," said Guy DuBois, vice president of Raytheon's Operational Technologies and Solutions business.

Developed under the rapid technology application program of the Department of Homeland Security's Science and Technology Directorate, the rapid breaching technology meets the need for increased speed in breaching concrete walls and barriers.

Raytheon demonstrated the CIRT prototype to DHS, Federal Emergency Management Agency and urban search and rescue officials recently. During the demonstration the CIRT smashed through concrete in 13 minutes, while conventional methods took 29 minutes or more….

Floods, cyclones, devastate southern Africa: UN

Terra Daily, via Agence France-Presse: Nearly one million people in southern Africa have been been affected by floods, cyclones and heavy rains in the region, the United Nations said on Tuesday. "In total, local authorities estimate that 987,516 Southern Africans have been affected adversely by rains, floods and cyclones since October last year," the UN said in a statement.

"The hardest hit is Madagascar, where several cyclones as well as rains and floods have affected more than 332,000 people."

However Mozambique officials suspect some 350,000 people in the country have suffered from the effects of floods and cyclones, according to national disaster management institute director, Joao Ribeiro. "We are prepared for any emergencies and our teams are on maximum alert until the end of April."

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs heavy rains in southern Africa were still expected, including in central Mozambique where rivers are already swollen after two days of intense rainfall last week.

Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe have also been affected during the annual wet season, said the statement, adding that although the worst of the weather is over for another year, problems could persist until the end of April.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

India vulnerable to sea-level rise, says Greenpeace

Express India: A massive 125 million people may be displaced in India and Bangladesh by a rise in the sea-level triggered by a projected four-five degrees Celsius increase in global temperature this century. Painting the grim picture, a report released by independent environment watchdog Greenpeace said that Bangladesh, Pakistan and India have almost 130 million people living in the Low Elevation Coastal Zone who will be the most vulnerable to sea-level rise and coastal erosion as well as drought.

"We need to keep in mind as well that the bulk of the 75 million people from Bangladesh are very likely to seek refuge in India," the report, authored by S Chella Rajan, professor of humanities and social sciences at IIT, Chennai, said. "Looking at India and Bangladesh alone, approximately 125 million migrants, comprising about 75 million from Bangladesh and remaining 50 million from densely-populated coastal regions and other vulnerable parts of India, could be rendered homeless by the end of this century," the report said.

To minimise the impact, the report suggested, "India should seek policy options that are proactive in terms of developing international strategies to reduce the risk of destructive climate change."

Flag of India, Wikimedia Commons

Global warming prompts new rules for Rhode Island coastal development

Providence Journal (Rhode Island):…A team of planners and scientists working on a new coastal-management plan for the Providence metropolitan area is proposing regulations that will require many buildings to be built on pilings and raised higher, depending on the expected life of the building.

The regulations will be based on an anticipated sea-level rise of 3 to 5 feet during the next 90 years, but they would be amended if new science shows the seas are rising higher and faster. “We already have a vast investment in infrastructure that’s in places at risk,” said Grover Fugate, executive director of the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council. The new rules will seek to avoid putting even more infrastructure such as bridges, roads and sewers at risk.

…At a meeting yesterday of representatives from various state agencies as well as the cities in the metropolitan area — Providence, East Providence, Pawtucket and Cranston — there were no objections to 14 new policies and actions that the CRMC will be asked to approve after a public hearing in May. The coastal management team is recommending:

•Adopting an increase in the required first-floor elevation for new and improved structures in high hazard areas along the coast.

•Creating a standard method for determining whether improvements to buildings damaged by storms amount to more than 50 percent of the size or the value of the building — a determination that would force the owner to comply with more stringent, and expensive, building standards.

•Establishing a plan to remove debris that a storm would bring up the Bay and dump on the shores of East Providence and Providence.

•Tightening standards for structures built in so-called A-zones, where only minor wave damage would be expected.

….Another concern is increasing storm intensity, Fugate said. He said one study found that Rhode Island’s storm-water infrastructure is 25 to 30 percent undersized to handle water from intense storms….

Providence city hall, US Federal government photo, Wikimedia Commons

Insurers braced to weather climate change

Charles Mandel in CanWest News Service: …Climate change is the greatest strategic threat facing the insurance industry according to a new list of insurance risks that financial advisory firm Ernst & Young released on Monday, outlining the challenges insurers face.

"There's no doubt that going forward that climate change is indeed the single biggest risk faced by the property and casualty insurance industry," Mark Yakabuski, president and CEO of the Insurance Bureau of Canada, said in an interview Monday. He warned that even a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gases over the next 50 years would not ward off climate change's impact.

"The carbon dioxide and other pollutants that are already in the environment as a result of greenhouse gas emissions will be in our environment for at least 50 years," Yakabuski said. "They will motor the forces of climate change in a way that will give rise inevitably to more frequent, severe weather. That is one of the inevitable by-products of a warming planet."

It's easy to see just how significant the impact of those "inevitable by-products" have been from a recently released report that 145 Canadian scientists worked on for the last three years. The report, From Impacts to Adaptation: Canada in a Changing Climate 2007, lists a number of recent weather-related events and their damages. They include the 1998 ice storm affecting Ontario, Quebec and Atlantic Canada, at a cost of $5.4 billion, and the 1996 Saguenay, Que. flood with a $1.7-billion price tag. Other events include the 2003 wild fires in British Columbia and Alberta that cost $700 million, and extreme rains in Toronto that totalled $500 million.

…Tom Kornya, a partner with Ernst & Young, said weather-related change has quickly vaulted to the top of the insurers' problems, overtaking other challenges ranging from technology to emerging markets. "I guess when I look at this exercise, if we'd done it 10 years ago, it's probably fair to question whether climate change would have even made the list," Kornya said in an interview Monday.

Ernst & Young collaborated with Oxford Analytica to explore strategic business risks for 12 of the world's most important sectors, including insurance. The top 10 risks on the insurance list resulted from discussions between the company's global analysts and from leaders in more than 20 disciplines.

Doukhobor women are shown breaking the prairie sod by pulling a plough themselves, Thunder Hill Colony, Manitoba. c 1899, Wikimedia Commons