Monday, August 18, 2008

South Asia monsoon rains kill 147 as thousands rescued

From: Reuters

LUCKNOW, India (Reuters) - Heavy monsoon rains have triggered floods across South Asia in which 147 people have been killed in the past week as the downpours swamped villages and caused landslides, officials said on Monday.

Most of the deaths were due to house collapses triggered by incessant rains in India and Bangladesh. Thousands more have been evacuated across the region after their homes were flooded.

In the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, hundreds of old buildings collapsed, killing 73 people in the past two days, officials said.

"The victims were all very poor people, living in old and dilapidated buildings," said senior government official Balwinder Kumar. "So far we have received reports about the partial or full collapse of as many as 890 houses."

More rain was forecast in the next 48 hours and authorities fear the crisis could worsen.

More than 60 people were killed in flooding in India's southern state of Andhra Pradesh, with tens of thousands more moved to safety in makeshift camps.

In neighboring Bangladesh, at least 14 people were killed, a dozen injured and 10 others feared trapped under the rubble of collapsed houses in landslides in the port city of Chittagong and the coastal town of Cox's Bazar on Monday, officials said.

Every year monsoon rains leave a trail of death and destruction across South Asia, but much of the economy in a largely agricultural region depends on the downpours.

In the Himalayan nation of Nepal, thousands of villagers were moved to safety on Monday after a river in the southeast breached a dam and inundated huge swathes of crop land, police said.

More than 4,000 people from three villages had already been moved to safety in Nepal's Sunsari district after the Koshi river broke an embankment, police official Yadav Khanal said.

"The situation is getting worse and dangerous," Khanal said.

"No one has been killed so far but flood waters have submerged parts of a highway."

Sunsari lies in Nepal's southern plains about 200 km (125 miles) southeast of Kathmandu.

(Additional reporting by Gopal Sharma in Kathmandu, Serajul Islam Quadir and Nazimuddin Shyamol in Chittagong; Writing by Bappa Majumdar; Editing by Paul Tait)

In search of world justice

n search of world justice

The burden of climate change solutions can only be equitably shared via an international court

'It is a trite observation that environmental problems, although they closely affect municipal laws, are essentially international; and that the main structure of control can therefore be no other than that of international law." Thus wrote Robert Jennings QC, a former president of the international court of justice, in his foreword to the first edition of Philippe Sands's Principles of International Environmental Law, published in 1995 - years before the potential effects of climate change had transformed public perceptions. Yet even today, after all the millions of words that have been written on the subject of climate change, we seem no closer to establishing that "structure of control". Indeed, Jennings's observation that the problem is mainly to be solved by legal means might now seem not so much trite as unorthodox, bold or even eccentric.

The potential effects of climate change and the urgency of efforts to tackle it have been given a new focus by recent developments, including reports by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Nicholas Stern on behalf of the UK government. Although few deny the necessity of finding solutions, even fewer have any to hand. International summit statements only confirm the diplomatic efforts involved in attaining any kind of consensus.

The understandable reluctance of developing countries to sign up to carbon commitments - unless the developed world is prepared to make an equitable contribution - calls for more radical options. Those options must be realised at state, regional and international levels, and they will require political, economic and legal solutions.

In this mix, international legal instruments are crucial. The existing tools lack the necessary jurisdiction, clout and transparency. The time is ripe for a serious consideration of an international court for the environment. Such a court was mooted in Washington in 1999, but sank without trace. Today, however, we cannot afford to drop the ball.

Ideally, such a court would be compulsory and would include a convention on the right to a healthy environment and deliver transparency in access to data and in its proceedings. It would include a scientific body to assess technical issues and a mechanism to avoid "forum shopping" - that is, litigants taking their pick of the most propitious court available.

Of course, regulations and sanctions alone cannot deliver a global solution to problems of climate change, but without such components the incentive for individual countries to address those problems - and to achieve solutions that are politically acceptable within their own jurisdictions - will be much reduced.

As far as the business community is concerned, an international court for the environment would offer a centralised system accessible to a range of actors, an enhanced body of law regarding environmental issues, and consistency in judicial resolution of environmental disputes. Such a court would also bring an increased focus on preventative measures, a set of global standards of care, and the facilitation and enforcement of environmental treaties. In addition, it could persuade the world business community to develop risk-management systems and improve present practices, thereby reducing the likelihood of environmental catastrophe.

Only an impartial adjudicating body is capable of providing the catalyst for a global consensus as to the fairest way to distribute the burdens that accompany solutions to the climate change problem. Whatever difficulties may lie in the path of such solutions, the benefits will be greater.

· Stephen Hockman QC is a former chairman of the Bar Council; a symposium on an international court of the environment is to be held in London in November

Climate change causes birds to lay eggs early

Climate change causes birds to lay eggs early

Conservationists worry that common species of British birds could emerge before suitable food is available

A robin sings

Robins are one of Britain's popular birds hatching their eggs earlier because of climate change. Photograph: Sue Tranter/RSPB

Climate change is making British birds lay their eggs earlier in the year, according to a major survey of how common species are changing their behaviour to cope with warmer temperatures.

Analysis of 30,000 nests shows that birds such as the chaffinch and the robin are laying their eggs about a week earlier than in the 1960s. A similar pattern has been seen for other species, such as blue tits, great tits and swallows.

The survey also found that birds were altering their nesting and migration patterns, and travelling further to find food. The change in egg-laying behaviour has prompted concerns that young birds could emerge in spring before suitable food is available.

Matt Murphy, ornithologist for the Countryside Council for Wales said climate change was affecting the breeding patterns of pied flycatchers living in Welsh oak woodlands.

He said: "They appear to be breeding earlier across a number of sites and the worry is they may eventually breed so early they are out of sync with their major food source of caterpillars."

The annual State of the UK's Birds report was produced by several conservation groups, including the RSPB, Natural England and the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust. It shows that drier summers are forcing species such as the song thrush to rear fewer chicks. The birds rely on earthworms for food, which are harder to find in drier ground.

Dr Mark Avery, conservation director for the RSPB, said: "This year's report shows that climate change is with us already and from our gardens to our seas, birds are having to respond rapidly to climate change simply to survive. As often before, birds are acting like the canaries in a mine shaft and giving us early warning of dangerous change."

The report found many of the UK's farmland and woodland birds species were continuing to decline, particularly specialists that require a particular habitat, such as the lesser-spotted woodpecker.

In Scotland, there has been a fall in the breeding success of seabirds such as guillemots, puffins and kittiwakes, as warming sea temperatures affect the food chain.

Conservationists are concerned the drop in productivity, as a result of a lack of sandeels, will mean fewer breeding birds and continued decline of key species.

The critically endangered Balearic shearwater, another seabird, has been spotted more often in the UK, as climate change forces it to travel further to find fish.

But the report said there have been large declines in numbers of over-wintering wading birds such as purple sandpipers, ringed plovers and dunlins, which come to the UK's estuaries from northerly and easterly breeding grounds.

It said the birds could be "short stopping" - remaining on the continent as the conditions there become more suitable in the winter.

The report said that a dramatic reduction in duck numbers spending the winter at Lough Neagh in Northern Ireland, suggested some key bodies of water in Europe were no longer freezing over.

Current climate models 'ignoring brown carbon'

From: , Science and Development Network, More from this Affiliate

Current climate models 'ignoring brown carbon'


[BEIJING] Scientists have found that air pollution from East Asia contains an abundance of 'brown carbon' particles and say that atmospheric models need updating to incorporate their effect.

Current climate models take into account two types of aerosol carbon — organic carbon and black carbon — that arise from the burning of fossil fuels or biomass.

Black carbon strongly warms the atmosphere by absorbing light, while organic carbon absorbs light at a negligible level and has no warming effect.

It has already been claimed black carbon plays a much larger role in global warming than estimates made by the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (see Black carbon climate danger 'underestimated').

But this approximation is too simple, according to Peter Crozier, an associate professor at Arizona State University (ASU) in the United States, whose team published their research in Science last week (8 August).

According to the authors, the method that is currently used to measure the warming effect of different types of particle doesn't take into account the wide variations that can occur between types of carbon from different sources.

They instead used a technique based on a specialised type of electron microscope to directly determine the optical properties of individual carbon particles, and found that samples taken from above the Yellow Sea, east of China, have an abundance of brown carbon particles.

"Brown carbon has light absorbing properties that lie between strongly absorbing black carbon and materials that only scatter light and do not absorb," co-author James Anderson, a research scientist at ASU's Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, told SciDev.Net.

He adds that brown carbon both cools the Earth's surface and warms the atmosphere, resulting in a complex role in global warming, hence the necessity to incorporate it into climate models.

Hu Guoquan, a senior scientist at the Beijing-based National Climate Centre, welcomes the study, saying it highlights the uncertainties of IPCC models.

"But more studies on the chemical structure and size of brown carbon particles must be done," he told SciDev.Net.

In addition, Hu says, as many carbon aerosols pollutants are emitted by China or India — which have massive combustion of fossil fuels and biomass — judging their accurate warming or cooling effect must be done cautiously and avoid claims without sufficient scientific evidence, as this will contribute to determining the nations' responsibilities in global warming.

Gulf 'dead zone' suffocating fish and livelihood

By Allan Chernoff
CNN Senior Correspondent

GULF OF MEXICO (CNN) -- Fisherman Terry Pizani turns his captain's wheel with a mournful expression on his face. Far below, the fishing grounds off the Louisiana coast where the 63-year-old has made a living for five decades have become an aquatic graveyard known as a "dead zone."

Fisherman Terry Pizani's shrimp catch is not as plentiful because of the Gulf of Mexico's "dead zone."

Fisherman Terry Pizani's shrimp catch is not as plentiful because of the Gulf of Mexico's "dead zone."

"You don't see nothing," he said. "Usually you see bait fish on the water. You don't see no bait fish, nothing. Nothing's there.

"I don't have no kind of testing material to test the water, but I know something's wrong."

Oceanographers who test the Gulf of Mexico waters every month confirm the veteran fisherman is right.

"We're not finding enough oxygen to support life, aquatic life," said scientist Lora Pride aboard the Pelican, the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium research vessel that studies the Gulf.

CNN traveled aboard the ship August 14-15 as consortium researchers sent sensors to the bottom of the sea, scooped up sediment and collected water samples for analysis at nine testing stations in the Gulf.

As an oxygen meter sank far below the Pelican, Pride pointed to an onboard computer screen displaying the meter's findings in real time.

"This green line is the oxygen right here and at the bottom it's reading less than 2 milligrams per liter," Pride said.

Six of the nine stations revealed such oxygen-deprived, hypoxic water, compared to a normal reading of 6 milligrams per liter.

As Pride and her crew aboard the Pelican monitored the Gulf waters, the journal Science last week published a study that reveals there are more than 400 dead zones around the globe, double the number found by the United Nations two years ago.

One of the major dead zones is in the Gulf of Mexico. It is 8,000 square miles, nearly the size of New Jersey, according to the marine consortium's annual measurement completed in July.

"There's no oxygen in the water for shrimp, crabs, fish to live," said Nancy Rabalais, executive director of the consortium.

Fish and shrimp "can sense that and they start to move out of the area. Otherwise they would die. The animals that still remain in the sediments have to keep breathing. There is not enough oxygen and eventually they will die off," Rabalais said.

Scientists have been studying the Gulf's dead zone for about 20 years, although its existence has been known for decades. So why is oxygen disappearing from fishing waters in the Gulf of Mexico? The answer, scientists say, is found hundreds of miles to the north, up the Mississippi River in corn country.

Farmers in Iowa and across the Midwest use tons of nitrogen and phosphorous to make their cornfields more productive, which allows the farmers to take advantage of high corn prices resulting from growing demand from ethanol factories and developing countries.

Rain always causes some fertilizer to run off farmland, but this summer's historic flooding caused even more runoff into rivers that flow into the Mississippi.

"That's the primary source of the nutrients that go to the Gulf of Mexico," said Rabalais. "And so the size of the low-oxygen zone has increased in proportion to these nutrients reaching the Gulf."

Fertilizer flowing into the Gulf of Mexico triggers an overgrowth of microscopic algae, which eventually die and fall to the bottom.

"When they die, they decompose, and decomposition requires oxygen," said Pride. "So these things will fall to the bottom and as they decompose they consume oxygen."

So much oxygen is taken from the water that slow-moving sea life like clams, small crabs, starfish and snails suffocate.

"We go diving down there quite frequently," said Melissa Baustain, a doctoral candidate at Louisiana State University. "The deeper we go down in the water, it gets kind of scary because there's nothing there. There's no fish, there's no organisms alive, so it's just us," Baustain said.

"It's dark and it's turbid because all that algae that is dying, that's sinking through the water column."

To find lots of shrimp, fishermen like Pizani have to travel to the edge of the dead zone. He calculated that it costs him $450-a-day in diesel fuel to fish.

"You just gotta keep going miles and miles and miles and hopefully you'll run into something," he said. "The fuel costs are so high it's just not feasible to get out there unless you can catch a boatload, really make any money out of it."

So, many boats are idle. Others are staying away from their home port in Grand Isle, Louisiana, a disaster for seafood processor Dean Blanchard, who buys shrimp from fishermen.

"All my boats have to go somewhere else to make a living. It's a shame," Blanchard said.

"This is the prime shrimping ground in the country right here and it shut us down. It just shut us down. It's unreal."

With demand for corn growing, scientists say the dead zone could expand in coming years.


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