Warm ice, cold consequences

In the wake of the floods in Uttarkhand, some officials blamed the disaster on global warming which has been linked to a rise in extreme weather events. In this instance, the disaster has been shown to be at least part man-made – the toll reflects the hazards of unplanned development and inadequate disaster preparedness in a region prone to flash floods and landslides.

But there is still good reason to be concerned about the changing climate in the Himalayas. Research suggests that the mountainous region may be on the frontlines of global warming, with temperatures rising faster than average and a host of consequent effects already being observed – from melting glaciers and declining snowfall to shifting plant species and changing seasons.

Click here to read the rest of this June 2013 piece.

Up in the air? Not really

In Maharashtra a few months ago, BJP president Rajnath Singh drew a link between global warming and the ongoing drought in the state, considered the worst since 1972. He wasn’t the only one to make that connection : in an age of volatile weather, it’s become almost common to look for links between global warming and the latest extreme weather event – be it a hurricane, a drought or a heat-wave.

There are at least two problems with using climate change as a catchall explanation for all sorts of disasters. One is scientific. Although research suggests that extreme weather is increasing, it’s difficult to causally link warming to specific events. The second problem is the more important one: it can become too easy to blame bad weather – an anonymous, apparently unstoppable natural force – for the failures of man-made development policies. In the case of the Maharashtra drought, for instance, an analysis found that the rainfall deficit in the state today is no worse than in 1972. The current drought had more to do with poor water management, bad cropping practices (the shift to water-guzzling sugar cane, for one) and unviable irrigation projects.

Click here to read more.

Environmentalists dismayed by deforestation in Bangladesh

Thu, 26 Sep 2013

Author: Syful Islam

DHAKA, Bangladesh (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – At a time when climate change scientists and activists are calling for large-scale forest protection and reforestation to counter the impacts of climate change, the government of Bangladesh is cutting down large areas of forest to clear land it says is needed for human settlement and border security posts.

The low-lying country is among the countries most affected by climate change, suffering from poor rainfall, droughts, cyclones, river bank erosion and flash floods. These hazards have become increasingly frequent, exacerbating poverty and triggering massive migration to the country’s cities.

Although Bangladesh has received praise for its disaster preparedness and for its pioneering efforts to adapt to climate change, the government has raised concerns among environmentalists and others by taking steps to clear forests, including on protected land.


In the coastal district of Cox’s Bazar, which borders Myanmar, officials of the Bangladesh Border Guard have applied to the ministry of the environment and forests to take over 40 acres of forest, 90 percent of which is reserved woodland, in order to make room for a security post for a battalion of the guard. The ministry of home affairs says the post is needed to prevent illegal immigration by ethnic Rohingyas from Myanmar, as well as smuggling.

Even though the land has not yet been officially allocated by the environment ministry, trees have already been felled.

The forest department had established an arboretum on 20 acres of the land that is now being cleared, and had plans to expand it up to 200 acres. Some of the land was also designated for a plantation of 37,500 trees under the Bangladesh Climate Change Resilience Fund, a financing mechanism coordinated by the government. The plantation project has had to be relocated.


The government is also establishing a settlement for several thousand people in the Gazipur area, some 30 km (19 miles) from the capital, Dhaka, for which the Capital Development Authority has acquired 650 hectares (1,600 acres) of forest and agricultural land since 1995.

Protests by local people and environmental activists prevented authorities until recently from cutting down trees and taking full possession of the land, but since May of this year the trees have been felled and authorities have begun developing the land for housing.

Hundreds of thousands of trees have been cut down and wetlands filled with sand, according to Abu Naser Khan, chairman of Paribesh Bachao Andolon (Movement to Save the Environment). The environmental impacts of the deforestation of such a vast area were not considered, Khan said in a phone interview.

“Saving nature is very much crucial to keep the earth liveable for human beings. Much more tree plantation is also needed to offset the impacts of climate change,” Khan said.

Civil society organisations and environmental activists are protesting the destruction of forests, a move they say breaches environmental laws and is contrary to the government’s own policies.

Activists have held protests on land that is being deforested, as well as in Dhaka. Meanwhile, the Bangladesh Environment Lawyers Association has filed a case in the High Court seeking the cancellation of the Gazipur resettlement project. A bench of the court suspended a previous order allowing the government to carry on the project. A final resolution of the case is still pending.


The Bangladesh portion of the Sundarbans mangrove forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site, is also under threats from deforestation by encroachers.

A study published last month by the government’s Soil Research Development Institute found that some 50,000 hectares (124,000 acres) of land in the Sundarbans were deforested by individuals and businesses between 2000 and 2010, representing a loss of 8.3 percent of the total area of the world’s largest mangrove forest. The land was mainly converted to shrimp farms, according to the study.

The mangrove forest helped protect populations in coastal Khulna, Satkhira and Bagerhat districts during the massive cyclones Sidr and Aila, which hit in 2007 and in 2009, said Atiq Rahman, executive director of the Bangladesh Centre for Advanced Studies, a non-governmental organization that works on sustainable development issues.

According to Rahman, had there had been no forests in these districts, the damage from the two cyclones could have been much greater.

Ainun Nishat, an environmentalist and vice chancellor of Brac University in Dhaka, expressed sadness over the destruction of forest for the border battalion post.

“We need massive afforestation to cope with the impacts of climate change. We should try to save the forests as much as we can,” Nishat said.

According to Nishat, the impacts of climate change are becoming ever more evident.

“We have to be more prepared to face unusual happenings in the coming months and years,” he said.

Syful Islam is a journalist with the Financial Express newspaper in Bangladesh. He can be reached at: youths1990@yahoo.com


What the IPCC found: The big news from the new climate assessment

It’s extremely likely that humans have been the dominant cause of global warming since the 1950s, according to a landmark report from the world’s top panel of climate scientists. And we’re failing in our efforts to keep atmospheric warming below 2 degrees Celsius, or 3.6 Fahrenheit, which many scientists say is needed to avoid massive disruption.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change conducted an epic review of climate research over the last three years. It is summarizing the most important findings in its fifth assessment report, which offers the clearest picture science has ever painted of how humans are reshaping the climate and the planet.

Here, in a nutshell, are the main findings of a summary [PDF] of part one of the assessment report, which focuses on the science of climate change:

Human influence has been detected in warming of the atmosphere and the ocean, in changes in the global water cycle, in reductions in snow and ice, in global mean sea level rise, and in changes in some climate extremes. …

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, and since the 1950s, many of the observed changes are unprecedented over decades to millennia.

The IPCC also concludes that oceans have absorbed more of Earth’s excess heat since the 1990s than was the case during prior periods, explaining what climate deniers wrongly describe as a warming slowdown. And the panel revised downward the lower limit of warming that’s expected once we double the atmosphere’s CO2 concentrations, but left the upper limit unchanged from its 2007 assessment.

For background on the IPCC and this assessment report, be sure to check out this explainer.

And to save you the trouble of reading the dense 36-page summary released on Friday, we’ve rounded up highlights here — key numbers, facts, and graphs:

Continue reading at Grist: http://grist.org/climate-energy/what-the-ipcc-found-the-big-news-from-the-new-climate-assessment/

Conservation farming: Haryana village shows the way

Sandip Das | Taraori village, Haryana, India

Even the biggest revolutions are known to have modest beginnings. Taraori, a village tucked away in Haryana, is witnessing something similar. At a time when the rest of the state is grappling with rapid depletion of groundwater and soil contamination, this village stands out like a bright spot amid the gloom. And it’s new-generation farmers like Vikas Chaudhary who are ushering in a change.

Chaudhary, who owns 34 acre of cultivable land in this village (considered the country’s Basmati hub), has been practising conservation farming methods, such as zero tillage, direct seeding and soil health-based fertiliser application, for the last three years.

And Chaudhary is just one of the 20-odd farmers in the region using conservation farming methods. As a result, not only has the old practice of burning crop residues in the fields come to an end, but the use of fertiliser, particularly urea, has consistently fallen.

“Through frequent soil-testing, we have noticed that farmers have been using less potash, which improves water retention and improves resistance to diseases,” Chaudhary told FE.

Mukesh Kumar, another farmer with 25 acre of land, has also employed modern methods such as direct seeding (of paddy) and cultivation of wheat right after paddy has been harvested (zero tillage — where crops are planted without disturbing the soil).

However, Chaudhary and Kumar admit that convincing the 120-odd farmers in the village to adopt the modern, climate-resilient methods would be a challenging task as the increase in yield and input cost savings take at least three years to reflect.

“Traditionally, farmers in Haryana and Punjab have been sowing wheat after rice harvesting. They till their land 6-8 times, which pushes up the production cost, leads to delays in planting of wheat and results in loss of residual soil moisture,” said ML Jat, senior scientist in Global Conservation Agriculture Programme (GCAP) initiated by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Programme (CIMMYT).

Under GCAP, 20 villages in Haryana (around Karnal) have been selected for promotion of conservation farming methods. Out of that, five villages — Beer Narayana, Anjanthali, Pakhana, Sandhir and Taraori — have been piloted as ‘climate smart villages’.

According to a study conducted by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), zero tillage helps one save on planting time, fuel and water apart from improving the fertilier’s efficiency. The study also states that wheat yields from ‘zero tillage’ areas with residue retention were 0.5 tonne/hectare higher than those from conventional tillage areas.

Groundwater levels in Haryana are depleting fast because of overuse for agricultural needs, threatening the future of agriculture in a state that’s been at the forefront of wheat and rice production. Last year, data by the state’s agriculture department, said that over the past 12 years, most districts have seen an average fall of 7.29 metres in the water table.

“The challenges faced by farmers are going to be more pronounced as climate change worsens. Let’s hope that sustainable agricultural practices show promising results and lower costs. Punjab also needs to step up its efforts in this direction,” said Ashok Gulati, chairman, Commission for Agricultural Costs and Prices (CACP).

WTF is the IPCC?

You’re going to be hearing a lot about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change during the next couple of weeks. And then again in spurts during the coming year. The IPCC is the world’s foremost authority on — you guessed it — climate change. It’s the top cat, the big cheese, the heavyweight champion of the world community of climate experts.

So, WTF is it?

It’s a scientific group set up in 1988 by two divisions of the United Nations. The goal was to form a body that would provide policymakers with trusted, cutting-edge information about climate change.

Thousands of climate scientists from around the world volunteer their time to analyze and summarize the latest and best science. The result: Big, fat reports.

And now the IPCC is dropping its first big report in six years — a scientific inventory of the combined knowledge of all the brightest minds in climate science. Needless to say, climate skeptics are not too pleased at such a robust body of science coalescing before the world’s eyes.

Continue reading at Grist: http://grist.org/climate-energy/wtf-is-the-ipcc/

Pakistan’s crop yields hit by erratic rainfall

Saleem Shaikh
Science and Development News Network International
September 09, 2013
In his short climate video documentary, Saleem Shaikh reports on how changing rainfall patterns have been devastating crop yields for farmers in Pakistan. 

Weblink: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yy6ETXTDO8U
Alternative weblink: http://www.scidev.net/south-asia/environment/multimedia/erratic-weather-threatens-livelihoods-in-pakistan-1.html

Pakistan’s crop yields hit by erratic rainfall. Photo credit: Saleem Shaikh

Solar traffic signals help Pakistan tackle road jams

Saleem Shaikh
Thomson Reuters Foundation – Wed, 4 Sep 2013

A solar-powered traffic signal installed at the Aabpara intersection in Islamabad is helping manage traffic congestation. THOMSON REUTERS FOUNDATION/Saleem Shaikh.


ISLAMABAD (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Business has picked up for Abdul Latif, and he credits to an eco-innovation in Pakistan’s capital: the solar-powered traffic signal.

Latif runs a shoe shop in Aabpara, a bustling main shopping area in an upscale sector of the heart of Islamabad.

The traffic signal at the Aabpara intersection used to regularly fall dark because of frequent and protracted power failures, causing massive traffic jams on the road that passes by his shop.

“The traffic jam had become a nuisance equally for shoppers and shop owners in the market. Customers would avoid coming to the market for fear that they would become entangled,” he said. “Business activities were suffering seriously.”

But the installation of solar-powered traffic signals has resolved the problem and business is now booming again, a happy Latif told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Traffic jams on Islamabad’s main arteries and at intersections have become routine in the power-starved capital, which sees regular power outages, particularly when energy demand is high. Outages can lead to traffic signals going dark for hours, leading to massive traffic snarls.

But in July, the city’s Capital Development Authority launched a pilot project to power traffic signals using solar panels. Solar-powered signals are now working at the Aabpara roundabout and at two other busy locations in the city.

Officials at the Authority’s engineering wing said that if the pilot project is effective, the solar-powered signals would be installed at more intersections or roundabouts where traffic jams are a serious problem when the signals go dark.

Navid Hassan Bokhari, director of solar energy affairs for the Pakistan Alternative Energy Development Board, said board had put together a plan to install solar panels at 25 traffic signals in Islamabad.


Frustrated traders, fed-up drivers and exhausted traffic wardens welcomed the changes.

“When traffic signals shut down during load-shedding hours, it is the wardens who have to handle vehicular traffic congestation for hours, said Bilal Raza, a 45-year-old traffic warden, standing beneath the solar-powered traffic signal at the Aabpara roundabout.

The solar-powered signals are “helping us manage traffic jams that are a nightmare for us,” he said.

Jacob Joseph, who runs a smartphone shop at the Jinnah Super market in another upscale residential and commercial sector, said he believed solar traffic signals could help manage business-destroying congestion at a range of shopping areas across the city.

Hit by worsening power crises, the country’s other provinces, such as Sindh and Punjab, also are mulling installing solar traffic signals and street lights.

Saeed Akhtar, chief engineer for Punjab province’s Traffic Engineering and Transport Planning Agency told Thomson Reuters Foundation over the telephone from Lahore that contracts have been signed with three local firms for the conversion of traffic signals to solar power at five road intersections in Lahore, the capital city of Punjab province.

The costs of installing solar panels will be paid for by private firms in return for small advertisements at the signals, noting which firm had backed the project, he said.

Akthar said his department is in touch with different potential corporate sponsors to fund installation and maintenance of solar panels at all 138 traffic signals.

If the plan works, it “will help address our aggravating traffic mess without becoming any financial burden on the government’s pocket,” he maintained.

Pakistan is grappled with one of the worst energy crises in its history, with around a 4,000-megawatt shortfall. Authorities hope that can be plugged by tapping into Pakistan’s huge solar energy potential.

Right now, Pakistan uses only 7 megawatts of solar power, out of its estimated potential of 2.9 million megawatts, Gholamreza Zahedi, an associate professor of chemical engineering at Universiti Teknologi Malaysia, told Thomson Reuters Foundation in an email interview.

He said that attracting local investments in small- and medium-size renewable energy plans and launching local manufacturing of basic components, with the help of European countries and China, which have more advanced renewable technology, could make a big difference in expanding Pakistan’s solar energy production.

Saleem Shaikh and Sughra Tunio are climate change and development reporters based in Islamabad, Pakistan.

Weblink: http://www.trust.org/item/20130903161523-avku9/