The week that's gone

This is a summary of the stories we have published in the week ending Saturday 23 February (all are archived).

World Bank head: Climate change hurts the economy

17 February – The president of the World Bank says global warming is a real risk to the planet and is already affecting the world’s economy. Speaking to the G20 finance ministers at their meeting in Moscow the president, Dr Jim Yong Kim, urged governments to “tackle the serious challenges presented by climate change. These are not just risks. They represent real consequences.” Dr Kim said failing to tackle these challenges risked “serious consequences for the economic outlook… Damages and losses from natural disasters have more than tripled over the past 30 years,” he said. “Years of development efforts are often wiped out in days or even minutes,” and climate change was “a very real and present danger”.

Climate-friendly rice: End of the paddyfield?

18 February – Changing the way rice is grown, from planting it in flooded paddy fields to drier soil cultivation, is dramatically increasing yields and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The results of trials in eleven countries show that yields increased by an average of 60%, although they varied sharply between states, from an 11% increase to 220%. A paper published in The Geographical Journal, the scientific publication of the Royal Geographical Society of London, says the System of Rice Intensification, or SRI, is having such success that 50 countries are now adopting it.

Weather changes frustrate Nepal’s farmers

15 February – Life has been good in the past few years for Saraswati Bhetwal, a farmer in the small village of Lanndhi, about 50 kms north of Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital. Better road connections with the city mean farmers in the area have switched from subsistence agriculture and growing rice to cultivating cash crops like potatoes, cauliflowers and beans. More cash has led to increased educational opportunities, better access to health care and a general improvement in livelihoods. “Then, in early January, I saw frost on the ground”, says Saraswati, who, as generally with women in Nepal, does most of the agricultural work. “It destroyed all the potatoes and hurt the other crops. For days I was so upset I could not go to the fields – we’ve lost all we invested. It is very hard.”

Making malaria easier to track

19 February – US scientists have found a way to predict more accurately how temperature is likely to affect both the intensity and the distribution of malaria outbreaks. Their work has potentially far-reaching implications because it will improve scientists‘ ability to map where malaria is likely to occur. Knowing this could help to improve malaria control and mitigation strategies in tropical and sub-tropical regions. This could save many lives as climate change develops. The study, published in Nature Scientific Reports, shows how the current way of measuring the temperature change effects on the biology of mosquitoes and the parasites that cause malaria can lead to both under- and over-estimates of the transmission of the disease. It is estimated to have killed from 660,000 to 1.2 million people in 2010, roughly from 1,800 to 3,300 a day.

Europe’s carbon market limps on

20 February – The European Union’s failing carbon market has been thrown a lifeline by the European Parliament’s Environment Committee.  It has backed the Commission’s plan to prop up the price of a tonne of carbon by withdrawing an oversupply of credits from the market. Carbon trading is one of the major EU policies designed to combat climate change. But a combination of successful lobbying by industry bodies, political interference and lack of economic growth has brought the scheme close to collapse, so that it is now cheaper to pollute the atmosphere than to invest in becoming energy-efficient. The original idea of the EU emissions trading system (or scheme), the ETS, was to set a maximum cap on carbon emissions from each factory or power station. This would force industry to become more efficient or to pay a high price for every extra tonne of carbon over the limit.

Ice melt means uneven sea-level rise

20 February – Scientists say the sea-level rise caused by climate change during the rest of this century will not affect all parts of the world equally, because of the ways sea, land and ice interact. They say parts of the Pacific are likely to see the highest rise. This region is where many low-lying island countries most vulnerable to sea level rise are already struggling. In the Indian Ocean the Seychelles face a similar plight. Their peoples will need evacuation if the scientists’ high-end predictions are correct. Northern Europe, on the other hand, will experience a below-average increase. The team, from Italy’s University of Urbino and the University of Bristol, UK, report their findings in a paper, The gravitationally consistent sea-level fingerprint of future terrestrial ice loss, published in Geophysical Research Letters online.

How Beijing is shaping the Amazon

21 February – China has now replaced the US and Europe as Brazil’s main trading partner. a position which gives it significant influence over what happens in the Amazon forest – and over attempts to protect it. The Amazon basin is now China’s No.1 supplier of natural resources, replacing its Asian neighbours as their resources have become depleted. In a relatively short time, China has become Brazil’s major trading partner, overtaking the US and Europe. But China’s voracious demand for iron ore and timber, as well as soy and beef, is not only fuelling deforestation but negatively influencing Brazil’s environmental protection laws, in the view of researchers. In a 2012 paper entitled Amazonian forest loss and the long reach of China’s Influence¹, the authors found that “the rapid rise in exports of soy and beef products to China are two of the major drivers of Amazonian deforestation in Brazil”.

Nepalis respond to changing climate

22 February – The International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), founded in the early 1980s and based in Kathmandu, Nepal’s capital, is the only intergovernmental body gathering cross-border environmental information and monitoring climate change across a region stretching from the mountains of the Hindu Kush and Afghanistan in the west to Yunnan in southwest China in the east. It’s an area described as a climate “hot spot”, with temperatures in many parts rising faster than the global average. In an ambitious project, ICIMOD has over recent months been trying to gather information on communities’ attitudes and responses across the region to climate change and socio-economic factors which are affecting their livelihoods. More than 6,000 households – mainly in mountain areas – have been involved in responding to a detailed questionnaire.

Nepal’s glaciers retreat – but why?

23 February – “What we’re seeing is that almost all glaciers in Nepal are in retreat”, says Mohan Bdr. Chand. “There are a few in the far west of the country which appear to be stable or increasing in size, but these – influenced by westerly winds rather than the Indian monsoon – are very much the exception.” Calculating mass balance is seen as critical to understanding a glacier’s long-term behaviour. According to a 2011 study by the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD), there are an estimated 54,000 individual glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalayan region, an area of mountains stretching from Afghanistan in the west to Yunnan in southwest China in the east. “The glaciers in much of the region show signs of shrinking, thinning and retreating”, said the study.

About Alex Kirby

Alex Kirby is a former BBC journalist and environment correspondent. He now works with universities, charities and international agencies to improve their media skills, and with journalists in the developing world keen to specialise in environmental reporting.

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