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Record average temperatures highlight the urgent need to agree a deal on emissions at the UN climate change talks in Lima.
Vehicles drive by a 134ft-high thermometer in Baker, California. Average land and sea surface temperatures have reached record levels in 2014. Photograph: Ethan Miller/Getty Images.
Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian.
The world is on course for the hottest year ever in 2014, the United Nations weather agency said on Wednesday, heightening the sense of urgency around climate change negotiations underway in Lima.
Preliminary estimates from the World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) found global average land and sea surface temperatures for the first 10 months of 2014 had soared higher than ever recorded.
The findings – broadly in line with those of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa) and other scientific agencies – indicate that by year-end 2014 will break all previous high temperature records.
The steady escalation of greenhouse gas emissions, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, have seen a succession of record-breaking years for temperature since the dawning of the 21st century and 2014 promises to be no exception, the WMO said.
“Fourteen of the 15 warmest years on record have all occurred in the 21st century,” said the WMO’s secretary-general Michel Jarraud. “What we saw in 2014 is consistent with what we expect from a changing climate.
“Record-breaking heat combined with torrential rainfall and floods destroyed livelihoods and ruined lives. What is particularly unusual and alarming this year are the high temperatures of vast areas of the ocean surface, including in the northern hemisphere,” he said.
The new evidence provided by the WMO report of the gathering risks of climate change undercut the optimism expressed by negotiators from industrialised countries at the opening of the Lima talks.
Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate official, said the findings drove home the urgency of reaching a deal. Negotiations have been grinding on for more than 20 years.
“Our climate is changing and every year the risks of extreme weather events and impacts on humanity rise,” she said.
Ed Davey, the UK climate secretary, said the UN climate talks were critical to stop temperatures rising to dangerous levels. “More record warm temperatures in the UK and across the world are yet more evidence that we need to act urgently to prevent dangerous climate change,” he said.
Officials from nearly 200 countries will spend the next two weeks in Lima working to agree on a plan to cut global greenhouse gas emissions fast enough and deeply enough to limit warming to 2C above pre-industrial times, the official objective of the UN talks.
But even that goal – which scientists say may not go far enough to prevent low-lying island states from drowning in rising seas – may be moving beyond reach.
“When confronted with numbers like these, the challenge to stablise global warming below dangerous levels can seem daunting indeed,” Michael Mann, the climate scientist, said. “The globe is warming, ice is melting, and our climate is changing, as a result. And the damage is being felt – in the forms of more destructive weather extremes, more devastating wildfires, and unprecedented threats to the survival of endangered animal species.”
He said the Lima climate talks – and a summit scheduled for Paris at the end of next year – were “perhaps our last real opportunity to stave off truly dangerous and irreversible world-wide changes in our climate.”
Bill McKibben, leader of the 350.org campaign group, saw the findings as a call to arms to climate activists. “If you thought 2014 was hot, wait ‘til you see 2015. This means we need to turn up the flame even higher under the fossil fuel companies that are frying our planet,” he said.
Londoners enjoying record temperatures at Halloween. Photograph: Rob Stothard / Getty Images.
The WMO report found the global average air temperature over land and sea surface for January to October was about 0.57C above the average of 14C for the 1961-1990 reference period, and 0.09C above the average for the past 10 years (2004-2013).
The most striking evidence of warming was probably in the oceans, however. Most of the excess heat trapped in the atmosphere by greenhouse gas emissions ends up in the oceans.
The WMO said global sea surface temperatures were 0.45C higher than the average over the last 50 years.
If November and December continue on the same course, then 2014 will edge out 2010, 2005 and 1998 as the hottest years ever known – but only by a few hundredths of a degree. Different data sets also show slightly different rankings, the WMO said.
In any event, the trend line is clear. The world is getting warmer, especially the oceans. Those higher temperatures were already exacting a toll, in terms of heavy rainfall and flooding in some countries, and extreme drought in others, the WMO said.
The agency dismissed outright the notion posed by some climate deniers of a pause in the warming trend.
“There is no standstill in global warming,” Jarraud said.
But scientists say even those targets are not enough to limit warming to 2C, and other big carbon polluters such as India, Russia, and Australia have yet to come on board.
Meanwhile, there were early signs of tension between the US and EU over the legal structure of the agreement that is due to be adopted in Paris next year.
Campaign groups monitoring the talks called on negotiators to take the new WMO findings to heart.
“The fact that we’re tracking towards the hottest year on record should send chills through anyone who says they care about climate change – especially negotiators at the UN climate talks here in Lima,” said Samantha Smith, who heads WWF’s climate and energy initiative. “This is more scientific evidence of the real impact climate change is having on our world. The changes will be felt the most by the most vulnerable people, whose lives and livelihoods are already being affected.”
An almost dried up reservoir in Pingdingshan, central China’s Henan province, where severe drought damaged vast areas of farmland. Photograph: STR / AFP / Getty Images.
The WMO found western North America, Europe, eastern Eurasia, much of Africa, large areas of South America and southern and western Australia were especially warm. South Africa, Australia, and Argentina started the year with blistering heat waves.
However, the US and Canada ushered in 2014 with the chill Arctic winds of the polar vortex. Central Russia also recorded cooler than average conditions for the year.
Europe also experienced extreme weather, with the UK buffeted by storms. A separate temperature data set, the world’s longest continuous record, showed England was on track for the hottest year in over three centuries. Higher temperatures cause more evaporation and more rain, and 2014 began with England’s wettest winter in over 250 years, leading to widespread flooding.
In Serbia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, more than two million people were caught up in severe flooding. Parts of Turkey saw five times the normal amount of rain, and France experienced its wettest summer since 1959.
South Asia also experienced heavy rains, with severe flooding in northern Bangladesh, northern Pakistan and India, affecting millions of people in August and September.
For other parts of the world, however, 2014 brought drought. Rainfall in parts of the Yellow River basin in China were less than half of the summer average. A large swathe of the western US continued under drought. New South Wales and southeast Queensland in Australia also went without rain.
£2.3bn for flood defences in England is not new money, and spending has gone backwards under this Tory-led government despite its claims to the contrary.
‘The government … is having to rely on councils to meet three-quarters of the costs as the private sector sit on their hands. It is difficult to see how cash-strapped local authorities will be able to raise anything like £600m for flood defences in the next six years.’ Photograph: Adrian Sherratt/Alamy
Maria Eagle MP, shadow environment secretary for the Labour party.
Climate change is a serious threat to national security and last year’s winter storms highlighted the cost, damages and disruption that extreme weather can cause. Yet within the first six months of the coalition, David Cameron cut the flood protection budget by over £100m, leaving many communities, including the South West, overly exposed.
Ever since then the government has been playing catch up and that’s what today’s promise of £2.3billion for flood defence schemes is all about.
Communities at risk of flooding won’t buy this spin from David Cameron. The £2.3bn is not new money, instead it is another re-announcement of capital funding confirmed a year ago. As a result the Committee on Climate Change claims that the government’s plans will leave 80,000 additional properties at significant risk of flooding in the next five years alone. There were even reports over the weekend that these plans contain a £500m black hole.
There are some heroic assumptions underlying these plans. The government has assumed it can raise £600m of the £2.3bn from its ‘partnership funding programme’, four times more than at present. The programme includes contributions from both the public and private sectors. Yet this has been a disaster.
Not only has the government failed to raise even the original target of £140m in this Parliament, it is having to rely on councils to meet three-quarters of the costs as the private sector sit on their hands. It is difficult to see how cash-strapped local authorities will be able to raise anything like £600m for flood defences in the next six years.
The reality is that flood risk management has gone backwards under this Tory-led government. Despite repeatedly telling us that they’re spending ‘more than ever’ and promising that “money is no object” they have been found out time and time again. Just last month the National Audit Office confirmed that David Cameron has cut flood defence spending by 10% in real terms since 2010.
This same short-term approach has been applied to the ongoing maintenance of flood defences which were cut by 20% in 2010. As a result the Committee on Climate Change has said that three-quarters of existing flood defences are not being maintained to their identified need. This will end up costing the taxpayer more in the long-term because maintaining existing flood defence systems can be among the most cost-effective use of resources.
This replaces The Guardian’s video which was not available to share.
Communities at risk of flooding deserve a proper long-term plan for infrastructure investment, including flooding. That is why Labour has called for an Independent National Infrastructure Commission to set out its flood defence spending in the context of a 25-30 year infrastructure plan.
Taking climate change seriously is not something only to be done a few months before an election. Voters won’t be fooled by the prime minister who pledged to lead the “greenest government ever” and then instructed his aides to “cut the green crap”.
Maria Eagle MP is Labour’s shadow environment secretary.
Historic innovations that have been adopted too hastily with grave unforeseen impacts provide cautionary examples for potential side effects of fracking, says report by government’s chief scientist Mark Walport.
The world could tackle climate change with energy efficiency and renewable energy alone but vested interests in the fossil fuel industry stand in the way, says report. Photograph: Julie Dermansky/Corbis
Adam Vaughan, The Guardian.
Fracking carries potential risks on a par with those from thalidomide, tobacco and asbestos, warns a report produced by the government’s chief scientific adviser.
The flagship annual report by the UK’s chief scientist, Mark Walport, argues that history holds many examples of innovations that were adopted hastily and later had serious negative environmental and health impacts.
The controversial technique, which involves pumping chemicals, sand and water at high pressure underground to fracture shale rock and release the gas within, has been strongly backed by the government with David Cameron saying the UK is “going all out for shale”.
But environmentalists fear that fracking could contaminate water supplies, bring heavy lorry traffic to rural areas, displace investment in renewable energy and accelerate global warming.
The chief scientific adviser’s report appears to echo those fears. “History presents plenty of examples of innovation trajectories that later proved to be problematic — for instance involving asbestos, benzene, thalidomide, dioxins, lead in petrol, tobacco, many pesticides, mercury, chlorine and endocrine-disrupting compounds…” it says.
“In all these and many other cases, delayed recognition of adverse effects incurred not only serious environmental or health impacts, but massive expense and reductions in competitiveness for firms and economies persisting in the wrong path.”
Thalidomide was one of the worst drug scandals in modern history, killing 80,000 babies and maiming 20,000 babies after it was taken by expectant mothers.
Fracking provides a potentially similar example today, the report warns: “… innovations reinforcing fossil fuel energy strategies — such as hydraulic fracturing — arguably offer a contemporary prospective example.”
The chapter, written by Prof Andrew Stirling of the University of Sussex, also argues that the UK and the world could tackle climate change with energy efficiency and renewable energy alone but vested interests in the fossil fuel industry stand in the way.
There is a “clear feasibility of strategies built entirely around energy efficiency and renewable energy”, the report, published earlier this month, says. “Yet one of the main obstacles to this lies in high-profile self-fulfilling assertions to the contrary, including by authoritative policy figures.”
“In energy… the obstacles to less-favoured strategies [such as energy efficiency and renewables] are typically more commercial, institutional and cultural than they are technical. Among the most potent of these political obstructions are claims from partisan interests — such as incumbent nuclear or fossil fuel industries — that there is no alternative to their favoured innovations and policies.”
A spokesman for the Royal Academy of Engineering, which produced an influential 2012 report on shale gas with the Royal Society that concluded it could be safe if it was properly regulated, said the risks from fracking were very low.
“Our conclusion was that if carried out to highest standards of best practice, the risks are very low for any environmental contamination. The most serious risks come in the drilling and casing and surface operations rather than the fracturing itself.”
“You can’t eliminate the risk of something going wrong, but you can monitor very closely and be very open and transparent about what’s going on.”
On the chief scientific adviser’s report, he said: “I think he’s making a very broad and general point.”
Greenpeace UK’s energy campaigner, Louise Hutchins, said: “This is a naked-emperor moment for the government’s dash to frack. Ministers are being warned by their own chief scientist that we don’t know anywhere near enough about the potential side effects of shale drilling to trust this industry. The report is right to raise concerns about not just the potential environmental and health impact but also the economic costs of betting huge resources on an unproven industry. Ministers should listen to this appeal to reason and subject their shale push to a sobering reality check.”
British documentary maker Danny Cooke’s video Postcards from Pripyat, is first time area has been filmed from the air.
Dodgem cars at the abandoned Pripyat amusement park near Chernobyl. Photograph: Timothy Swope/Alamy.
Chris Johnston, The Guardian.
A camera mounted on a drone has revealed the eerie post-apocalyptic landscape of a town abandoned after the nuclear power station at Chernobyl exploded nearly three decades ago.
The British documentary maker Danny Cooke has travelled to Pripyat, just a few miles from the power plant, which was once home to 50,000 people. It was evacuated soon after the disaster on 26 April 1986 that killed 31 people and sent large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere over the western part of the then Soviet Union and Europe as far as away Wales.
His video, Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl, marks the first time the area has been seen from the air. He shot the footage while working on a segment for US current affairs programme 60 Minutes on CBS, which was broadcast last week.
Cooke’s haunting three-minute film shows sights such as a Ferris wheel in an amusement park quietly rusting away. The park had been due to open for the first time just days after the disaster. The sun is shining as the wind rustles the lush vegetation that is slowly taking over the decaying buildings and facilities.
The Devon-based film-maker also sent the drone into a crumbling indoor swimming pool and over factories and apartment buildings where the only sign of life is the weeds growing on the roof.
“Chernobyl is one of the most interesting and dangerous places I’ve been,” Cooke said. “There was something serene, yet highly disturbing about this place. Time has stood still and there are memories of past happenings floating around us.”
It is not until the drone is sent rising above the treetops that viewers can see the vast dome being built to place over the damaged reactor.
There is still so much radiation spewing from it that the 1,400 workers are building the 20,000-tonne steel structure nearby, shielded from the radiation by a huge concrete wall. When the 190m-high dome is finished it will be inched into place and sealed over the defunct power plant.
Funding for the project of almost £500m was pledged by 28 countries including Britain in 2011, but it has faced a series of delays following the conflict in Ukraine.
Despite the 20-mile exclusion zone around Chernobyl, some former residents returned to the area and it has also become something of a nature reserve and an attraction for a certain type of tourist.
Cooke used a DJI Phantom 2 drone and a Canon 7D on his shoot.
A tidewater glacier on the Antarctic coast. Wikicommons.
The Moscow Times.
The world’s largest landlocked country, Kazakhstan, has joined the Antarctic Treaty, an international agreement on the southern continent’s neutrality, Interfax reported Friday.
The decree by President Nursultan Nazarbayev, available online, provides no reason for the move.
But the Central Asian country has shown an interest in the Antarctic before, with officials even identifying it as a potential source of drinking water for the arid steppe nation.
The ex-Soviet country staged its first expedition to the South Pole in 2011, tasked with bringing back a “sample of clear air,” Mir24.tv reported at the time.
Local media also reported in 2012 plans for a Kazakh station in the Antarctic, though online reports have since been deleted.
Nazarbayev gave the order to join the treaty earlier this month, but the move had gone under the public radar until this week.
The Antarctic Treaty, which entered into force in 1961, formed the basis of the modern approach to the Antarctic: that it should be used only for peaceful research and tourism purposes.
Contrary to popular belief, the treaty — which Kazakhstan was the 51st country to ratify — does not explicitly prohibit territorial claims or economic activity in the Antarctic.
Limited economic activity is ongoing in the Antarctic region, most notably in the ocean around the continent, a territory popular with fishermen. Last month, Russia and China blocked an EU-Australian plan to create a marine reserve covering at least one million square kilometers in the eastern Antarctic.
There are currently about 70 research stations on the continent devoted to a range of topics, ranging from the unique subglacial Lake Vostok to the odd recent behavior of seals, who are increasingly attempting to mate with penguins before, in some cases, devouring them.