The environment in the news

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Monday, July 06 2009

UNEP and the Executive Director in the News

  • Environmental Expert (US): Ozone layer recovery may be delayed by greenhouse gas emissions
  • Macleans (Canada): Battle of the bag

  • Ecologist (UK): Change farming to cut CO2 emissions by 25 per cent

  • Het Financieele Dagblad (Netherlands): 'Nederland loopt gigantisch achter'

Other Environment News

  • AP: Oxfam to G-8: Climate change will spread hunger
  • Guardian (UK): Poor face more hunger as climate change leads to crop failure, says Oxfam

  • Guardian (UK): Devastation in Zambia as climate change brings early flooding

  • AFP: Environmental group WWF urges G8 to make climate pledge

  • AFP: Indian FM urges 'ambitious but fair' climate targets

  • AFP: Costa Rica tops happiness, 'green living' poll

Other UN News

  • Environment News from the UN Daily News of July 3rd 2009 (None)

  • Environment News from the S.G.’s Spokesman Daily Press Briefing of July 3rd 2009 (None)

UNEP and the Executive Director in the News
Environmental Expert (US): Ozone layer recovery may be delayed by greenhouse gas emissions
Jul. 3, 2009
The ozone layer in the stratosphere protects life on Earth from harmful radiation, but emissions from human activity have damaged this defence. A new study suggests that ozone recovery could be delayed, or even postponed indefinitely for some regions, by the impact of increasing amounts of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere.

Although ozone at ground level is hazardous to health, ozone in the stratosphere protects humans, other animals and plants by absorbing harmful ultraviolet radiation. The stratosphere is the layer of the atmosphere between 10 and 50km above Earth. Reactions between oxygen and sunlight in the stratosphere form ozone. However, the release of ozone depleting substances (ODSs) from human activity can destroy the ozone molecules. ODSs are typically compounds composed of carbon and halogens (e.g. chlorine, bromine). For example, CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons), which have been used as aerosol propellants, in refrigeration and foam blowing.

The greatest atmospheric levels of ODSs are thought to have occurred around 2000. Levels then dropped following successful restrictions on the manufacture and use of ODSs under the Montreal Protocol1 and amendments and EU regulations2. The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO)/United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)3 expects ODS levels to return to pre-1980 values during the second half of the 21st Century. However, climate change could affect this ozone recovery.

The researchers modelled the impact of increasing amounts of GHGs in the atmosphere on the recovery of ozone levels in the stratosphere. Two significant milestones were evaluated: 'Ozone returning to historical values' and 'Ozone being no longer significantly influenced by ozone depleting substances'. The study concluded that reaching either of these milestones was likely to occur at different times in different regions in the world.

Even if ozone values return to the historical reference level (pre-1980 when no significant impact of ODSs had been detected), this might not necessarily be due to complete removal of ODSs from the stratosphere, but rather due to the effects of climate change.

Both GHGs and ODSs influence ozone concentrations in the atmosphere at different latitudes and at different heights above the Earth's surface. The results of the study suggest that, by the end of the 21st century, there will be greater than pre-1980 concentrations of ozone in the upper stratosphere , but lower concentrations in the lower stratosphere in the tropics and southern mid-latitudes.

Climate change causes variations in circulation patterns in the lower stratosphere in the tropical and mid-latitudes. This causes faster movement of air through these areas, so less ozone is formed. The researchers suggest ozone will never return to pre-1980 levels in the tropics, even if ODSs no longer remain in the stratosphere. Greater exposure to UV radiation has health implications, potentially causing more skin cancer in Australia and South America, for example. In contrast, GHGs in the upper stratosphere cause cooling, slowing reactions which destroy ozone, allowing restoration of the ozone. Therefore ozone levels should return to pre-1980 levels several decades before the influence of ODSs has ceased, particularly in northern mid-latitudes.

Projected increases in GHGs will have a major impact on the ability of the ozone levels to recover in the stratosphere and there will be significant variations in recovery in different regions. This implies that monitoring of ozone recovery should take account of the effects of climate change and separate assessments should be made for the different regions.

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Macleans (Canada): Battle of the bag

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Is the plastic bag an environmental bogeyman or not?

It could be worse. Cathy Cirko could be the official spokesperson for the Somali Brotherhood of Pirates, or the Mosquito Breeders Association. As it is, Cirko is vice-president of the Canadian Plastics Industry Association and the country’s chief advocate of plastic shopping bags.

The once-ubiquitous plastic bag has quickly become an environmental bogeyman in Canada. Earlier this month, citing concerns over litter and landfill, Toronto launched the country’s first municipal bylaw requiring all stores to charge a five cents per bag fee to discourage their use. Several retail chains—including Home Depot and Canada’s largest grocer, Loblaw Co. Ltd.—have taken the fee nationwide. Emboldened by the speed with which this policy has moved, environmental groups are now talking of the day when plastic bags will seem as repellant as in-flight smoking sections. “It’s taking off everywhere as people realize this is the next right thing to do,” says Steven Price, the senior conservation director of the World Wildlife Fund.

Tasked with the unenviable job of defending plastic bags in the face of this momentum, Cirko has fought back with a host of independent scientific studies and government data that appear to undercut the substantive arguments made against the bags. “Even if we assume every plastic bag went straight to the dump, it would only represent 0.2 per cent of the 25 million tonnes we send to landfills annually,” she says, citing federal and provincial documentation. And she points to a 2007 Decima poll that found more than eight out of 10 Canadians reused their shopping bags for household garbage or pet waste.

She also notes a 2006 City of Toronto street litter audit that examined 4,300 individual pieces of garbage at 300 sites citywide. Of this total urban detritus, just six were plastic retail shopping bags. That’s 0.15 per cent of total litter.

“Bags are not a litter issue and they are not a landfill issue,” she says. “And we have the numbers to show that. Unfortunately, this has become an emotional issue rather than a debate based on facts. It is very frustrating.” She argues municipal efforts would be better directed towards recycling plastic rather than discouraging its use.

Glenn de Baeremaeker, a Toronto councillor, is the architect of his city’s bag bylaw. The ardent environmentalist disputes the notion that bags are a minor issue. “Nothing is insignificant,” he says. “We are drowning in a sea of garbage. So we are coming after plastic bags and we are coming after everything else that’s bigger as well.” From disposable coffee cup lids to consumer electronics, it is all in his sights. De Baeremaeker argues that beyond the practical benefits of reducing landfill usage, if only by a tiny amount, his campaign is emblematic of a broader issue. “The plastic bag is a symbol of our wasteful and gluttonous lifestyle. It all has to change.”

Still, it’s hard to escape the sense that the plastic bag crusade is largely a political statement. The bags, for instance, are frequently held up as the biggest blight on the world’s oceans. But this month, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) released a major report on marine waste which cited garbage cleanups along the Mediterranean Sea showing plastic bags accounted for just 8.5 per cent of total marine litter. Cigarettes and cigars were 37 per cent, plastic bottles, 10 per cent. With respect to entanglement of marine life, a 2007 study identified fishing nets, lines and ropes as being responsible for over 70 per cent of such incidents. Plastic bags, including garbage and shopping bags, caused less than 10 per cent. The report recommended that bag use be “discouraged” in coastal areas. Instead, the executive director of the UNEP, Achim Steiner, issued a press release calling for a sweeping worldwide ban on “pointless” plastic bags. Based on the evidence, a ban on fishing line, plastic bottles or cigarettes would make more sense.

Then there’s the possibility that, regardless of the symbolism, throwaway plastic bags might simply be better than the alternatives. Cirko also commissioned two independent labs to examine the health implications of replacing plastic shopping bags with reusable woven “green” bags. Bags randomly obtained from shoppers were tested for bacteria, yeast, mould and E. coli. The results were then interpreted by Dr. Richard Summerbell, the former chief of medical mycology for Ontario.

The tests found surprisingly high levels of bacteria in two-thirds of the reusable bags. One-third had levels above those set for safe drinking water. The fact that some people used the bags to carry items other than food­—gym clothes or beer empties—greatly increased the risk.

“This study provides strong evidence that reusable bags could pose a significant risk to the safety of the food supply if used to transport food from store to home,” Dr. Summerbell concluded. He recommended that all meat be double-wrapped before being placed in reusable bags and that the bags themselves be washed and discarded regularly. None of the throwaway bags were found to be contaminated in any way.

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Ecologist (UK): Change farming to cut CO2 emissions by 25 per cent

July 3rd, 2009

A new report has revealed that a change in the way we manage agricultural land could help sequester a quarter of the world's carbon dioxide emissions every year

How to remove carbon from the atmosphere and put it back in the ground? Although the Government might like its big-ticket solutions such as unproven carbon capture and storage (CCS) technologies for coal-fired power plants, a more effective answer may lie right beneath our feet.

Soil is the third-largest carbon sink in the world (after the oceans and fossil fuels themselves), and a change in the way we farm could offset a quarter of global carbon dioxide emissions annually, a new report reveals. Land use accounts for more than 30 per cent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Mitigating Climate Change Through Food and Land Use, a report by the Worldwatch Institute and Ecoagriculture Partners, identifies five ways in which changes in agricultural practices could reduce and sequester carbon emissions.

The measures include enriching soil carbon through minimising tillage, using less fertiliser and adding biochar to increase its carbon-storage capacity; farming with perennials; adopting a more climate-friendly approach to livestock production, including a reduction in numbers and rotational grazing; protecting natural habitats by minimising the effects of forest and grass fires, and limiting deforestation and land clearances; and restoring degraded watersheds and rangelands.

The findings of the report are consistent with a shift away from harmful industrial practices towards the adoption of a more organic approach.

‘Organic farming plays a key role in soil carbon sequestration in comparison to conventional farming, which instead of returning carbon to the soil relies on chemicals,’ says Clio Turton of the Soil Association. ‘Organic farming has more grassland and organic red meat production is a grass-fed system, and therefore maintains huge carbon stores in permanent grassland. Organic techniques such as crop rotations and adding organic matter to the soil also play key roles in sequestering carbon.’

The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) acknowledges that industrial agriculture has a net negative impact on the environment. A spokesperson said the department was working to raise awareness of the issue, promoting emerging technologies such as anaerobic digestion, and conducting a research programme on other ways to reduce the impact of farming, such as emissions trading and incentives to increase greener land management.

‘Farming is on the front line of tackling climate change,’ said a spokesperson. ‘Through our Agriculture and Climate Change Project, we are aiming to equip the agricultural sector with the tools, expertise and support that will enable it make a strong contribution to cutting greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the impacts of the changing climate – as well as making the most of the business opportunities that are presented by the emerging green industries.’

An International Trade Centre (ITC) report carried out in 2007 by the Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL) found that organic agriculture techniques can contribute significantly to the carbon sequestration capabilities of soil. Under northern European conditions, converting to organic practices such as the use of animal manure, green composting techniques and rotational grazing would result in an increase of soil organic matter of 100kg to 400kg per hectare annually during the first 50 years. A steady state of organic matter would be reached in 100 years, the report found.

UK agriculture currently accounts for seven per cent of total UK greenhouse gas emissions, half of which occurs as a result of nitrous oxide emissions from tillage.

The National Farmers Union (NFU) was prickly towards the report.
‘The production of nitrous oxide is a side-effect of food production,’ said Jonathan Scurlock, the NFU’s chief adviser on renewable energy and climate change. ‘At the moment it’s not technically possible drastically to reduce these emissions.

‘In terms of actually mitigating greenhouse gas emissions there are a lot of embedded renewable energy options that are much easier to implement, from anaerobic digestion and the optimal management of slurries to wind turbines in fields and solar photovoltaics on farm buildings. We need policy measures that encourage the uptake of renewable energy and low-carbon opportunities within the agricultural sector.

‘Perennial crops have many advantages and the theory behind biochar is sound as a means of locking carbon into the soil, but I don’t agree that reducing livestock numbers is the answer. Farmers will follow consumer preferences, but most of the world is seeing an increase in meat production. We can reduce emissions through a variety of measures but there’s no magic bullet – it will be gradual and progressive. What is important is to transfer the best available technologies to emerging markets in developing counties.’

A report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) also supports a more natural approach to reducing emissions. Its authors claim trees and soil could sequester as much as 50 gigatonnes of carbon over a few decades – and do so far more effectively and cheaply than CCS.

According to the report, The Natural Fix? The Role of Ecosystems in Climate Mitigation, less intensively grown crops and a reduction in grazing rates would lead to an increase in the carbon-storage capacity of soil. It estimates the measures would cost as little as £6 per tonne of avoided carbon dioxide emissions. CCS – capturing carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants at source and pumping it underground – could cost anything from £12 to £170 per tonne.

‘Tens of billions of dollars are being earmarked for carbon capture and storage at power stations, with the CO2 to be buried underground or under the sea,’ said UNEP executive director Achim Steiner. ‘The Earth’s living systems might be capable of sequestering more than 50 gigatonnes [billion tonnes] of carbon over the coming decades with the right market signals.’

Cost aside, with greenhouse gas emissions increasing at a rate of three per cent a year, the speed at which carbon-capture technologies must be developed and built may make CCS unviable. As Greenpeace’s False Hope report made clear last year: ‘The IEA estimates that for CCS to deliver any meaningful climate mitigation effects by 2050, 6,000 projects each injecting a million tonnes of CO2 per year into the ground would be required. […] Currently, only three such storage projects exist worldwide.’

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Het Financieele Dagblad (Netherlands): 'Nederland loopt gigantisch achter'

4 juli 2009

Amerikaans-Nederlandse duurzaamheidsexpert Robert Rubinstein valt niet gauw van zijn geloof

Door de financieel-economische crisis verdwijnen duurzame projecten een tijdje in de ijskast. Maar Robert Rubinstein bestrijdt dat. Zijn TBLI Group brengt al tien jaar institutionele partijen uit Amerika, Azië en Europa bijeen die in duurzame projecten investeren. 'De totale investeringen in duurzame energie overtreft dit jaar voor het eerst investeringen in conventionele energie.'

Duurzaamheid is een containerbegrip. Armoede kan ook duurzaam zijn, zoals in Afrika.

'Onder duurzaamheid versta ik meer doen met minder.'

Zie je wel: armoe troef dus. Maar mensen streven naar meer en niet naar minder. Mensen willen rijker worden, niet armer.

'Als geld een drijfveer is, vind ik dat prima. Dat kan namelijk heel goed met duurzame ontwikkelingen. Als je duurzaam bouwt, bespaar je op den duur geld, omdat je kosten structureel lager uitvallen.'

Op den duur duurt te lang. Banken zijn nu niet bereid hun geld in duurzame projecten te steken. Ze moeten nu overleven en dan is de duurzaamheidshype een luxe.

'De meeste banken verkeren in crisis omdat zij conservatief zijn. Hetzelfde type mensen werkt daar. Ze denken en doen hetzelfde. Ze putten uit dezelfde informatiebronnen. In hun vrije tijd spelen ze tennis of golf. Ze doen elkaar na. Iets anders komt niet bij hen op. En dat wordt versterkt door de gevestigde media en dan krijg je mensen die vanuit een hype iets met duurzaamheid willen doen, maar in feite hebben ze er geen kaas van gegeten. De onwetendheid is enorm.'

U gelooft in duurzame energie en sluit kernenergie domweg uit.

'Ik geloof in wind-, zonne- en geothermische energie. Maar dat is niet alles. Het snelste resultaat levert energiebesparing op. De enorme kapitalen die naar research in kernenergie gaan, kun je ook gebruiken om snel bestaande bouw energiezuinig te maken. De ondergrondse deeltjesversneller bij Genève die kernfusie mogelijk moest maken, levert niets op. Die "Large Hadron Collider" is al meer dan een jaar stil gezet. Al die vele miljarden is pure verspilling.'

In de overgang naar andere energievormen ontkom je niet aan olie, gas en nucleair in de energiemix.

'Dat kan zijn. Maar bedenk wel dat de grootste investeringen wereldwijd dit jaar niet meer naar fossiele projecten gaan, maar naar projecten voor duurzame energieopwekking. Sla het UNEP-rapport Global Trends in Sustainable Energy Investment 2009 er maar op na.'

Ik geloof daar geen snars van. Als dat waar is, zou Econcern zijn gered. De komende decennia zijn we voor onze energie aangewezen op fossiele brandstoffen. Daarom investeert Esso niet in alternatieven, maar nog altijd in fossiel.

'Dat Econcern failliet ging, had te maken met slecht management. Fossiel is voorlopig inderdaad niet weg te denken. En ExxonMobil is niet succesvol omdat het een olie- en gasconcern is, maar omdat het goed en effectief wordt bestuurd. Econcern werd dat niet. Dát is het verschil. Je kunt niet zeggen: Econcern is failliet, dus het is afgelopen met duurzame ontwikkelingen. Er zijn in het verleden ook veel olie-, steenkool- of staalbedrijven failliet gegaan. Feit is dat de huidige situatie van energievoorziening niet meer houdbaar is. Neem China: de economie groeit daar 6% tot 8% per jaar. Over 25 jaar bereikt China het consumptieniveau van de VS. In China wonen 1,4 miljard mensen. De wereldolieconsumptie is nu tachtig miljoen vaten per dag. Dus zal het gebruik van fossiele brandstoffen toenemen. China heeft gekozen voor een zeer energie-intensieve industrie. Dat betekent dat alleen China al over twintig jaar vijftig miljoen vaten olie per dag nodig heeft. Hetzelfde gaat op voor staal, koper, tarwe, vlees, zuivelproducten en andere grondstoffen. Tel je India en andere opkomende markten en het Westen er bij op, dan kom je uit op drie miljard mensen. Je hoeft geen Nobelprijswinnaar te zijn om in te zien dat die situatie onhoudbaar is en tot geweldige problemen leidt. Op den duur stort de economie in. De gebreken in het functioneren van het economisch systeem zijn zodanig, dat er te weinig grondstoffen zijn om aan de toenemende vraag te kunnen blijven voldoen.'

Nou, èn? Dan worden grondstoffen duurder en krijg je vanzelf alternatieven. De markt doet heus zijn werk wel.

'Je krijgt in toenemende mate conflicten om schaarse grondstoffen. De financiële sector houdt wel van een beetje oorlog, want dat leidt tot hogere prijzen, maar niet als instabiliteit te lang duurt. Die situatie dreigt straks te ontstaan. Het huidige consumptiepeil is op den duur niet vol te houden. We zullen efficiënter en op duurzamere manier met onze natuurlijke hulpbronnen moeten leren omgaan.'

De opwarming van de aarde gaat ook door bij duurzame energie. De suggestie wordt vaak gewekt dat klimaatverandering is te stoppen. In plaats van klimaatverandering bestrijden, kun je je beter voorbereiden op de gevolgen ervan.

'Dat ben ik met je eens. Het proces van de opwarming van de aarde is al ver gevorderd. Dat komt ook omdat het te goedkoop is CO2 uit te stoten. In plaats van euro 40 per ton CO2 moet de prijs naar euro 120. Maar daar is geen politiek draagvlak voor. Op een van de TBLI-congressen kwam iemand met een technische oplossing om de opwarming van de aarde tegen te gaan: niet door reductie van de CO2-uitstoot, maar door overtollige warmte de ruimte in te schieten. Er zijn oplossingen, maar er verandert alleen iets als de politieke wil er is.'

Maar die is er niet. Dus zal de zeespiegel voorlopig blijven stijgen.

'Ik denk inderdaad dat die niet te stoppen is. Het ontbreekt aan leiderschap. In Europa toont alleen Merkel leiderschap. Leiderschap is niet: ik ben de baas, maar het vermogen mensen en middelen te mobiliseren voor een bepaald doel. Balkenende is een "joke". Deze regering creëert de voedingsbodem voor iemand als Wilders.'

Wat verwacht je dan van premier Balkenende? Alsjeblieft geen zonnepanelen op die prachtige oude Amsterdamse daken? Dat is lelijk!

'Blijf dan doen wat je doet. Schaf de accijns op benzine af. Laat iedereen auto rijden. Zorg voor zoveel mogelijk auto's, zoveel mogelijk file, zo snel mogelijk vervuiling. Als dat is wat je wilt, prima! Maar wees dan niet verbaasd dat Nederland straks nog meer achterloopt. Nu al loopt Nederland in duurzame ontwikkelingen gigantisch achter, zo blijkt uit de Environmental Performance Index van Yale en the Columbia University. Nederland staat op de 55ste plaats. Zelfs Colombia, Rusland en Thailand scoren beter. We praten veel over duurzaamheid, maar we doen niks. Door energie-efficiency kunnen bedrijven op kosten besparen. Dat levert snel een concurrentievoordeel op en het schept nieuwe banen. Terwijl Duitsland massaal op zon overschakelt, kunnen mensen die hier hun eigen energie willen opwekken, bij energiebedrijven nog steeds geen teruglevercontracten krijgen.'

Robert Rubinstein is oprichter-directeur van TBLI Group. Heiko Jessayan is redacteur van deze krant.

Lelijk 'Geen zonnepanelen op die prachtige oude daken in Amsterdam. Dat is pas lelijk'Doorgaan zoals nu 'Schaf de accijns op benzine af. Laat iedereen autorijden. Dan loopt Nederland nog meer achter'

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Other Environment News
AP: Oxfam to G-8: Climate change will spread hunger
Sun Jul 5, 8:01 pm ET

Chronic hunger may be "the defining human tragedy of this century," as climate change causes growing seasons to shift, crops to fail, and storms and droughts to ravage fields, an advocacy group said.

Oxfam International released a report Monday as leaders of the Group of Eight wealthiest nations prepare to meet in Italy this week, with an agenda to include both food security and climate change.

It says that as the weather changes, millions of people in areas suffering food scarcity will have to give up traditional crops, possibly leading to social upheavals such as mass migrations and possible conflict over water resources.

Rich countries in temperate climate zones, such as northern Europe and parts of the United States, will benefit from warmer weather and more rainfall, but far more people in hotter, poorer countries will face more erratic and expensive food supplies, said the British-based nonprofit group.

The report, "What Happened to the Seasons?" was meant to add urgency to the G-8 meeting and to a broader group of 17 countries, the Major Economies Forum, which convenes later in the week to try to unblock negotiations on a new climate change agreement due to be completed in December.

Oxfam said it prepared a study for the Institute of Development Studies by surveying farmers around the world, who report that changing seasonal patterns were already affecting their ability to plan the sowing and harvesting of crops. The results, it said, were "strikingly consistent across entire geographies."

Farmers have begun changing their crops in the tropics, where a 1 degree Celsius (1.8 Fahrenheit) temperature shift can make traditional crops unsustainable. Unpredictable rainfall makes their choices of new crops a gamble, the report said.

Among the worst hit are nations that grow rice, the world's most common food. Yields are predicted to drop an average 10 percent for every 1 degree C rise in temperature in countries like the Philippines, where production could fall 50-70 percent as early as 2020. At the same time, China will grow more rice as the area of warm temperatures spreads, it said.

Corn is another staple that will be widely affected by climate change since it is particularly vulnerable to water stress, it said. Corn is the main source of food for 250 million people in east Africa and is used as animal feed around the world.

Negotiators at U.N. climate talks have been tasked with setting up an adaptation fund to help poor countries deal with the affects of climate change. U.N. estimates suggest as much as $200 billion a year may be needed by 2030 for developing water resources in increasingly arid regions, shifting agriculture to more suitable crops, building sea walls to protect coastal cities from rising sea levels and helping fishermen whose stocks would be affected by acidification of the ocean.

The Oxfam report said steps can be taken to bolster the world's food supply.

"The world's agricultural potential is less than 60 percent exploited: there is still enough land to feed everyone, even with population levels at the 9.2 billion currently predicted by the United Nations for 2050," it said. Modern agricultural methods, irrigation and fertilizers could dramatically lift yields.

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Guardian (UK): Poor face more hunger as climate change leads to crop failure, says Oxfam

Sunday 5 July 2009 18.52 BST

• Seasons appear to have shrunk in variety

• Storms and heavier rains more common

Hunger may become the defining human tragedy of the century as the climate changes and hundreds of millions of farmers already struggling to grow enough food are forced to adapt to drought and different rainfall patterns, a report warns.

Oxfam International, in a comprehensive look at the expected effects on people of climate change, says some of the world's staple crops will be hit and the implications for millions could be disastrous .

"Climate change's most savage impact on humanity in the near future is likely to be in the increase in hunger … the countries with existing problems in feeding their people are those most at risk from climate change," the report warns.

"Millions of farmers will have to give up traditional crops as they experience changes in the seasons that they and their ancestors have depended on. Climate-related hunger [may become] the defining human tragedy of this century."

The report, published as world leaders prepare to meet for the G8 summit in Italy, says that farmers around the world are already seeing changes in weather patterns which are leading to increased ill-health, hunger and poverty. Oxfam staff in 15 countries collected records from communities and observed that:

• Seasons appear to have shrunk in number and variety.

• Rainfall is more unpredictable, tending to be shorter in duration.

• Winds and storms are felt to have increased in strength.

• Unseasonal events such as storms, dense fogs and heavier rains are more common.

"Once-distinct seasons are shifting and the rains are disappearing. Poor farmers from Bangladesh to Uganda and Nicaragua, no longer able to rely on centuries of farming experience, are facing failed harvest after failed harvest," it says.

The evidence of changing weather patterns is anecdotal but the results are striking because of the extraordinary consistency they show across the world, said Oxfam programme researcher John Magrath.

"Farmers are all saying very similar things: the seasons are changing. Moderate, temperate seasons are shrinking and vanishing. Seasons are becoming hotter and drier, rainy seasons shorter and more violent," said Magrath.

The report, released before the G8 meeting in Italy this week, where Barack Obama will chair a session on climate change, warns that without immediate action on climate all the development gains made in 50 years are under threat.

Rice and maize, two of the world's most important crops, on which hundreds of millions of people depend, face significant drops in yields. Maize yields are forecast to drop by 15% or more by 2020 in much of sub-Saharan Africa and in most of India.

The report also documents how rising temperatures are affecting productivity in factories, with manual workers needing longer siesta times and outdoor workers experiencing dehydration. Cities in the tropics are becoming some of the most dangerous places in the world as heat stress increases, it says.

The "heat island effect", where heat retention in concrete and air conditioning combines to raise night temperatures in tropical cities by as much as 10C, can devastate vulnerable populations.

"Projections suggest a sixfold increase in heat-related deaths in Lisbon by 2050, and a fivefold increase in Greater London, two to seven times more deaths in California and a 75% increase in deaths among old people in Australian cities."

In Delhi, mortality rates rise by up to 4% with every 1C of temperature rise. The figure is 6% in Bangkok.

It also says many diseases are already migrating as temperatures rise. Malaria, dengue fever, river blindness and yellow fever are all considered highly likely to increase their distribution, it says.

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Guardian (UK): Devastation in Zambia as climate change brings early flooding

Monday 6 July 2009

The Red Cross warns that global warming will lead to more disasters along the Zambezi river basin

The ceremony is called Kuomboka, meaning "moving out of the water". Every year the king of the Lozi people journeys from the flooded plains to higher ground. Thousands gather to dance, feast and watch the royal barge rowed by dozens of oarsmen beneath a giant replica elephant.

The Kuomboka is traditionally the cue for local people to follow the king in escaping the rising waters, but the reality of climate change is catching up with this colourful ritual. The most recent flood came too soon and too strong, killing at least 31 people in Zambia's impoverished western province. The devastating aftermath has left people starving and homeless.

"Flooding here is an annual event, but it came earlier than expected and people were caught off guard," said Raphael Mutiku, a public health engineer for Oxfam in Mongu.

The Red Cross recently warned that global warming will lead to more disasters and suffering along the entire Zambezi river basin, where floods have increased dramatically in recent years.

The Zambezi once flooded the plains as predictably as the changing seasons, in late March or early April. But now the great river is less regular and more extreme. The volatile climate – annual rainfall has risen in recent years from 900mm to 1,300mm – is disrupting rhythms that have sustained generations. Crops that should have been harvested in January or February this year were destroyed by flooding that began in November. Even on higher ground, cassava crops were no longer safe.

Thousands of people have been forced to move further inland than ever before without food or sanitation. They have become refugees in their own country, camping in informal settlements accessible only by boat. They cannot grow crops as the land is infertile, they are exposed to malarial mosquitoes and respiratory infections, and are cut off from hospitals and schools.

Lutangu Mulambwa, 25, and his wife Sandra, 17, had to flee their home in a canoe with their 10-month-old daughter, Mulima, and found refuge 15km away. The maize crop on which they depend is lost. "It's totally gone," said Lutangu, sitting outside a shelter improvised from dry reeds. "There is nothing at all we can do for food here to sustain our lives. We are dying of hunger."

Elsewhere in the Kaama settlement, a patch of scrubland where children in torn clothes play in the dirt, Nasilele Sapilo, 70, wondered how she is going to feed her five grandchildren. "We planted maize and pumpkin to sustain us for the whole year but we've lost over three-quarters to the floods," she said. "I move from the low ground every year, but this time the rain was heavy and the houses submerged to roof level."

The family home is 17km away. Nasilele's grandson, Liyiungu, nine, wearing a ragged green jacket and a filthy vest, said: "I don't have soap or schoolbooks – they were swept away by water. I miss my socks and school shoes."

In another village, Liyoyelo, the floods have receded and people were starting to rebuild their lives. The waterline was visible on the wall of a wooden shack. In one corner, a film of brown soil clung to an old vinyl record player.

The village of more than 200 people was now a sprawl of ruined homes and fetid cesspools. Before, people braved the floods and stayed at home, but not this time. "It came in early December and in 12 hours the water filled the yard," recalled Mukelabai Ilishebo. "Our maize was lost and our home destroyed. The blankets and clothes are gone."

Mukelabai, 25, and her family packed all the belongings they could into a canoe and paddled 24km to safety. After four months they came back to find the roof of their home fallen in and the mudbrick walls crumbling away. She added: "We are having to start again. There is no food so we are not eating anything. My husband has no job. I worry about the children."

Elsewhere, at Soola, the settlement resembled even more closely a desolate refugee camp, with shelters fabricated from thatch and reeds and draped with dirty clothes and blankets. Remnants of sweet potato tubers were scattered on the ground. An area where homes used to be was now a muddy wasteland save for a single door, standing like the freak survivor of a shockwave that vaporised everything else.

Masela Kababa, 30, a mother of three young children, said: "There isn't enough food to feed the children. They all have aching joints and eye infections. There's nothing we can do."

She was pessimistic. "This problem is here to stay. I think it will keep happening to the end of time."

Today's report from Oxfam on the human cost of climate change calls on world leaders attending this week's G8 meeting to act now on behalf of those already suffering its consequences.

Raphael Mutiku of Oxfam said: "We have types of catastrophe such as volcanoes and tsunamis, but now our focus is shifting towards climatically induced matters. The question is, how do you respond so you don't see the same crisis next year, and the year after?"

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AFP: Environmental group WWF urges G8 to make climate pledge
Fri Jul 3, 4:13 pm ET

The environmental group WWF on Friday urged the Group of Eight industrialised nations to show global leadership by making a commitment to keep climate change in check at their summit next week.

Echoing a call by German Chancellor Angela Merkel a day earlier, the WWF said the G8 summit in L'Aquila, Italy, must commit to keeping the rise in global average temperature "well below" two degrees Celsius.

"A clear commitment to a two degree Celsius danger threshold on paper is an absolute must for G8 countries," said Kim Carstensen, the leader of WWF's Global Climate Initiative.

"The countries gathering in L'Aquila have the biggest responsibility to show leadership on climate. Without their action we cannot expect the rest of the world to move," he added.

Negotiations to strike a new deal to tackle global warming by the end of the year have been foundering, partly over disagreements on emissions targets and a rift between industrialised and emerging nations on the burden of responsibility for deeper cuts.

WWF said the long-term target under discussion, of 80 percent cuts in carbon emissions over 1990 levels by 2050, was at the low end of what was needed.

"This is an absolute minimum and anything weaker will be a complete failure," said Carstensen.

"A firm statement by the G8 will send a powerful signal to the developing world and make it easier for the poorer countries to slash their emissions."

Merkel on Thursday set a similar target for the two-day G8 summit which opens on Wednesday.

But she said that European Union and US targets meant little if emerging giants like China and India were not on board at the Copenhagen conference in December, when countries aim to set emissions reduction targets beyond 2012.

WWF said 17 countries in the Major Economies Forum (MEF), which it says account for about 80 percent of the world's emissions, had a particular responsibility to double investment in research and development of green technology and renewable energy by 2012.

The MEF is meeting on the sidelines of the G8 next week.

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AFP: Indian FM urges 'ambitious but fair' climate targets

Fri Jul 3, 7:08 am ET

India's foreign minister on Friday called for an ambitious but fair greenhouse gas reduction target under a new climate treaty, saying any pact should not hinder the economic growth of developing countries.

"We agreed that climate change is an important global challenge," Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna said in Tokyo after meeting his Japanese counterpart Hirofumi Nakasone during a four-day visit.

"We hope that all countries will participate constructively," he told a joint news conference.

However, Krishna stressed the need for "an ambitious and at the same time equitable and fair outcome at Copenhagen in 2009 which ensures that developing countries are able to continue their economic growth at an accelerated pace."

A December summit in the Danish capital is intended to secure a new international agreement on climate change to replace the Kyoto Protocol, which expires in 2012.

India -- like fellow developing heavyweight China -- has refused to commit to emission cuts in the new treaty until developed nations, particularly the United States, present sufficient targets of their own.

Nakasone called on India to take the lead in persuading developing countries to join the new treaty.

"I expressed my hope and expectations for India to exercise its leadership even more positively and comprehensively," he said. "The minister and I shared the view that we should step up our bilateral dialogue on this issue."

Japan last month said it plans to cut its own greenhouse gas emissions by the equivalent of eight percent from 1990 levels by the end of the next decade, a goal attacked as too little by environmentalists.

The two foreign ministers also agreed that the world should step up pressure on North Korea by implementing UN sanctions over its nuclear weapons and missile tests.

"We shared the view that North Korea's nuclear weapons and missile development is a threat to the international community," Nakasone said.

Krishna's visit was the first to Japan by an Indian minister since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh named his new cabinet in May.

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AFP: Costa Rica tops happiness, 'green living' poll
Sat Jul 4, 4:34 pm ET

Costa Rica is the happiest place on earth, and one of the most environmentally friendly, according to a new survey by a British non-governmental group.

The New Economics Foundation looked at 143 countries that are home to 99 percent of the world's population and devised an equation that weighed life expectancy and people's happiness against their environmental impact.

By that formula, Costa Rica is the happiest, greenest country in the world, just ahead of the Dominican Republic.

Latin American countries did well in the survey, occupying nine of the top 10 spots.

Australia scored third place, but other major Western nations did poorly, with Britain coming in at 74th place and the United States at 114th.

The New Economics Foundation's measurements found Costa Ricans have a life expectancy of 78.5 years, and 85 percent of the country's residents say they are happy and satisfied with their lives.

Those figures, taken along with the fact that Costa Rica has a small "ecological footprint," combined to push the small nation to the top of the list.

A 2006 New Economics Foundation study designated Vanuatu the world's happiest nation, with Costa Rica at second place.

Sociologist Andrea Fonseca said Costa Rica gives its citizens the "tools" to be happy, but cautioned that happiness cannot be calculated just by looking at life expectancy and environmental practices.

She added that the country's rise to the top of the Happy Planet Index "has a lot to do with social imagination."

Costa Rica has a peaceful reputation because it does not have an army, and is also known for its protected ecological zones and national slogan "pure life," she said.

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03 July 2009 (None)

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03 July 2009 (None)

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