Scientists meet in Japan following grim report on worldwide effects of climate change
By Agence France-Presse
Monday, March 24, 2014 18:56 EDT
International scientists will gather near Tokyo on Tuesday for a week-long meeting centred on a grim climate change report that warned of floods and drought that would stoke conflicts and wreak havoc on the global economy.
A draft of their report, seen by AFP, is part of a massive overview by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), likely to shape policies and climate talks for years to come.
Scientists and government representatives are meeting in Yokohama, south of Tokyo, from Tuesday to exchange ideas and release a full report at the end of the conference on March 31.
“We have a lot clearer picture of impacts and their consequences… including the implications for security,” said Chris Field of the United States’ Carnegie Institution, who headed the probe.
The work comes six months after the first volume in the long-awaited Fifth Assessment Report declared scientists were more certain than ever that humans caused global warming.
Rising greenhouse-gas emissions will “significantly” boost the risk of floods, with Europe and Asia particularly exposed, the draft says.
Temperature increase was also leading to decline of renewable water resources, while the rising sea level was seen to displace “hundreds of millions” of coastal dwellers by 2100, according to the draft report.
Average yields of wheat, rice and corn were seen to fall, while demand for crops will likely rise sharply due to expanding population.
Poverty, migration and hunger are invisible drivers of turbulence and war, as they sharpen competition for dwindling resources, the report warns.
By reducing carbon emissions “over the next few decades”, the world can stave off many of the worst climate consequences by century’s end, says the report.
The panel has issued four previous “assessment reports” in its quarter-century history.
The Yokohama volume goes further than its predecessors in forecasting regional impacts in greater detail and emphasising the risk of conflict and rising seas.
The IPCC’s last big report in 2007 helped unleash political momentum leading to the 2009 UN climate summit in Copenhagen. But its reputation was dented by several mistakes, seized upon by climate sceptics as proof of bias.
[Image via Agence France-Presse]
Europe's new nuclear experience casts a shadow over Hinkley
Those planning the UK's first nuclear reactors in decades cannot ignore the costs and delays to plants in Finland and France
Peter Wynn Kirby
theguardian.com, Tuesday 25 March 2014 09.58 GMT
With two new UK reactors planned at Hinkley Point C in Somerset and three years after the meltdowns at Fukushima in Japan, it is worth considering whether the design, procurement, construction, and management of nuclear power plants is sufficiently reliable to allay public concern over radiation and value for money.
In the case of the reactor design chosen for Hinkley C, the French-designed European Pressurised Reactor (EPR), there is not yet a finished power plant to judge by.
The two plants closest to completion, in Finland and France, have been plagued by astonishing cost overruns and construction delays, along with a litany of complaints over design flaws, poor quality control, and construction lapses.
When construction on Finland’s Olkiluoto 3 began in 2005, French nuclear company Areva had promised to be finished by summer 2009 – a record time for a prototype nuclear reactor. Rare is the nuclear commission that doesn’t fall at least somewhat behind schedule, but fundamental problems with poorly trained subcontractors pouring substandard concrete for essential structures and improperly welded reactor containment suggested systemic problems with the quality standards and much-invoked "safety culture" at Areva.
The EPR’s automatic control system and safety system, by Siemens, also proved insufficiently robust. In 2009, nuclear safety regulators in Britain, Finland, and France jointly released a report judging the safety system to be insufficiently independent from the automatic control system, sending Areva back to the drawing board. This means that the EPR design selected for Hinkley C is not actually a finished product – one key component remains in development.
It is also troubling to consider that the conventional nuclear risk assessment carried out for Hinkley C is generally understood to be structurally limited when it comes to "beyond design-based" factors, ie the cascading series of problems that characterise failures of highly integrated complex systems in nuclear plants as seen in all the major accidents at Three-Mile Island, Chernobyl, and Fukushima.
Originally commissioned at €3bn, the cost of the Olkiluoto 3 in Finland has ballooned to an estimated €8.5bn. Amid the finger-pointing between Areva and Finnish electricity provider Teollisuuden Voima Oy (TVO), with each suing the other for losses as a result of the delays and other problems (€2.7 and €1.8bn, respectively), Areva has apparently not submitted a revised schedule and did not renew contracts for 50 work foremen at the site in February, when work all but stopped for most of the month.
With all the mounting setbacks, no one involved in the project dares to predict when the plant will actually come online, but Finnish media sources estimate its completion date will have slipped from 2009 to 2018, or perhaps even as late as 2020.
Areva dismisses these hitches as a "Finnish problem" stemming from the travails of a difficult client, so it is fair to look at the only other European-based EPR project, in Flamanville in northern France.
France is perhaps one of the most pro-nuclear places in the world to build a reactor, with about 75% of the country's electricity already generated from the atom. But Flamanville is also years behind schedule and far over budget.
Work started in 2007, yet similar problems with questionable quality control and design issues have dragged the completion date into 2016 (this for a project originally intended to last 4.5 years). The final bill for Flamanville is estimated to reach €8.5bn – exactly the same as the upwardly revised cost of Olkiluoto.
Against this desultory backdrop, it is instructive to note that in policy circles, EPR also stands for Extended Producer Responsibility, the concept that the manufacturer of a smartphone, for example, should be responsible for recycling the handset when discarded. This policy, which is law in the EU and in Japan, not only limits environmental fallout but creates efficiencies as firms design products to be easier and safer to recycle.
By contrast, the nuclear sector seems to represent the opposite pole of the continuum, with little or no "extended responsibility" to be found. Politicians and utilities rarely take proper responsibility for mishaps during construction and operation, nor for radiation leaks, nor the decommissioning of irradiated components at "end of life", nor for the nuclear waste that accumulates.
With the UK ready to embark on new EPR reactors – should the EU even approve the deal struck between EDF and the government – developments at Olkiluoto and Flamanville will continue to cast a long shadow over Hinkley C.
• Peter Wynn Kirby is a nuclear and environmental specialist at the University of Oxford.
Hague nuclear security summit: no bicycles, no vodka and no peace
Dutch city sees 53 world leaders discuss how to safeguard world's nuclear materials but Ukraine looms over summit
Julian Borger in The Hague
theguardian.com, Monday 24 March 2014 21.45 GMT
The Hague all but closed down for the arrival of 53 world leaders in the small picturesque city. It shut a runway at the nearest airport, Amsterdam's Schiphol, so there would be enough room for the visitors to park their jets for the two-day meeting. A large area of the city was cordoned off and so many roads were closed that the centre was almost deserted.
The city has seen the staging of the third Nuclear Security Summit as an opportunity to bolster its identity as a global centre for peace and justice, rivalling Geneva. The meeting is being held on the site of the war crimes tribunal and the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, now playing a key role in Syria.
Dutch hosts of previous summits have sought to play up the quirky, unconventional nature of their country.
At the 1997 EU summit, they tried to persuade European leaders to go from the meeting hall to lunch on bicycles, with unhappy results that still make Dutch officials wince.
The German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, refused to go anywhere near a bike, shouting: "I am not a monkey!" The Finnish president, Martti Ahtisaari, who was almost as bulky, had to be supported in the saddle by aides. The newly elected Tony Blair turned the jaunt into a serious race, so he could demonstrate Britain was once more "leading in Europe". His aides picked the best bike and made sure it was in good working order, allowing their man to sail pass Europe's older leaders and dismount while they were still puffing away.
This time, the Dutch dropped the idea of bicycles. Instead, they turned down the lights in the chamber and treated the summit to a multimedia presentation. It started with a film in which a glowing, radioactive-looking baton landed at the feet of a surprised citizen who picked it up only to find himself dragged along by its mysterious powers.
As he passed by, others followed dancing through the streets, going by illustrations of everything the Netherlands is good at: Old Master paintings, football and Johan Cruyff, and speed skaters. Then the dancers, a violinist and a singer materialised inside the hall within the circular negotiating table, and the lights went quickly on, revealing a smile on Barack Obama's face that was half amused, half bemused.
The summit was focused on how to lock up the world's nuclear materials more securely so they would not be so easy for terrorists to steal, but inevitably this long-term goal was partly overshadowed by short-term concerns over Ukraine.
In the margins, the country's foreign minister, Andrii Deshchytsia, told journalists that he looked forward to meeting his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, for the first time to talk peace and maybe even have a vodka together.
Within half an hour, half his wish was granted. A picture was issued by the Russian foreign minister showing the two men staring grimly across a bare white table, with small flags, white flowers and mineral water between them. No vodka and, going by the body language, no closer to peace, either.
Air pollution 'kills 7 million people a year'
WHO report says issue is now biggest single environmental health risk and the cause of one in eight deaths worldwide
Associated Press in London
theguardian.com, Tuesday 25 March 2014 10.05 GMT
Air pollution kills about 7 million people worldwide every year, with more than half of the fatalities due to fumes from indoor stoves, according to a report from the World Health Organisation published on Tuesday.
The agency said air pollution caused about one in eight deaths and had now become the single biggest environmental health risk.
"We all have to breathe, which makes pollution very hard to avoid," said Frank Kelly, director of the environmental research group at King's College London, who was not part of the WHO report.
One of the main risks of pollution is that tiny particles can get deep into the lungs, causing irritation. Scientists also suspect air pollution may be to blame for inflammation in the heart, leading to chronic problems or a heart attack.
WHO estimated that there were about 4.3 million deaths in 2012 caused by indoor air pollution, mostly people cooking inside using wood and coal stoves in Asia. WHO said there were about 3.7 million deaths from outdoor air pollution in 2012, of which nearly 90% were in developing countries.
But WHO noted that many people were exposed to both indoor and outdoor air pollution. Due to this overlap, mortality attributed to the two sources cannot simply be added together; hence WHO said it lowered the total estimate from around 8 million to 7 million deaths in 2012.
The new estimates are more than double previous figures. The increase is partly due to better information about the health effects of pollution and improved detection methods. Last year, WHO's cancer agency classified air pollution as a carcinogen, linking dirty air to lung and bladder cancer.
WHO's report noted women had higher levels of exposure than men in developing countries.
"Poor women and children pay a heavy price from indoor air pollution since they spend more time at home breathing in smoke and soot from leaky coal and wood stoves," Flavia Bustreo – WHO assistant director-general for family, women and children's health – said in a statement.
Other experts said more research was needed to identify the deadliest components of pollution in order to target control measures more effectively.
"We don't know if dust from the Sahara is as bad as diesel fuel or burning coal," said Majid Ezzati, chair in global environmental health at Imperial College London.
Kelly said it was mostly up to governments to curb pollution levels, through legislation, measures such as moving power stations away from big cities and providing cheap alternatives to indoor wood and coal stoves.
He said people could also reduce their individual exposure by avoiding travelling at rush hour or by taking smaller roads. Despite the increasing use of face masks in heavily polluted cities such as Beijing and Tokyo, Kelly said there was little evidence that they worked.
"The real problem is that wearing masks sends out the message we can live with polluted air," he said. "We need to change our way of life entirely to reduce pollution."
Fracking safety: report warns of 'significant unknowns'
Sparse public data on onshore oil and gas drilling makes full extent of failures in hydrocarbon wells unknown, experts say
theguardian.com, Tuesday 25 March 2014 06.00 GMT
The lack of publicly available data on the UK's onshore oil and gas drilling means there are significant "unknowns" about the safety of future fracking wells, according to a new study. The research also found that public data from the US showed that hundreds of recent shale gas wells in Pennsylvania have suffered failures that could cause water or air pollution.
"The research confirms that well failure in hydrocarbon wells is an issue and that publicly available data in Europe on this seems to be sparse," said Professor Richard Davies of Durham University, and who led the team of academics who undertook the work. "In the UK, wells are monitored by well inspectors but there is no information in the public domain, so we don't really know the full extent of well failures. There were unknowns we couldn't get to the bottom of."
The research analysed every reliable dataset on the 4m onshore hydrocarbon wells that have been drilled around the world since the industry began a century ago, in order to assess the implications for unconventional oil and gas exploitation, including shale gas. The study focused on well failures, in which the cement, steel casing or valves failed to contain the oil, gas and drilling fluids. It noted the difference between internal failures, where gas, oil or other chemicals did not leak into the wider environment and external failures, where leaks did enter rocks, water acquifers or the air.
While a lot of well data is made public in the US, it was not detailed enough for the researchers to distinguish serious and minor well failures. "But in the UK we don't even have that," said Davies.
The study, published on Tuesday in the journal Marine and Petroleum Geology, reported that 2,152 wells have been drilled onshore in the UK since 1902. But no producing shale gas wells exist yet in the UK and, for a comparison, Davies said: "It is sensible to look at the data from Pennsylvania." One dataset highlighed found that 8,030 fracking wells targetting the Marcellus shale in Pennsylvania were inspected between 2005-2013 and 6.3% (506 wells) were reported for internal or external well barrier failures.
Analysis of another Pennsylvania dataset of 3,533 wells between 2008-2011 found that one-third were issued with environmental violation notices. These were mostly for surface water contamination, land spills or problems with site restoration. But 2.6% (91 wells) suffered some internal or external well barrier failures, including four blowouts. "Measurable concentrations of gas we present at the surface for most wells with casing or cementing violations," the researchers wrote.
In the UK, data provided to the researchers by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (Decc), the Environment Agency and operating companies showed 143 onshore oil and gas wells were producing in 2000. Of nine recorded oil spills, two (at the same site) were linked to well barrier problems. "But that may be an underestimate," said Davies. "The intuition is that it is not a problem, but intuition is not good enough." The study also noted that the ownership of over half the wells drilled in the UK since 1902 was now unclear and that no monitoring was now taking place for at least two-thirds of the wells ever drilled.
Davies said: "The data from the monitoring of active wells and the carrying out of periodic surveys of abandoned wells would help assess the impact of shale exploitation and it is important that the public should have access to this information." The study was funded by the UK taxpayers via the Natural Environment Research Council and by Total, Shell and Chevron and was commissioned by an independent academic board.
A Decc spokesman said: "The report highlights just how important well construction is as part of safe and environmentally sound exploration. Decc and the industry are working together to put in place a robust scheme that would cover monitoring and liabilities even in the event that the relevant operator is no longer in business. Experts will also consider all aspects of the design and construction of wells, including how they will be made safe after they are no longer in use."
But Tony Bosworth, energy campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: "Going after these risky sources of energy threatens our natural world as regulation can only go so far in protecting people, our water supplies and the wider environment. This report highlights that oil and gas well failure is widespread and the best way to avoid the risk this brings is not to frack or go after other hard to reach and polluting fossil fuels."
Previously, the Guardian revealed that fracking company Cuadrilla was chastised in 2012 by ministers for "failing to recognise the significance" of deformation of a well casing at its Preese Hall drill site in Lancashire. The "failure" exposed "weaknesses in Cuadrilla's performance as a licensee" but the integrity of the well was not compromised and there were no leaks.
The UK Onshore Operators Group (UKOOG), the trade body for the onshore oil and gas industry, said its guidelines state that monitoring data should be publicly available and it welcomed the recommendation to monitor abandoned wells. Ken Cronin, UKOOG chief executive, said: "It is important to note that the research focuses on historical records and studies. The industry and its practices are constantly improving with experience and technology as required by regulation."
UN brands polio outbreak in Syria and Iraq 'most challenging in history'
Security issues, damaged health infrastructure and large-scale displacement pose major obstacles to immunisation coverage
theguardian.com, Friday 28 March 2014 07.00 GMT
A UN agency has described the eruption of polio in Syria as perhaps "the most challenging outbreak in the history of polio eradication" after the number of cases in the war-ravaged country reached 38 and the first case was confirmed in neighbouring Iraq.
According to the World Health organisation (WHO), the Iraqi case – found in a six-month-old unvaccinated child in Baghdad – is related to the outbreak in Syria, fuelling fears that the virus is spreading around the Middle East.
"The current polio outbreak in Syria – now with one confirmed case in Iraq – is arguably the most challenging outbreak in the history of polio eradication," said a spokesman for the UN relief and works agency for Palestine refugees (UNRWA).
"Seriously damaged health infrastructure, poor health access and utilisation because of insecurity inside Syria, and massive movements of vulnerable and at-risk populations in and out of Syria – all make controlling the outbreak and rendering health protection to Palestine refugees in Syria and across the region very challenging."
The same factors, he added, made it hard to guarantee 100% immunisation coverage and to maintain the cold chain needed to protect vaccines from heat.
The UNRWA is part of the team, led by the WHO and Unicef, that has fought to contain the virus since it was detected in Syria for the first time in 14 years last October. Until this week, Iraq had not reported a case since 2000.
In the five months since polio was confirmed, more than 22 million children in seven countries – Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, Iraq, Egypt and Palestine – have been vaccinated as part of the largest vaccination campaign in the history of the Middle East.
"Since we got the confirmation of the outbreak at the end of October last year, the response was as rapid as possible," said Juliette Touma, a spokeswoman for Unicef.
"Have we reached every child we wanted to reach? The answer is no, we haven't, and this is largely because of access restrictions. The severity of the conflict makes people move all the time and we have displacement on a daily basis, so the ability to control the disease is a challenge."
The aim, said Touma, was to vaccinate children several times: six times in Syria and three in the wider region. But she added that there was no way to guarantee that the spread of the disease could be arrested.
"As long as we don't have unhindered access inside Syria to areas that are under siege and that are hard to reach, polio will not be contained," she said. "We always say with polio that there's no borders; there's no checkpoints. The virus doesn't need a passport – it just travels."
The WHO, which has faced allegations from some quarters that it was too slow to react to the outbreak, is adamant it has moved as quickly as possible.
Sona Bari, a spokeswoman for the organisation's Global Polio Eradication Initiative, said the WHO had detected the virus in sewage in Egypt and Israel more than a year ago and issued an international high-risk alert despite an absence of confirmed cases.
"In October [last year], before cases even were confirmed in Syria – as soon as there was the first cluster of suspected cases – we issued another alert," said Bari. "When the cases in Syria were confirmed, an international emergency was declared and these seven countries put together a co-ordinated response plan to cover about 22 million children."
She said the WHO had been heartened by the increasing numbers of children being vaccinated in Syria, adding that the most recent round of vaccinations had probably reached about 3 million children.
Bari brushed off the criticisms of a US paediatrician who had accused the WHO of acting too late and failing to effectively vaccinate children at risk.
"The thing to note is that neither the opposition groups nor the government is stirring these allegations about WHO," she said. "I think those allegations are motivated by a desire to do something for the children of Syria; I think the motivation is absolutely laudable. [But] I think targeting WHO doesn't really achieve anything; what we need to do is actually all concentrate together on vaccinating Syrian children."
Borrowed Time on Disappearing Land
Facing Rising Seas, Bangladesh Confronts the Consequences of Climate Change
By GARDINER HARRIS
MARCH 28, 2014
DAKOPE, Bangladesh — When a powerful storm destroyed her riverside home in 2009, Jahanara Khatun lost more than the modest roof over her head. In the aftermath, her husband died and she became so destitute that she sold her son and daughter into bonded servitude. And she may lose yet more.
Ms. Khatun now lives in a bamboo shack that sits below sea level about 50 yards from a sagging berm. She spends her days collecting cow dung for fuel and struggling to grow vegetables in soil poisoned by salt water. Climate scientists predict that this area will be inundated as sea levels rise and storm surges increase, and a cyclone or another disaster could easily wipe away her rebuilt life. But Ms. Khatun is trying to hold out at least for a while — one of millions living on borrowed time in this vast landscape of river islands, bamboo huts, heartbreaking choices and impossible hopes.
As the world’s top scientists meet in Yokohama, Japan, this week, at the top of the agenda is the prediction that global sea levels could rise as much as three feet by 2100. Higher seas and warmer weather will cause profound changes.
Climate scientists have concluded that widespread burning of fossil fuels is releasing heat-trapping gases that are warming the planet. While this will produce a host of effects, the most worrisome may be the melting of much of the earth’s ice, which is likely to raise sea levels and flood coastal regions.
Such a rise will be uneven because of gravitational effects and human intervention, so predicting its outcome in any one place is difficult. But island nations like the Maldives, Kiribati and Fiji may lose much of their land area, and millions of Bangladeshis will be displaced.
“There are a lot of places in the world at risk from rising sea levels, but Bangladesh is at the top of everybody’s list,” said Rafael Reuveny, a professor in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University at Bloomington. “And the world is not ready to cope with the problems.”
The effects of climate change have led to a growing sense of outrage in developing nations, many of which have contributed little to the pollution that is linked to rising temperatures and sea levels but will suffer the most from the consequences.
At a climate conference in Warsaw in November, there was an emotional outpouring from countries that face existential threats, among them Bangladesh, which produces just 0.3 percent of the emissions driving climate change. Some leaders have demanded that rich countries compensate poor countries for polluting the atmosphere. A few have even said that developed countries should open their borders to climate migrants.
“It’s a matter of global justice,” said Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Center for Advanced Studies and the nation’s leading climate scientist. “These migrants should have the right to move to the countries from which all these greenhouse gases are coming. Millions should be able to go to the United States.”
River deltas around the globe are particularly vulnerable to the effects of rising seas, and wealthier cities like London, Venice and New Orleans also face uncertain futures. But it is the poorest countries with the biggest populations that will be hit hardest, and none more so than Bangladesh, one of the most densely populated nations in the world. In this delta, made up of 230 major rivers and streams, 160 million people live in a place one-fifth the size of France and as flat as chapati, the bread served at almost every meal.
A Perilous Position
Though Bangladesh has contributed little to industrial air pollution, other kinds of environmental degradation have left it especially vulnerable.
Bangladesh relies almost entirely on groundwater for drinking supplies because the rivers are so polluted. The resultant pumping causes the land to settle. So as sea levels are rising, Bangladesh’s cities are sinking, increasing the risks of flooding. Poorly constructed sea walls compound the problem.
The country’s climate scientists and politicians have come to agree that by 2050, rising sea levels will inundate some 17 percent of the land and displace about 18 million people, Dr. Rahman said.
Bangladeshis have already started to move away from the lowest-lying villages in the river deltas of the Bay of Bengal, scientists in Bangladesh say. People move for many reasons, and urbanization is increasing across South Asia, but rising tides are a big factor. Dr. Rahman’s research group has made a rough estimate from small surveys that as many as 1.5 million of the five million slum inhabitants in Dhaka, the capital, moved from villages near the Bay of Bengal.
The slums that greet them in Dhaka are also built on low-lying land, making them almost as vulnerable to being inundated as the land villagers left behind.
Ms. Khatun and her neighbors have lived through deadly cyclones — a synonym here for hurricane — and have seen the salty rivers chew through villages and poison fields. Rising seas are increasingly intruding into rivers, turning fresh water brackish. Even routine flooding then leaves behind salt deposits that can render land barren.
Making matters worse, much of what the Bangladeshi government is doing to stave off the coming deluge — raising levees, dredging canals, pumping water — deepens the threat of inundation in the long term, said John Pethick, a former professor of coastal science at Newcastle University in England who has spent much of his retirement studying Bangladesh’s predicament. Rich nations are not the only ones to blame, he said.
In an analysis of decades of tidal records published in October, Dr. Pethick found that high tides in Bangladesh were rising 10 times faster than the global average. He predicted that seas in Bangladesh could rise as much as 13 feet by 2100, four times the global average. In an area where land is often a thin brown line between sky and river — nearly a quarter of Bangladesh is less than seven feet above sea level — such an increase would have dire consequences, Dr. Pethick said.
“The reaction among Bangladeshi government officials has been to tell me that I must be wrong,” he said. “That’s completely understandable, but it also means they have no hope of preparing themselves.”
Dr. Rahman said that he did not disagree with Mr. Pethick’s findings, but that no estimate was definitive. Other scientists have predicted more modest rises. For example, Robert E. Kopp, an associate director of the Rutgers Energy Institute at Rutgers University, said that data from nearby Kolkata, India, suggested that seas in the region could rise five to six feet by 2100.
“There is no doubt that preparations within Bangladesh have been utterly inadequate, but any such preparations are bound to fail because the problem is far too big for any single government,” said Tariq A. Karim, Bangladesh’s ambassador to India. “We need a regional and, better yet, a global solution. And if we don’t get one soon, the Bangladeshi people will soon become the world’s problem, because we will not be able to keep them.”
Mr. Karim estimated that as many as 50 million Bangladeshis would flee the country by 2050 if sea levels rose as expected.
Already, signs of erosion are everywhere in the Ganges Delta — the world’s largest delta, which empties much of the water coming from the Himalayas. There are brick foundations torn in half, palm trees growing out of rivers and rangy cattle grazing on island pastures the size of putting greens. Fields are dusted white with salt.
Even without climate change, Bangladesh is among the most vulnerable places in the world to bad weather: The V-shaped Bay of Bengal funnels cyclones straight into the country’s fan-shaped coastline.
Some scientists believe that rising temperatures will lead to more extreme weather worldwide, including stronger and more frequent cyclones in the Bay of Bengal. And rising seas will make any storm more dangerous because flooding will become more likely.
Bangladesh has done much to protect its population by creating an early-warning system and building at least 2,500 concrete storm shelters. The result has been a vast reduction in storm-related deaths. While Cyclone Bhola in 1970 killed as many as 550,000 people, Cyclone Aila in 2009 killed 300. The deadliest part of the storm was the nearly 10-foot wall of water that roared through villages in the middle of the afternoon.
The poverty of people like Ms. Khatun makes them particularly vulnerable to storms. When Aila hit, Ms. Khatun was home with her husband, parents and four children. A nearby berm collapsed, and their mud and bamboo hut washed away in minutes. Unable to save her belongings, Ms. Khatun put her youngest child on her back and, with her husband, fought through surging waters to a high road. Her parents were swept away.
“After about a kilometer, I managed to grab a tree,” said Abddus Satter, Ms. Khatun’s father. “And I was able to help my wife grab on as well. We stayed on that tree for hours.”
The couple eventually shifted to the roof of a nearby hut. The family reunited on the road the next day after the children spent a harrowing night avoiding snakes that had sought higher ground, too. They drank rainwater until rescuers arrived a day or two later with bottled water, food and other supplies.
The ordeal took a severe toll on Ms. Khatun’s husband, whose health soon deteriorated. To pay for his treatment and the cost of rebuilding their hut, the family borrowed money from a loan shark. In return, Ms. Khatun and her three older children, then 10, 12 and 15, promised to work for seven months in a nearby brickmaking factory. She later sold her 11- and 13-year-old children to the owner of another brick factory, this one in Dhaka, for $450 to pay more debts. Her husband died four years after the storm.
In an interview, one of her sons, Mamun Sardar, said he worked from dawn to dusk carrying newly made bricks to the factory oven.
He said he missed his mother, “but she lives far away.”
Discussions about the effects of climate change in the Ganges Delta often become community events. In the village of Choto Jaliakhali, where Ms. Khatun lives, dozens of people said they could see that the river was rising. Several said they had been impoverished by erosion, which has cost many villagers their land.
Muhammad Moktar Ali said he could not think about the next storm because all he had in the world was his hut and village. “We don’t know how to support ourselves if we lost this,” he said, gesturing to his gathered neighbors. “It is God who will help us survive.”
Surveys show that residents of the delta do not want to migrate, Dr. Rahman said. Moving to slums in already-crowded cities is their least preferred option.
But cities have become the center of Bangladesh’s textile industry, which is now the source of 80 percent of the country’s exports, 45 percent of its industrial employment and 15 percent of its gross domestic product.
Some areas of the globe are especially vulnerable to rising sea levels and inhabitants are being forced to make stark changes in their lives.
In the weeks after the storm, the women of Dakope found firewood by wading into the raging river and pushing their toes into the muddy bottom. They walked hours to buy drinking water. After rebuilding the village’s berm and their own hut, Shirin Aktar and her husband, Bablu Gazi, managed to get just enough of a harvest to survive from their land, which has become increasingly infertile from salt water. Some plots that once sustained three harvests can now support just one; others are entirely barren.
After two hungry years, the couple gave up on farming and moved to the Chittagong, Bangladesh’s second-largest city, leaving their two children behind with Mr. Gazi’s mother.
Mr. Gazi found work immediately as a day laborer, mostly digging foundations. Ms. Aktar searched for a job as a seamstress, but headaches and other slum-induced health problems have so incapacitated her that the couple is desperate to return to Dakope.
“I don’t want to stay here for too long,” Mr. Gazi said. “If we can save some money, then we’ll go back. I’ll work on a piece of land and try to make it fertile again.”
But the chances of finding fertile land in his home village, where the salty rivers have eaten away acre upon acre, are almost zero.
Dozens of people gathered in the narrow mud alley outside Mr. Gazi’s room as he spoke. Some told similar stories of storms, loss and hope, and many nodded as Mr. Gazi spoke of his dreams of returning to his doomed village.
“All of us came here because of erosions and cyclones,” said Noakhali, a hollow-eyed 30-year-old with a single name who was wearing the traditional skirt of the delta. “Not one of us actually wants to live here.”
Ebola ‘a regional threat’ as contagion hits Guinea capital
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, March 28, 2014 13:09 EDT
Guinea’s capital Conakry was on high alert on Friday after a deadly Ebola epidemic which has killed dozens in the southern forests was confirmed to have spread to the sprawling port city of two million people.
Four people believed to have been infected after attending the funeral of a brother in central Guinea have been put into isolation centres to avoid the highly contagious virus getting into the population.
Aid organisations have sent dozens of workers to help the poor west African country combat a haemorrhagic fever outbreak which has killed at least 66 people, many of whom have been confirmed to have been infected by Ebola.
“Intensive case investigations are underway to identify the source and route of these patients’ infection, record their travel histories before arrival in Conakry and determine their period of infectivity for the purposes of contact tracing,” the World Health Organisation (WHO) said in a statement.
Guinea is one of the world’s poorest nations despite vast untapped mineral wealth, with a stagnating economy, youth unemployment at 60 percent and a rank of 178th out of 187 countries on the UN’s Human Development Index.
Residents of Conakry’s suburbs told AFP they feared venturing into the city centre to shop and were keeping their children home from school.
“I wonder what Guinea has done to God to make him send us this untreatable disease… I’m wary of anything that moves that could be a carrier of the disease,” said unemployed graduate Abdoulaye Soumah.
The 15-member Economic Community of West African States said the outbreak was now “a serious threat to regional security” and appealed for help from the international community.
Fifteen new confirmed or suspected cases, including in the Conakry outbreak, were reported on Thursday, the health ministry said, bringing the total in Guinea to 103.
The tropical virus — described in some health publications as a “molecular shark” — causes severe fever and muscle pain, weakness, vomiting, diarrhoea and, in severe cases, organ failure and unstoppable bleeding.
Ebola had never spread among humans in west Africa before the current outbreak, but further suspected cases being investigated in Liberia and Sierra Leone could bring the total death toll to at least 77.
- ‘Divine retribution’ -
Scientists have examined 41 samples from victims, Guinea’s health ministry said, with 15 testing positive for the Zaire strain of Ebola, the most virulent.
The WHO said Liberia had reported eight suspected cases of Ebola fever, including six deaths, while Sierra Leone had reported six suspected cases, five of them fatal.
Transmission of Ebola to humans can come from wild animals, direct contact from another human’s blood, faeces or sweat, as well as sexual contact or the unprotected handling of contaminated corpses.
The health charity Doctors Without Borders, known by its French initials MSF, said the spread of the disease was being exacerbated by people travelling to funerals in which mourners touch the bodies of the dead.
Guinea has banned the consumption of bat soup, a popular delicacy in the country, as the fruit bat is believed to be the host species.
No treatment or vaccine is available, and the Zaire strain detected in Guinea — first observed 38 years ago in what is today called the Democratic Republic of Congo — has a 90 percent death rate.
Customers in a suburban cafe in Conakry described the epidemic as “divine retribution” and “a curse that has befallen us and will allow us to reflect on our daily behaviour”.
“There is total panic among the population,” said Fanta Traore.
But the WHO played down fears of a massive spread, pointing out that the disease typically caused much less death and sickness than influenza, and adding that it was not recommending travel restrictions.
“Outbreaks tend to be limited. But certainly we need to watch this extremely carefully because there is no treatment, there is no cure and the course of the disease is more often than not fatal,” WHO spokesman Gregory Hartl told reporters in Geneva.
Scientists create first man-made ‘designer’ chromosome
By Agence France-Presse
Friday, March 28, 2014 13:13 EDT
Scientists have created the first man-made chromosome for a complex-celled organism — a feat hailed Friday as a big step towards acquiring the controversial ability to redesign plants or animals.
A synthetic chromosome was inserted into a brewer’s yeast cell, which functioned as normal — the key test of success, the international team reported in the journal Science.
“Our research moves the needle in synthetic biology from theory to reality,” said Jef Boeke, director of the New York University’s Institute for Systems Genetics, who was a member of the research team.
Yeast is a closely-studied representative of the group of eukaryotes, organisms with complex cells that contain a nucleus and other structures enclosed within membranes.
All plants and animals, including humans, have eukaryotic cells.
Chromosomes have previously been synthesised for bacteria, which are simpler, prokaryotic organisms.
Yeast is used to make beer, biofuel and medicines, and researchers believe it can be made to work more efficiently with genetic modifications.
Boeke and his team unravelled the coding of one of yeast’s 16 chromosomes, then used software to make changes to it — removing repetitive and less-used regions.
They then built a synthetic version of this altered chromosome from scratch, stringing together individual nucleotides — the chemical building blocks of the genes that make up chromosomes, which in turn comprise the genome.
“It is the most extensively altered chromosome ever built,” said Boeke.
“We have made over 50,000 changes to the DNA code in the chromosome and our yeast is still alive. That is remarkable.”
Yeast shares about a third of its 6,000 genes — units of the chromosome that carry the instructions for cell function — with humans.
“Their effort represents a critical step on the road to building an entire eukaryotic genome,” said a media summary from Science. “It could also help researchers learn more about genome biology — including how genomes are built, how they’re organised, and what makes them work.”
Boeke and his team are already working on synthesising other yeast chromosomes.
This, they wrote, “represents a major step towards the design and complete synthesis” of a eukaryotic genome.
“Rapid advances in synthetic biology coupled with ever decreasing costs of DNA synthesis suggest that it will soon become feasible to engineer new eukaryotic genomes, including plant and animal genomes with synthetic chromosomes encoding desired functions and… properties based on specific design principles.”
Greenpeace scientist Janet Cotter told AFP that genetically modified organisms could be useful, in drug development for instance, but in controlled conditions.
“In contained use, on a small scale in a lab, it’s absolutely fine. In a commercial situation, on a scale say for biofuels, then you run into problems about how you adequately and securely contain those organisms.”
Latin America: how climate change will wipe out coffee crops – and farmers
Rising temperatures resulting from climate change are fuelling the growth of rust, a disease ravaging coffee plantations in Central America. We report from Nicaragua's Jinotega hills, where starving villagers are desperate to save their livelihoods
In pictures: embattled coffee farmers in Central America: http://www.theguardian.com/environment/gallery/2014/mar/30/climate-change-coffee-central-america
Alex Renton in Jinotega, Nicaragua
The Observer, Sunday 30 March 2014
Under the coffee bushes, Rosibel and Benjamín Fijardo are on their knees, scraping carefully through a litter of dead leaves and dried mud. They are scavenging for stray coffee berries, fallen when the harvesters went through the plantation last week. After 20 minutes, Benjamín has a plastic cup half full. The beans look grey and mouldy, but he says they can be dried and sold. He returns to the work: "This is how we will feed our family for the next two months. By pecking like chickens!"
For two million or more coffee workers and small farmers across Central America, the "hungry season" is beginning. It's always a thin time before crops ripen, but with this winter's coffee harvest down 50% or more on normal, for the second year running, hunger, malnutrition and debt are new curses for hundreds of thousands.
Candida Rosa Piñeda, who owns this little plantation in the village of Atuna Uno, says she has not earned enough this year to buy a new pair of shoes. And she needs to replace most of her disease-damaged coffee bushes.
The disease that has brought these calamities to the pretty hills of Jinotega, in Nicaragua's central highlands, is new to most of the farmers I meet. They call it roya, rust. It is ugly. First, parts of the arabica bush's glossy green leaves turn a dirty orange. Then dark dead patches appear and become holes. The infection spreads to the ripening berries, turning them from bright red to a zombie-skin grey.
Trees can be saved, but they need to be carefully pruned and, just as carefully, treated with chemicals. The chemicals can be toxic to humans, and the trees will take years to come back to their normal production. Hemileia vastatrix, the coffee rust fungus, is a known hazard of growing arabica, which is 70% of the world's production and all of a cup of coffee's taste. It has been a curse of coffee planters ever since it appeared in east Africa 150 years ago.
However, the rust cannot survive temperatures below 10C. In this region of Nicaragua it usually occurred only below 1,300 metres. Up in the hills, cold nights and drier weather kept the disease at bay. And so that's where the coffee farms are.
Most of the people I met said they had never seen it until three years ago: some believed it had been deliberately sprayed from the skies by aircraft. Some thought it had spread from the banana trees that shade the coffee plants and provide crucial food for farmers. But most agree that in recent years the weather has become hotter, wetter and less predictable.
Science is in no doubt that the changing climate is behind the rust and other problems affecting coffee production worldwide – and that things are likely to deteriorate.
"In many cases, the area suitable for [coffee] production would decrease considerably with increases of temperature of only 2-2.5C," said a leaked draft of a new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, officially published on Monday. The panel predicts falling coffee production in a range of countries, largely because of warmer weather. In late February, markets scared by drought in Brazil saw futures prices in coffee rise by 70%.
All the coffee-producing countries of Central America have seen drops in production of 30% or more in each of the past two years. Some, such as Guatemala, report rising cases of chronic malnutrition in coffee workers' children. Last week Oxfam cited coffee among other crops in a report that warned climate change was putting back the global fight against hunger "by decades".
Nicaragua's problem is particularly acute. Along with neighbouring Honduras, and Burma, it is already one of the three countries most affected by climate change, according to the 2013 Global Climate Risk Index. Nearly a third of its working population, about 750,000 people, depend on coffee directly or indirectly for a living. Coffee provides 20% of GDP. The Nicaraguan government is deeply worried: it has predicted that, because of falling rainfall and rising temperatures, by 2050 80% of its current coffee growing areas will no longer be usable.
This will mean disaster. The effects of two bad harvests are already severe in a country that, after Haiti, is the poorest in the western hemisphere, with more than three-quarters of its population subsisting on £1.20 a day. Rosibel Fijardo, 30, and Benjamín, 34, the scavengers I met, have much less: to keep the family from starving, their children, aged 10 and five, have to work too.
School in Nicaragua is free, but itinerant farm labourers often have to enlist their children's help in the fields to earn enough money. That is despite the signs on the walls of the big farms we drive past: "No children are employed here."
Rosibel's parents were also landless labourers; she had no schooling at all. If the whole family scavenge all day – in fields where the farmers permit it – they may earn 140 córdobas (£3.20). That will just cover the money they need to buy maize and beans to fill their stomachs. Even so, the children have been crying with hunger. "There's no money for fruit or meat," says Rosibel. "Instead we drink coffee."
Usually in March the family would have cash to spare, after working as cortadores (pickers) during the two-month harvest season. That would tide them through until the pruning and fertilising work starts in May. But this year, like most people they know in Atuna Uno, the Fijardos earned hardly anything because there was so little coffee to pick. Pineda employed no one on her plantations; she did the harvest with her sons. They got five sacks, where normally there would be 60.
"If we don't pick dropped coffee beans, we don't eat, and nor do our children. There are lots of people and just not enough work here," Rosibel says. Benjamín shakes his head in despair: there are not many more farmers who will let them scavenge – "they call it stealing". The couple's next idea, they say, is to see if they can find fish in the lake nearby. "They are free!"
Key to the problems of farmers across the region is the fact that February's global price increase came too late. Before that, the price of coffee had been at historic lows for two years. Last year's poor harvest got the poorest prices per pound, farmer Pantaleón Mungía, 55, said, standing among the skeletal remains of his bushes in the village of Los Robles. "I want to renew my plantation with healthy trees, but I'm in debt. There's no help from the government. Even if I could replace them, it would be three or four years until they were big enough to provide a normal crop."
Oxfam's Máximo Blandón works on poverty in rural Nicaragua: he feels the problem acutely because his family are also small coffee farmers, not far from Los Robles. "Coffee here is not just numbers. It's an art, a profession, a way of life, and without income from the coffee harvest the rural economy collapses. The problem is not just roya – there's also the injustice of the coffee market, which just does not pass down the price of coffee to the people here. Unless it does, they cannot develop the resilience needed to fight the effects of climate change – and there won't be any more coffee in Central America."
Commodities analysts confirm that, in a global market awash with speculators' cash as a result of the quantitative easing policies of governments trying to end the recession, the price of coffee bears little relation to supply. Often it is more dictated by what's happening to the price of wheat or oil than anything in the coffee-growing world.
But that might change. It will be at least three years before any normality returns to countries like Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua, where coffee production employs a third or more of the population. Meanwhile, the IPCC has warned that some quite modest global warming predictions "will cause a strong decrease in coffee production in Brazil", the world's largest producer. Even Starbucks has visited the White House to warn that, without a plan to address climate change, the world's coffee supply is under threat.
Last month's spooking of the market was exacerbated by dire predictions about a gaping hole in long-term coffee supply in reports from the International Coffee Organisation and one of the world's leading commodity trading firms. These predicted a huge difference this year between the amount of coffee available and the amount the world wants – as much as 300m kilos. That's two years of British coffee consumption.
Jeremy Torz, co-owner of the British specialist coffee importer Union, has just returned from the roya-hit plantations of Guatemala. He does not believe that there will be a world coffee drought. But the fact that the disease is hitting some of the world's best coffee is significant. "Prices are going to go up and quality down in the commercial coffee world. People need to look for brands that support the producers."
That was pretty much what the cafetaleros of Nicaragua said when I asked them what they wanted from coffee-drinkers in Europe. Coffee picker Myra Carmen Chavarría in Atuna Uno was amazed when I told her that I spent £2 or more every day on a cappuccino. "If you love coffee in your country that much, you need to help us survive to grow it for you!"
SIX KEY ISSUES
The most important issues in the IPCC report on the impacts of climate change, due to be published tomorrow:
LOW-LYING COASTAL AREAS
People living in these areas and on small islands face storm surges, coastal flooding and sea-level rises. And there are dangers to urban areas from inland flooding – that wipes out homes and businesses, water treatment centres and power plants – as well as from extreme heatwaves.
The report will consider the extent to which warming is already locked in by the necessities of economic infrastructure, but also whether climate change will have a negative or positive impact on global economic growth, and how that impact will be distributed around the world. Climate change could cause a tourism boom in the Arctic, with melting ice-caps giving cruise ships increased access to the area.
RISK TO FOOD PRODUCTION
Food production is threatened by drought, flooding and changing rainfall patterns. There is particular concern over crop yields. The report is expected to touch on the threat to bees, with concerns about the extinction of species of butterflies and other pollinating insects.
IMPACT ON FISHERIES
As ocean chemistry is skewed by climate change, some fish in the tropics could become extinct. Others, especially in northern latitudes, are migrating.
SAFE DRINKING WATER
Drought could put safe drinking water in short supply. Storms could wipe out electricity stations and damage other infrastructure, the report is likely to say.
THE RATE OF CHANGE
Also key is the speed at which the climate is changing, rather than just the magnitude of the change. This will dictate how quickly governments and people must adapt to a level of global warming effectively guaranteed by the carbon already in the atmosphere.
Panel’s Warning on Climate Risk: Worst Is Yet to Come
By JUSTIN GILLIS
MARCH 30, 2014
YOKOHAMA, Japan — Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported Monday, and they warned that the problem is likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.
The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.
The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide given off by cars and power plants, which is killing some creatures or stunting their growth, the report found.
Organic matter frozen in Arctic soils since before civilization began is now melting, allowing it to decay into greenhouse gases that will cause further warming, the scientists said.
And the worst is yet to come, the scientists said in the second of three reports that are expected to carry considerable weight next year as nations try to agree on a new global climate treaty. In particular, the report emphasized that the world’s food supply is at considerable risk — a threat that could have serious consequences for the poorest nations.
“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the intergovernmental panel, said at a news conference here on Monday.
The report was among the most sobering yet issued by the intergovernmental panel. The group, along with Al Gore, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its efforts to clarify the risks of climate change. The report released on Monday in Yokohama is the final work of several hundred authors; details from the drafts of this and of the last report in the series, which will be released next month, leaked in the last few months.
The report attempts to project how the effects will alter human society in coming decades. While the impact of global warming may actually be outweighed by factors like economic or technological change, the report found, the disruptions are nonetheless likely to be profound.
It cited the risk of death or injury on a widespread scale, probable damage to public health, displacement of people and potential mass migrations.
“Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger,” the report declared.
The report also cites the possibility of violent conflict over land or other resources, to which climate change might contribute indirectly “by exacerbating well-established drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.”
The scientists emphasized that climate change is not just some problem of the distant future, but is happening now. For instance, in much of the American West, mountain snowpack is declining, threatening water supplies for the region, the scientists reported. And the snow that does fall is melting earlier in the year, which means there is less meltwater to ease the parched summers.
In Alaska, the collapse of sea ice is allowing huge waves to strike the coast, causing erosion so rapid that it is already forcing entire communities to relocate.
“Now we are at the point where there is so much information, so much evidence, that we can no longer plead ignorance,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization.
The experts did find a bright spot, however. Since the group issued its report in 2007, it has found growing evidence that governments and businesses around the world are starting extensive plans to adapt to climate disruptions, even as some conservatives in the United States and a small number of scientists continue to deny that a problem exists.
“I think that dealing effectively with climate change is just going to be something that great nations do,” said Christopher B. Field, co-chairman of the working group that wrote the report, and an earth scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif.
Talk of adaptation to global warming was once avoided in some quarters, on the grounds that it would distract from the need to cut emissions. But the past few years have seen a shift in thinking, including research from scientists and economists who argue that both strategies must be pursued at once.
A striking example of the change occurred recently in the state of New York, where the Public Service Commission ordered Consolidated Edison, the electric utility serving New York City and some suburbs, to spend about $1 billion upgrading its system to prevent future damage from flooding and other weather disruptions.
The plan is a reaction to the blackouts caused by Hurricane Sandy. Con Ed will raise flood walls, bury some vital equipment and launch a study of whether emerging climate risks require even more changes. Other utilities in the state face similar requirements, and utility regulators across the United States are discussing whether to follow New York’s lead.
But with a global failure to limit greenhouse gases, the risk is rising that climatic changes in coming decades could overwhelm such efforts to adapt, the panel found. It cited a particular risk that in a hotter climate, farmers will not be able to keep up with the fast-rising demand for food.
“When supply falls below demand, somebody doesn’t have enough food,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University climate scientist who helped write the new report. “When some people don’t have food, you get starvation. Yes, I’m worried.”
The poorest people in the world, who have had virtually nothing to do with causing global warming, will be high on the list of victims as climatic disruptions intensify, the report said. It cited a World Bank estimate that poor countries need as much as $100 billion a year to try to offset the effects of climate change; they are now getting, at best, a few billion dollars a year in such aid from rich countries.
The $100 billion figure, though included in the 2,500-page main report, was removed from a 48-page executive summary to be read by the world’s top political leaders. It was among the most significant changes made as the summary underwent final review during a dayslong editing session in Yokohama.
The edit came after several rich countries, including the United States, raised questions about the language, according to several people who were in the room at the time but did not wish to be identified because the negotiations are private.
The language is contentious because poor countries are expected to renew their demand for aid this September in New York at a summit meeting of world leaders, who will attempt to make headway on a new treaty to limit greenhouse gases.
Many rich countries argue that $100 billion a year is an unrealistic demand; it would essentially require them to double their budgets for foreign aid, at a time of economic distress at home. That argument has fed a rising sense of outrage among the leaders of poor countries, who feel their people are paying the price for decades of profligate Western consumption.
Two decades of international efforts to limit emissions have yielded little result, and it is not clear whether the negotiations in New York this fall will be any different. While greenhouse gas emissions have begun to decline slightly in many wealthy countries, including the United States, those gains are being swamped by emissions from rising economic powers like China and India.
For the world’s poorer countries, food is not the only issue, but it may be the most acute. Several times in recent years, climatic disruptions in major growing regions have helped to throw supply and demand out of balance, contributing to price increases that have reversed decades of gains against global hunger, at least temporarily.
The warning about the food supply in the new report is much sharper in tone than any previously issued by the panel. That reflects a growing body of research about how sensitive many crops are to heat waves and water stress.
David B. Lobell, a Stanford University scientist who has published much of that research and helped write the new report, said in an interview that as yet, too little work was being done to understand the risk, much less counter it with improved crop varieties and farming techniques. “It is a surprisingly small amount of effort for the stakes,” he said.
Timothy Gore, an analyst for Oxfam, the anti-hunger charity that sent observers to the proceedings, praised the new report for painting a clear picture. But he warned that without greater efforts to limit global warming and to adapt to the changes that have become inevitable, “the goal we have in Oxfam of ensuring that every person has enough food to eat could be lost forever.”
IPCC report: John Kerry warns of climate 'catastrophe'
31 Mar 2014
US Secretary of State John Kerry has warned that failing to act immediately and decisively on climate change will have "catastrophic" and wide-ranging consequences.
The top US diplomat was reacting to a UN expert panel report that said Monday soaring carbon emissions will amplify the risk of conflict, hunger, floods and migration this century.
"Unless we act dramatically and quickly, science tells us our climate and our way of life are literally in jeopardy," Mr Kerry, in Paris on Sunday for crunch talks with Russia over Ukraine, said in a statement, adding: "Denial of the science is malpractice."
"There are those who say we can't afford to act. But waiting is truly unaffordable. The costs of inaction are catastrophic," he said.
The United Nations report said that, left unchecked, greenhouse gas emissions may cost trillions of dollars in damage to property and ecosystems, and in bills for shoring up climate defences.
The United States and China are among the world's biggest polluters but Mr Kerry said that "no single country causes climate change, and no one country can stop it".
Mr Kerry cautioned that water scarcity and flooding were security risks, adding: "The clock is ticking. The more we delay, the greater the threat. Let's make our political system wake up and let's make the world respond."
Guinea faces Ebola epidemic on unprecedented scale, doctors warn
Médecins sans Frontières says lethal virus has broken out in areas hundreds of miles apart, while death toll passes 80
Reuters in Conakry
theguardian.com, Monday 31 March 2014 16.33 BST
Guinea faces an Ebola epidemic on an unprecedented scale as it battles to contain confirmed cases now scattered across several locations that are far apart, the medical charity Médecins sans Frontières said.
The warning from an organisation used to tackling Ebola in central Africa came after Guinea's president appealed for calm as the number of deaths linked to an outbreak on the border with Liberia and Sierra Leone passed 80.
The outbreak of one of the world's most lethal infectious diseases has alarmed a number of governments with weak health systems, prompting Senegal to close its border with Guinea and other neighbours to restrict travel and cross-border exchanges.
Figures released overnight by Guinea's health ministry showed that there had been 78 deaths from 122 cases of suspected Ebola since January, up from 70. Of these, there were 22 laboratory-confirmed cases of Ebola, the ministry said.
"We are facing an epidemic of a magnitude never before seen in terms of the distribution of cases in the country," said Mariano Lugli, the co-ordinator of Médecins sans Frontières' project in Conakry, the capital of Guinea.
The organisation said on Monday it had been involved in dealing with nearly all other recent Ebola outbreaks, mostly in remote parts of central African nations, but Guinea is fighting to contain the disease in numerous locations, some of which are hundreds of miles apart.
"This geographical spread is worrisome because it will greatly complicate the tasks of the organisations working to control the epidemic," Lugli added.
The outbreak of Ebola – a virus which has a fatality rate of up to 90% – has centred on Guinea's south-east. But it took authorities six weeks to identify the disease, allowing it to spread over borders and to more populated areas.
Cases were confirmed in Conakry last week, bringing the disease – previously limited to remote, lightly populated areas – to a sprawling Atlantic Ocean port of two million people.
Guinea's president, Alpha Condé, appealed for calm late on Sunday. "My government and I are very worried about this epidemic," he said, ordering Guineans to take strict precautions to avoid the further spread of the disease.
"I also call on people not to give in to panic or believe the rumours that are fuelling people's fears," he added.
Liberia has recorded seven suspected and confirmed cases, including four deaths, the World Health Organisation said. Sierra Leone has reported five suspected cases, none of which have been confirmed yet.
Brima Kargbo, Sierra Leone's chief medical officer, said a screening process had been introduced on the country's northern border with Guinea. Travellers are being asked where they are coming from and whether they or anyone they had been in contact with had fallen ill, he said.
Senegal, another neighbour of Guinea, closed its land border over the weekend and has suspended weekly markets near the border to prevent the spread of the disease.
The regional airline Gambia Bird delayed the launch of services to Conakry, due to start on Sunday, because of the outbreak.
If the deaths are all confirmed as Ebola, a disease that leads to vomiting, diarrhoea and external bleeding, it would be the most deadly epidemic since 187 people died in Luebo, in Congo's Kasai-Occidental province, in 2007.
Guinea's Ebola outbreak: what is the virus and what's being done?
Guinea faces an epidemic of a 'magnitude never before seen', with nearly 80 deaths so far. So what's being done to stop its spread?
theguardian.com, Tuesday 1 April 2014 17.21 BST
The medical aid charity Médecins sans Frontières warned this week that Guinea faces an Ebola epidemic “of a magnitude never before seen” as the nation’s president appealed for calm amid a rising death toll.
Since January, Guinea health authorities have reported more than 150 suspected cases and nearly 80 deaths, scattered far across the country. The outbreak has led to travel alerts and thrust one of the world’s most lethal infectious diseases back into the spotlight.
What is Ebola?
"One of the most virulent viral diseases known to humankind", reads the WHO's alarming first sentence on Ebola, the group of five viruses with a case fatality ranging from 25-90% in humans. Ebola infects humans through direct contact with a sick person's (or animal's) blood or bodily fluids, or through contact with contaminated objects (such as needles and bedsheets). A "viral haemorrhagic fever", symptoms at first resemble those of a normal fever, infections spread quickly among family and friends caring for sick people, and then among medical staff who haven't confirmed the cause of sickness.
Unfortunately, the disease shares early symptoms with any number of other other illnesses, ranging from a passing fever to malaria, cholera and meningitis. Between two and 21 days, infected people might have red eyes and a rash, or suddenly experience "onset of fever, intense weakness, muscle pain and sore throat", "followed by vomiting, diarrhea, rash, impaired kidney and liver function, and in some cases, both internal and external bleeding".
Contagion survives so long as the virus is in people's blood and secretions, and with no vaccine or specialized treatment, victims must simply try to beat the disease with "intensive supportive care" to fight off near constant dehydration. Ebola requires lab tests to confirm, and usually appears around tropical rainforests.
Where is it?
Guinea, the west African country with a sliver of land reaching the Atlantic, is the broad center of March's outbreak. On 23 March, authorities confirmed infections nationwide, from rural, southern towns to its capital, the port city of Conakry, where over two million people live. As doctors must quarantine the sick with extreme precaution, the wide range of infections could be disastrous. As of Monday, there have been 78 deaths from 122 suspected cases since January; the nation's health ministry has confirmed 22 of those deaths as due to Ebola. It took six weeks for the ministry to confirm Ebola since suspected cases first appeared.
On Tuesday, Saudi Arabia suspended visas for people from Guinea and Liberia. Senegal, to the north, has closed its borders. Liberia, to the south, has reported four deaths among seven suspected and confirmed cases. Sierra Leone, almost surrounded by Guinea's borders, reports five suspected cases, and has begun screening anyone who wants to cross the border. Reuters reports that the regional airline Gambia Bird has delayed service to Conakry, the capital. A coordinator for Médecins sans Frontières told the BBC that this could be "an epidemic of a magnitude never before seen". Liberia has warned people to stop having sex, kissing and shaking hands, and many people have taken to wearing gloves.
What's being done?
Without a vaccine or specific treatment, teams try to contain an outbreak immediately, meaning quarantine of sick people and the destruction or sterilization of anything that may be contaminated. Careful, standard practices – washing hands, wearing masks and gloves, clean gowns and safe injections – can mean the difference between life and death.
Medical staff must often wear full-body protection when helping the sick, who may be placed in containment tents. Preventing further infection may also mean culling and burning infected animals, restricting movement from towns and quickly burying the dead. In short, everything possible is done to reduce and limit contact between infected people and animals. Doctors' can treat infections that would complicate patient's condition, but they are otherwise limited to helping sick people stay hydrated and breathe healthily. The BBC reports that Guinea has banned the sale and eating of bats, which are often served in the country's southern forests.
Besides efforts by national health ministries, several international groups, including the WHO and Doctors Without Borders, are helping investigate and respond. The CDC has issued a travel alert for Guinea, and the EU pledged €500,000 to fight the highly contagious disease.
Where did Ebola come from?
In 1976, the first known incidents of the disease broke out in two places simultaneously: one in Nzara, Sudan, and the other in the village of Yambuku, near the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Where the disease survives between outbreaks, called its "reservoir", is not known, though fruit bats are a suspected "natural host". Humans have contracted the disease through contact with chimpanzees, gorillas, monkeys, pigs, bats and other mammals, especially those found dead.
Ebola has periodically broken out in remote villages, all in Africa, with outbreaks in the DRC and Uganda as recently as 2012, and with death tolls reaching 187 in the DRC in 2007 and 224 in Uganda in 2000. Monkeys, imported to the US from the Philippines in the 1990s, were found to have a similar species of virus, and though several people were infected, none fell ill. (The dangers of a virus like Ebola were explored in the 1995 film Outbreak, in which an infected monkey is set loose in America.)
In labs in England and Russia there have been three total cases of contamination causing illness.
New Zealand ranked first in the world for social and environmental progress
Switzerland, Iceland and the Netherlands also scored well in Social Progress Index, which takes focus off economic output
theguardian.com, Thursday 3 April 2014 06.37 BST
New Zealand has come first in a global index that ranks countries by social and environmental performance rather than economic output in a drive to make social progress a priority for politicians and businesses.
The Social Progress Index (SPI), published on Thursday, rates 132 countries on more than 50 indicators, including health, sanitation, shelter, personal safety, access to information, sustainability, tolerance and inclusion and access to education.
It asks questions such as whether a country can satisfy its people's basic needs and whether it has the infrastructure and capacity to allow its citizens to improve the quality of their lives and reach their full potential.
"The index shows that economic growth does not automatically lead to social progress," Michael Green, executive director of the Social Progress Imperative, a non-profit organisation that publishes the index, said.
"If we are to tackle problems such as poverty and inequality, it shows that measuring economic growth alone is not enough."
New Zealand received high scores for personal rights and freedom, internet access and school enrolment. It was followed in the top 10 by Switzerland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden, Canada, Finland, Denmark and Australia.
Some of the world's largest economies did not fare so well, with Germany in 12th place, the United Kingdom in 13th, Japan 14th, the United States 16th and France 20th. All of them except Germany scored poorly on environmental sustainability.
The United States also ranked poorly on health and wellness – despite being a top spender on healthcare – and on access to basic knowledge, with just 92% of children in school.
France lagged Slovenia (18th) and Estonia (19th) and had low scores on sustainability and opportunity, especially tolerance and inclusion. Italy was in 29th place, hurt by poor access to advanced education, sustainability and tolerance and inclusion.
The low rankings of China (90th) and India (102nd) showed that their rapid economic growth is not yet being converted into better lives for their citizens, said Green.
Chad ranked last, below Central African Republic, Burundi, Guinea, Sudan, Angola, Niger, Yemen, Pakistan and Nigeria.
Even though economic growth and social progress are correlated, especially for poorer countries, the connection is far from automatic, said Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter, one of the index's backers.
"The SPI finds that all economic growth is not equal," he said.
Costa Rica and South Africa, for example, have similar levels of gross domestic product (GDP), the most commonly used indicator for economic performance. But the central American nation achieves much greater social progress than South Africa thanks to progressive environmental and healthcare policies.
Social upheavals around the world prompted by citizens' frustration over a lack of opportunities and inequality are also a sign that economic performance alone is not an adequate measure of progress, said Green.
Iceland’s prime minister says climate change offers ‘great opportunities’ for his country
By Agence France-Presse
Wednesday, April 2, 2014 15:27 EDT
Icelandic Prime Minister Sigmundur David Gunnlaugsson said Wednesday that climate change will create “great opportunities” for the Nordic island nation in the future.
“There will be water shortages, energy will be more expensive, there will be land shortages so it is predicted that food prices will rise in the foreseeable future,” he told public broadcaster RUV.
Referring to predictions from U.S. climate scientist Laurence C. Smith that there will be winners and losers from climate change by 2050, the Icelandic premier said his country was one of those that are expected to prosper.
“Great opportunities are opening up in the north in regard to shipping routes, in regard to oil and gas production and other raw materials and not least in regard to food production,” he said.
Gunnlaugsson’s comments angered opposition politicians.
“It is not responsible to view climate change from the narrow interests of Iceland,” said Left-Green Movement leader Katrin Jakobsdottir, adding that there “may turn out to be not such great opportunities in the end”.
On Monday the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warned of a “severe, pervasive and irreversible impact” if nothing is done to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
The IPCC warned that untamed greenhouse gas emissions may cost trillions of dollars in damage to property and ecosystems, and in bills for shoring up climate defences.