Atmospheric ozone (O3) using data collected during aircraft sampling of the tropical western Pacific (TWP) mid-troposphere in winter 2014. The yellow star shows Guam. Graphic: Anderson, et al., 2016 / Nature Communications

By Cody Sullivan
27 January 2016

(Eos) – Ozone, a common air pollutant and greenhouse gas, harms lungs and plants and has contributed almost as much as methane to global warming since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Now researchers are reporting new evidence that local-scale slash and burn farming techniques, cooking fires, and wildfires can distribute large quantities of ozone across huge distances within the vast tropical belt that girds Earth. Ozone originating within this belt has the potential to harm health and the environment on the other side of the planet and to help drive climate warming that affects the entire world.

A recent study in Nature Communications [pdf] found that ozone produced mostly by human-caused fires in Africa and Southeast Asia traveled throughout the lower atmosphere all the way to the western Pacific. According to the researchers, the study’s findings suggest that legislation and other efforts to limit ozone’s effects by targeting industry, vehicles, and other fossil-fuel-burning sources of the gas—mainly outside the tropics— may do little to address these important challenges.

“What’s unique with our study is that we’re in the tropical western Pacific, almost as remote as you can get in the Northern Hemisphere, and we’re still seeing large effects from fires in Africa,” said lead author Daniel Anderson, a graduate student in atmospheric and ocean sciences at the University of Maryland in College Park.

Whenever fires burn once-living organic material, such as wood or fossil fuels, they emit ozone into the atmosphere. Globally, fires contribute up to 10% of the ozone in the lower atmosphere, Anderson said. In the tropics, fire’s effect is magnified, he added, because weather patterns make it difficult for smoke created in the tropics to escape its roughly 15°N and 15°S latitude bounds. […]

The new study makes it harder to argue against biomass burning as the source of the ozone pollution, said Matthew Alvarado, a senior scientist at Atmospheric and Environmental Research Inc., headquartered in Lexington, Mass., who was not involved in the work. He cited the “weight of evidence” the new research has brought to bear on the question.

Anderson noted that people in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia rely on slash and burn farming and igniting cooking fires as essential parts of daily life. Prohibiting those practices would be like “telling Americans you aren’t allowed to drive cars,” so suitable alternatives are needed to address this ozone problem. [more]

Human-Made Fires Pollute Air with Ozone Half a World Away


ABSTRACT: Air parcels with mixing ratios of high O3 and low H2O (HOLW) are common features in the tropical western Pacific (TWP) mid-troposphere (300–700 hPa). Here, using data collected during aircraft sampling of the TWP in winter 2014, we find strong, positive correlations of O3 with multiple biomass burning tracers in these HOLW structures. Ozone levels in these structures are about a factor of three larger than background. Models, satellite data, and aircraft observations are used to show fires in tropical Africa and Southeast Asia are the dominant source of high O3 and that low H2O results from large-scale descent within the tropical troposphere. Previous explanations that attribute HOLW structures to transport from the stratosphere or mid-latitude troposphere are inconsistent with our observations. This study suggest a larger role for biomass burning in the radiative forcing of climate in the remote TWP than is commonly appreciated.

A pervasive role for biomass burning in tropical high ozone/low water structures

Screenshot from the short video, '2016 Doomsday Clock', 26 January 2016. Photo: The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

By Sudhin Thanawala
26 January 2016

STANFORD, California (AP) – Rising tension between Russia and the U.S., North Korea's recent nuclear test and a lack of aggressive steps to address climate change are putting the world under grave threat, scientists behind a "Doomsday Clock" that measures the likelihood of a global cataclysm said Tuesday.

The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists announced that the minute hand on the metaphorical clock remained at three minutes-to-midnight. The clock reflects how vulnerable the world is to catastrophe from nuclear weapons, climate change and new technologies, with midnight symbolizing apocalypse.

"Unless we change the way we think, humanity remains in serious danger," said Lawrence Krauss, chair of the bulletin's Board of Sponsors.

Krauss said the Iran nuclear agreement and Paris climate accord were good news. But the good news was offset by nuclear threats, including tension between nuclear-armed states India and Pakistan, and uncertainty that the Paris accord will lead to concrete action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The scientists behind the bulletin adjusted the clock from five minutes-to-midnight to three minutes-to-midnight last year. The clock was previously at three minutes-to-midnight in 1984, when the bulletin said talks between the U.S. and Russia virtually stopped. They cited climate change, modernization of nuclear weapons and outsized nuclear weapons arsenals as "extraordinary and undeniable threats to the continued existence of humanity." [more]

Scientists: "Doomsday Clock" reflects grave threat to world

NASA astronaut and climate scientist Piers Sellers aboard the International Space Station. Photo: NASA / Reuters

By Katie Herzog
20 January 2016

(Grist) – Readers of The New York Times were treated to a deeply touching essay this week by Piers Sellers, a NASA astronaut and climate scientist who was recently diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer. […]

And yet, it took no time at all for the climate change deniers to start attacking Sellers, as ThinkProgress points out.

James Delingpole — author of such illuminating articles as “Paris Climate Talks Are Doomed Because China Knows ‘Climate Change’ Is A Hoax” — wrote a post on Breitbart with the ridiculous headline “NASA Chief: Global Warming Is Real Because I Have Cancer”:

A senior scientist at NASA has announced in The New York Times that he has terminal cancer. This is sad.

What’s sadder, though, is that he has chosen to exploit his personal tragedy for the purposes of promoting climate change alarmism.

Delingpole goes on, arguing that “Sellers’ cancer says no more about the validity of global warming theory than Einstein’s having shagged Marilyn Monroe says about the validity of his theory of relativity.” Though I commend Delingpole for the creative metaphor, his logic is absurd: Sellers isn’t saying that climate change has anything to do with his cancer. He’s simply reflecting on his own life studying climate change — something that most of the world and every scientist worth his or her PhD agrees is an ongoing and human-made phenomenon.

Delingpole isn’t alone. Marc Morano, executive director of ClimateDepot, a thinly veiled propaganda arm of the fossil fuel industry, also wrote a post mocking Sellers. It quotes another post, this one by Lubos Motl, a physicist and fellow climate denier, who marvels at Sellers’ “focus on irrelevant stupidities.” [more]

Climate deniers attack NASA scientist dying of cancer


By Joe Romm
19 January 2016

(Climate Progress) – NASA climatologist and astronaut Piers Sellers has a moving New York Times op-ed piece about his plans to keep working despite his diagnosis of terminal Stage 4 pancreatic cancer.

It struck a chord with me, especially since the headline, “Cancer and Climate Change,” was one I had for a previously unfinished and unpublished post I wrote a few years ago — after I was diagnosed with a pancreatic neuro-endocrine tumor (the general class of tumor that killed Steve Jobs, though mine was probably non-lethal). […]

I share his optimism that the worst of climate change can be avoided. To paraphrase something I wrote in 2009 about another dying climate hero: there is hope, as long as people like Piers Sellers are willing to use their energy — even their last drop of energy — to tell the world what is to come on our current path and how we can stop it.

There’s only one piece of Sellers’ optimism I don’t share: He wrote, “Last year may also be seen in hindsight as the year of the Death of Denial.”

In fact, the deniers quickly went after Sellers despite the fact that he doesn’t have long on this Earth. An astonished AP science writer Seth Borenstein tweeted Sunday:

And Breitbart wasted no time in misrepresenting and smearing Sellers, with a piece absurdly headlined, “NASA Chief: Global Warming Is Real Because I Have Cancer.”

As the saying goes, the only things certain in life are death and taxes … and denial.

Mortality is inevitable. But catastrophic climate change is not. Rather, it is a choice that humanity is making, driven in part by the most well-funded disinformation campaign in human history — and in part by humanity’s own myopia and greed, which allows us to continue embracing a global fossil-fuel driven economy, even though the science now makes clear the world economy is Ponzi scheme

Each year, we consume more and more of the world’s carrying capacity — livable climate, soils and arable land, fisheries, fresh water and so on — to maintain a lifestyle that will be utterly unsustainable for our children and grandchildren. [more]

Climatologist Wants To Keep Working With Terminal Cancer Diagnosis, Climate Deniers Attack Him

Concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, in parts per million, for the past 650,000 years. Graphic: NOAA / MIT Technology Review

By Ken Caldeira
25 January 2016

(Technology Review) – Many years ago, I protested at the gates of a nuclear power plant. For a long time, I believed it would be easy to get energy from biomass, wind, and solar. Small is beautiful. Distributed power, not centralized.

I wish I could still believe that.

My thinking changed when I worked with Marty Hoffert of New York University on research that was first published in Nature in 1998. It was the first peer-reviewed study that examined the amount of near-zero-emission energy we would need in order to solve the climate problem. Unfortunately, our conclusions still hold. We need massive deployment of affordable and dependable near-zero-emission energy, and we need a major research and development program to develop better energy and transportation systems.

It’s true that wind and solar power have been getting much more attractive in recent years. Both have gotten significantly cheaper. Even so, neither wind nor solar is dependable enough, and batteries do not yet exist that can store enough energy at affordable prices to get a modern industrial society through those times when the wind is not blowing and the sun is not shining.

Recent analyses suggest that wind and solar power, connected by a continental-scale electric grid and using natural-gas power plants to provide backup, could reduce greenhouse-gas emissions from electricity production by about two-thirds. But generating electricity is responsible for only about one-third of total global carbon dioxide emissions, which are increasing by more than 2 percent a year. So even if we had this better electric sector tomorrow, within a decade or two emissions would be back where they are today.

We need to bring much, much more to bear on the climate problem. It can’t be solved unless it is addressed as seriously as we address national security. The politicians who go to the Paris Climate Conference are making commitments that fall far short of what would be needed to substantially reduce climate risk.

Four weeks ago, a hurricane-strength cyclone smashed into Yemen, in the Arabian Peninsula, for the first time in recorded history. Also this fall, a hurricane with the most powerful winds ever measured slammed into the Pacific coast of Mexico.

Unusually intense storms such as these are a predicted consequence of global warming, as are longer heat waves and droughts and many other negative weather-related events that we can expect to become more commonplace. Already, in the middle latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, average temperatures are increasing at a rate that is equivalent to moving south about 10 meters (30 feet) each day. This rate is about 100 times faster than most climate change that we can observe in the geologic record, and it gravely threatens biodiversity in many parts of the world. We are already losing about two coral reefs each week, largely as a direct consequence of our greenhouse-gas emissions.

Recently, my colleagues and I studied what will happen in the long term if we continue pulling fossil carbon out of the ground and releasing it into the atmosphere. We found that it would take many thousands of years for the planet to recover from this insult. If we burn all available fossil-fuel resources and dump the resulting carbon dioxide waste in the sky, we can expect global average temperatures to be 9 °C (15 °F) warmer than today even 10,000 years into the future. We can expect sea levels to be about 60 meters (200 feet) higher than today. In much of the tropics, it is possible that mammals (including us) would not be able to survive outdoors in the daytime heat. Thus, it is essential to our long-term well-being that fossil-fuel carbon does not go into our atmosphere. [more]

Stop Emissions!

Contrasting reconstructed and reported catches in the 19 maritime 'Statistical Areas' which FAO uses to roughly spatialize the world catch. Note that for Area 18 (Arctic), the reported catch by the U.S. and Canada was zero, while only Russia (former-USSR) reported a small catch in the late 1960s, even though the coastal fishes of the high Arctic are exploited by Inuit and others. Graphic: Pauly and Zeller, 2016 / Nature Communications

By Chelsea Harvey
19 January 2016

(Washington Post) – The state of the world’s fish stocks may be in worse shape than official reports indicate, according to new data — a possibility with worrying consequences for both international food security and marine ecosystems.

A study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications suggests that the national data many countries have submitted to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has not always accurately reflected the amount of fish actually caught over the past six decades. And the paper indicates that global fishing practices may have been even less sustainable over the past few decades than scientists previously thought.

The FAO’s official data report that global marine fisheries catches peaked in 1996 at 86 million metric tons and have since slightly declined. But a collaborative effort from more than 50 institutions around the world has produced data that tell a different story altogether. The new data suggest that global catches actually peaked at 130 metric tons in 1996 and have declined sharply — on average, by about 1.2 million metric tons every year — ever since.

The effort was led by researchers Daniel Pauly and Dirk Zeller of the University of British Columbia’s Sea Around Us project. The two were interested investigating the extent to which data submitted to the FAO was misrepresented or underreported.

Scientists had previously noticed, for instance, that when nations recorded “no data” for a given region or fishing sector, that value would be translated into a zero in FAO records — not always an accurate reflection of the actual catches that were made.

Additionally, recreational fishing, discarded bycatch (that is, fish that are caught and then thrown away for various reasons) and illegal fishing have often gone unreported by various nations, said Pauly during a Monday teleconference. “The result of this is that the catch is underestimated,” he said.

So the researchers teamed up with partners all over the world to help them examine the official FAO data, identify areas where data might be missing or misrepresented and consult both existing literature and local experts and agencies to compile more accurate data. This is a method known as “catch reconstruction,” and the researchers used it to examine all catches between 1950 and 2010.  

Ultimately, they estimated that global catches during this time period were 50 percent higher than the FAO reported, peaking in the mid-1990s at 130 million metric tons, rather than the officially reported 86 million. As of 2010, the reconstructed data suggest that global catches amount to nearly 109 million metric tons, while the official data only report 77 million metric tons. […]

The higher catch numbers suggest that fishing has been even more unsustainable in the past than scientists thought. And the world is now suffering the consequences, as the authors point out.

Their second major finding was that fish catches have been sharply declining from the 1990s up through 2010 — much more severely than the FAO has reported. At first, the authors thought that these declines might be due to increased restrictions by certain countries on fishing quotas in recent years. But when the researchers removed those countries from their calculations, they found that the catch data was still caught up in a downward trend.

“Our results indicate that the declining is very strong and the declining is not due to countries fishing less,” Pauly said during the teleconference. “It is due to the countries fishing too much and having exhausted one fish after the other.” The data indicate that the largest of these declines come from the industrial fishing sector. [more]

Why we've been hugely underestimating the overfishing of the oceans


ABSTRACT: Fisheries data assembled by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) suggest that global marine fisheries catches increased to 86 million tonnes in 1996, then slightly declined. Here, using a decade-long multinational ‘catch reconstruction’ project covering the Exclusive Economic Zones of the world’s maritime countries and the High Seas from 1950 to 2010, and accounting for all fisheries, we identify catch trajectories differing considerably from the national data submitted to the FAO. We suggest that catch actually peaked at 130 million tonnes, and has been declining much more strongly since. This decline in reconstructed catches reflects declines in industrial catches and to a smaller extent declining discards, despite industrial fishing having expanded from industrialized countries to the waters of developing countries. The differing trajectories documented here suggest a need for improved monitoring of all fisheries, including often neglected small-scale fisheries, and illegal and other problematic fisheries, as well as discarded bycatch.

Catch reconstructions reveal that global marine fisheries catches are higher than reported and declining

South Africa rhino poaching totals, 2007-2015. Graphic: Traffic.org

Johannesburg, South Africa, 21 January 2016 (Traffic.org) – South Africa today announced the official number of rhinos illegally killed in the country during 2015. The figure of 1,175 represents a slight drop on the 1,215 record total in 2014, but overall rhino poaching figures for Africa total a record high for the continent.

“While a slight decrease in rhino poaching in South Africa was apparent in 2015, and perhaps the authorities are having some impact on the ground, these numbers are hardly cause for celebration or complacency,” said Sabri Zain, TRAFFIC’s Director of Policy. “The figures remain unacceptably high and continent-wide the scale of the rhino poaching crisis is spreading.”

The 2015 decrease in South Africa has been more than offset by significant increases in neighbouring Zimbabwe, where rhino poaching rose from 12 in 2014 to a widely reported total of “at least 50” last year, while losses in Namibia also rose sharply from 24 in 2014 to 80 in 2015.

According to TRAFFIC data, Africa-wide rhino poaching totals reached 1,299 animals in 2014. The latest figure from South Africa means the continent-wide total in 2015 was at least 1,305.

“For Africa as a whole, this is the worst year in decades for rhino poaching,” said Tom Milliken, TRAFFIC’s Rhino Expert. “The poaching epicentre has spread to neighbouring Namibia and Zimbabwe, but is nowhere near being extinguished in South Africa: despite some commendable efforts being made, we’re still a very long way from seeing the light at the end of this very dark tunnel.”

Of the four major rhino range States, only Kenya is expected to report a significant fall in rhino poaching in 2015.

Last week, a number of rhino conservation measures were agreed during the 66th Standing Committee of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

All countries affected by rhino poaching were directed to implement key strategies and actions developed by the CITES Rhinoceros Enforcement Task Force with specific instructions issued to: Mozambique to implement its National Ivory and Rhino Action Plan, including adoption of its strengthened conservation legislation and regulations; to South Africa and Mozambique urgently to finalize their joint action plan on rhino poaching; to South Africa and Viet Nam to enhance their collaboration on criminal investigations.

Viet Nam, as a key destination for rhino horn, was instructed to implement their improved penal reforms effectively and to take action to reduce the demand for rhino horn in domestic markets.

“The world is watching especially those destination countries whose demand drives the trade—Viet Nam and China. There is an urgent need to implement the full provisions of the measures agreed by CITES Parties and to close those cross-border markets in Viet Nam that service Chinese consumers,” said Milliken. “Failure to do so means the future outlook for Africa’s rhinos remains very bleak.”

In another significant development in South Africa, yesterday, the North Gauteng High Court in Pretoria dismissed the South African Government’s application for leave to appeal a ruling to lift the domestic ban on rhino horn trade.

In February 2009, the Government imposed a ban on domestic trade in rhino horn, which was overturned in November last year following action by two rhino game ranchers. The Government reacted swiftly to appeal the decision, but yesterday, that appeal was rejected.

Yesterday’s ruling paves the way for domestic trading of rhino horn, although there is no consumer demand for rhino horn within South Africa and TRAFFIC is concerned the decision will potentially re-open a channel for illegal trade from Africa to Asia. TRAFFIC has previously drawn attention to evidence of undeclared rhino horns from private sector sources in South Africa moving into illicit trade and to discrepancies in South Africa's monitoring of rhino horn possession in the private sector.

“The latest High Court ruling adds another level of complexity to an already highly complex situation with South Africa’s rhinos the big losers if things go wrong,” said Milliken.

In September, South Africa is hosting the 17th Conference of the Parties to CITES where rhino conservation is bound to be one of the high profile issues under discussion.

South Africa reports small decrease in rhino poaching, but Africa-wide 2015 the worst on record


Good Morning,

On behalf of my colleagues we would like to thank everybody for joining us here today, especially our friends and allies in the media, because we cannot get our message out without your support.

As has become custom, we are here today with colleagues from the Security Cluster to present this report to you as a collective, developments regarding our actions to combat rhino poaching in South Africa. 

Government departments, the private sector, communities and civil society are united in ensuring that we fight rhino poaching through the Integrated Strategic Management Approach that was adopted by Cabinet in August 2014.  

The fact that we are all here today is indicative of the highest level of political commitment to dealing with rhino poaching. In November 2015 President Jacob Zuma visited the Kruger National Park where he participated in various activities ranging from field events to the official opening of the  Mission Area Joint Operations Centre.

This center has become a benchmark for efficiency in anti-poaching through the joint efforts of the departments forming the security cluster.

President Zuma also personally interacted with field rangers who are at the forefront of the poaching war, and honoured our fallen rangers worldwide, by laying a wreath at the Ranger Memorial at the Kruger Gate .

Ladies and Gentlemen,

The Integrated Strategic Management Approach of Rhinoceros is our collaborative effort to tackle poaching.  Its key pillars are Compulsory Interventions, Managing Rhino Populations, Long-term Sustainability Interventions, National and International Co-operation and new interventions.

Since we met last August, there have been a number of developments with regards to the implementation of the game-changing Integrated Strategic Management Approach of Rhinoceros, which I will now address.

1. Compulsory Interventions

1. 1.  Anti-poaching compulsory interventions

As alluded to earlier, the onslaught against our rhino has continued unabated.

This has necessitated that we step up our efforts, which are among others, the improvement of our strategies. This approach has delivered a number of satisfying results over the past year, particularly with regards to the number of arrests made.

Arrests

During 2015 a total of 317 poachers were arrested for rhino poaching related offences. Of this, 202 were arrested in the Kruger National Park and 115 in the area adjacent to the Park. 

This is a marked increase in arrests from 258 in 2014.

A total of 125 firearms were seized inside the Park in 2015, and 63 just outside the Park – a total of 188 compared to the 148 of the previous year.

These positive developments are the outcome of stepped up collaboration with the Security Cluster, as well as working with communities adjacent to the park.

We are particularly pleased to announce that by the end of 2015, all rhino poaching crime scenes in the Kruger National Park - I emphasize, ALL rhino poaching crime scenes - have been attended to in accordance with standard protocols.

If one considers the serious backlog we faced in 2014 and 2015, this is a remarkable achievement.

It is due to the sterling efforts of the SAPS and KNP forensic investigation teams - as well as the significant training effort made during the year in building up capacity to process these crime scenes.

On the specific issue of Crime Scene Management, funding amounting to 2,7 million US dollars received from the GEF-UNEP Rhino Programme enabled us in 2015 to purchase forensic mobile crime scene units, which will be particularly useful in crime scene management in outlying areas.

In terms of the inter-departmental collaboration between DEA and our partners in the Security Cluster, we have also provided intensive training and awareness-raising for close to 400 Magistrates and Prosecutors last year.

At this this point we want to commend the dedication and persistence of the team of the DPCI/Hawks who successfully undertook an operation that led to the arrest of approximately 15 high-level members of a poaching syndicate.

The operation, This operation, called Operation Ringleader was the result of yet another collaborative effort between the DEA and the security cluster and was the outcome of an over two year long investigation. The charges ranged from money laundering to offences relating to the Prevention of Organized Crime Act.  This operation confirmed for us the complexity of these syndicates and need for us to be persistent as these are not matters that can be solved overnight.

I want at this point to hand over to my colleague Minister Masutha who will give us some insights into the prosecution of poaching related offences, as well as on other major cases.

Thank you indeed, Minister, for those insights.

Returning now to the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros, I will turn now to the other compulsory interventions;

1.2 Intensive Protection Zone  

The Intensive Protection Zone concept remains an important pillar for the protection of the high density rhino population in the South of the KNP. The Kruger National Park is the epicenter of the poaching crisis and logically this is where most of international, regional and national attention is directed.

The utilization of technology and well-equipped and trained reaction forces with good land and air mobility, as well as a significant night capability, have enhanced pro-active anti-poaching operations.

Elements of this IPZ concept are being expanded to other National and private Parks  - even other African countries.

1.3 Proactive anti-poaching measures and the use of technology

In KwaZulu-Natal’s Ezemvelo rhino reserves, management and law enforcement have been equipped with new digital two-way radios communication systems. Access control has also been improved in rhino reserves.

As I mentioned earlier, President Zuma has also officially launched the Mission Area Joint Operations Center in the Kruger National Park where we have employed cutting-edge technology to aid us in our fight against poaching.

1.4. Ports of entry and exit

During our last report-back on the Integrated Strategic plan, we briefed you on the successful work being done by our Environmental Management Inspectorate (EMI's), also known as the Green Scorpions, at ports of entry and exit, namely OR Tambo International Airport and King Shaka International Airport.

Our border training programme focusing on the Illicit International Cross Border Movement of Endangered Species has since been intensified - now with an operational aspect.

The Green Scorpions are rolling out this training programme together with the National Border Management Coordinating Committee (NBMCC). Since October 2015, the team has trained and undertaken operations at a number of land and air border posts. As a result of this programme, to date, 1047 border enforcement officials have received training. The roll-out of this phase of the training will continue until end of March 2016.

Poaching statistics

Taking into account the above interventions, in conjunction with other aspects of the Integrated Strategic Management of Rhinoceros under implementation, I am today pleased to announce that for the first time in a decade - the poaching situation has stabilized.

Considering that this is despite escalating poaching pressure, and in the face of an increased and relentless rise of poaching activity into protected areas - this is very very good news, and offers great cause for optimism.

By the end of December 2015, the number of poached rhinos was 1 175, of which 826 were in the Kruger National Park. To put this into context; by the end of December 2014, the number of poached rhinos stood at 1 215.

Considering that there has been an approximately ten percent increase in the number of poaching activity in the Kruger National Park (KNP), it is clear that were it not for these interventions, the situation would be far worse and many more rhino would be lost.

What is particularly good about this news, is that whilst poaching numbers often rise drastically over December, this time, the much-feared year-end spike was averted.

It is undeniable that this is because of the efforts of our people, in particular the concerted efforts of our law-enforcement and security agencies.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the good news does not end there.

We are also pleased to report that based on a new census of the rhino population conducted by SANParks; the South African rhino population continues to be stable.

The 2015 survey determined that  the Kruger National Park is home to between approximately 8 400 to 9 300 white rhinos.

I will now turn to the other anti-poaching interventions included in the Integrated Strategic plan.

2.  Managing Rhino Populations

Last week we gazetted the Draft Amendment of the norms and standards for the marking of rhinoceros and rhinoceros horn, and the hunting of rhinoceros for trophy hunting purposes, for public comment. 

The amendment aims to clarifies and strengthens certain clauses contained in the 2012 Norms and Standards, especially in respect of the movement and safekeeping of rhino horns and the management of the hunting of both white and black rhino. The public have until 11 February to comment on the proposed Amendments. 

The translocation of rhino from high poaching risk areas to safer and well-selected localities has been an integral part of our strategy. During 2015 124 rhinos were moved out of the KNP. These translocations to protected areas will continue in March 2016.

Creating a 'suite' of private, provincial and community run rhino strongholds remain a key focus of SANParks’ biological management interventions.

We want to emphasize this because our interventions aren't only about addressing security concerns, they are also about growing the rhino population.

The Biodiversity Management Plan, our tool to address the long-term conservation of the species, has been finalized and published for implementation in December 2015.

This plan enables the evaluation of conservation progress and management, and sets out key actions and strategies needed to ensure that monitoring protection conservation and sustainable management of the species will contribute to meeting conservation goals - as well as the long-term vision for the conservation of white rhino.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

In considering the biological management of rhino populations, it is important to reflect on the contribution and efforts made by rhino on private and communal land. A significant number of the populations on private and communal land have the potential to contribute in a meaningful manner to the conservation of the species.

A new survey commissioned by the Department of Environmental Affairs, that was concluded in November 2015 provides fascinating insights into the white rhino that fall outside of state ownership.

Approximately 5000, or one quarter of the global white rhino population, are in the hands of private and communal owners in South Africa.  This figure has increased over the past three decades from a starting point of approximately 800 in the mid 1980s to the current level. 

This survey is the latest in a series of 10 surveys conducted since 1987 of white rhino in non-state hands. It is important to note that for the first time the survey included land that has been successfully claimed through the land reform process and now has white rhino under communal ownership.

3. Long-Term Sustainability Measures - Communities

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As President Zuma emphasized in his visit to the Kruger National Park in November last year, any long terms solution to addressing poaching must by necessity involve empowering communities who live adjacent to our parks.

During his visit the President called on communities to continue to be active role players in the conservation of wildlife, and in particular called on traditional leaders to play a greater role. In response the traditional leaders pledged a firm commitment to heed the President's call.

That is why we will be engaging with the traditional leaders in order to drive programmes that will see communities recognizing the value of wildlife to their livelihoods.

In December 2015 we launched our Biodiversity Economy Strategy at the Biodiversity Indaba in Durban. At the heart of this strategy is promoting a sense of guardianship of wildlife within our communities.

Our aim is that in the next fourteen (14) years R7 billion funding will be made available for implementation of programmes under the Biodiversity Economy Strategy.

The strategy seeks to contribute to the transformation of the biodiversity economy in South Africa through:

  • inclusive economic opportunities, reflected by a sector which is equitable
  • equitable and fair processes and procedures
  • equity in access to and the distribution of resources (i.e. business, human, financial, indigenous species, land, water) in the market

Among the aims of these programmes is to transfer wildlife to previously disadvantaged communities and entrepreneurs. This will largely be facilitated through our Environmental Protection and Infrastructure Programme (EPIP) as well as through mobilising game donations.

A hundred and seven community projects are at various stages of development. They will assist with infrastructure development and the transfer of donated animals, including tribal authorities in various provinces.

The Bushbuckridge area in Mpumalanga, for example, has been identified for the development of an expanded tourist and wildlife economy and conservation estate.

The ultimate goal is the establishment of an vibrant local economy based on sustainable management of the area's natural and other assets. These developments will address poverty and livelihood security and overall enhance benefits for the local community.

At the Biodiversity Indaba several pledges were made for contributions to community empowerment, and we as government will be donating more high-value species (such as rhino and sable) to communities who own land and have good animal protection measures in place.

The Department of Environmental Affairs (DEA) will lead the process of implementing the Strategy in partnership with key departments namely Science and Technology, Rural Development and Land Reform, Trade and Industry, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Small Business Development, Tourism and Economic Development.

On the sidelines of the Biodiversity Indabafour dehorned rhino were handed over to a Community Trust at a ceremony in KwaZulu-Natal. The donation was facilitated by the National Department of Environmental Affairs and the KwaZulu-Natal Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs. The rhino were donated by Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife.

A similar donation of four white rhino will soon be handed over to another Community, once additional security measures on the communal property are finalised.

We as government remain committed to facilitating community ownership of wildlife resources as an integral part of our rhino protection strategy.

4.  Memoranda of Understanding

We continue to collaborate strategically with rhino range and consumer states, to support us in neutralising the threat of organised transnational criminal syndicates involved in the illegal wildlife trade.

Vietnam:

As part of our Memorandum of Understanding signed with Vietnam in 2013, South Africa played host to the Vietnamese Youth Wilderness Trails programme in 2015. This is a demand reduction campaign that will capacitate young rhino ambassadors throughout schools in Vietnam, and will run until 2017.

Cambodia:

In our August briefing we reported that we have signed an MOU with Cambodia. We are going to be following this MOU signing with implementation that will include a carnival that is planned to be carried out in Cambodia, aimed at raising awareness on Rhino and Wildlife Crime in general.

Lao PDR:

We have also finalized an MOU with the People's Democratic Republic of Lao, which we hope to sign soon.

Mozambique: 

Cooperation with Mozambique has been further cemented not only during the discussions held between President Zuma and President Filipe Nyusi of Mozambique in October 2015, but also through a number of projects undertaken.  Allow me to briefly highlight some of the key developments in this regard:

  • The presentation to Mozambique's Environmental Police with a donation of equipment to the value of R2, 6 million to aid in strengthening Mozambique’s environmental law enforcement efforts, and support the rangers in Limpopo National Park.
  • Infrastructure and facilities upgrades at Mapai Base and Gaza Camp in the Limpopo National Park, as well as improved roads and access control at critical entry points to the park
  • Guard and Field Ranger training in association with Southern African Wildlife College;
  • An investment of R 1,7 million in the installation of an advanced digital communication system in Limpopo National Park.
  • The resettlement of villages as part of the community resettlement programme at Limpopo National Park is still underway and it is anticipated that the programme should be completed by the end of 2017.

5.  International And Regional Cooperation

South Africa continues to work with regional and international enforcement networks such as the World Customs Organisation (WCO), the CITES Secretariat, World Bank, United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and Interpol (making up the International Consortium on Combating Wildlife Crime (ICCWC). We are thus able to strengthen our priority actions at a national level as well as harness the support of international partners for those priorities that involve transnational syndicates.

South Africa has and will continue to play a key role on the Advisory Board of INTERPOL’s Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Committee.

People’s Republic of China:

In December, the 6th Summit of the Forum on China-Africa Cooperation (FOCAC) was held in Johannesburg, resulting in the Johannesburg Action Plan which includes provisions relating to the illegal trade in wildlife.

South Africa welcomes the inclusion of wildlife conservation and combating the illegal trade of wildlife into the FOCAC Action Plan. The Ministerial meeting and Heads of State Summit of FOCAC saw our two countries agree to transform the wildlife trade dynamics from Africa to China, with a view to significantly reducing illegal trade and supporting the sustainable utilisation of Africa’s wild plants and animals, including regulated legal trade in wildlife.

We have unfortunately also had to part ways with a diplomat from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea stationed in South Africa- due to a concern raised around his conduct and involvement in illegal trade in horns obtained from poached rhinos. South Africa initiated a process to investigate his conduct and then commenced with the diplomatic process which resulted in his expulsion.

Such criminal activities, where diplomats abuse diplomatic privilege to commit crimes, will not be tolerated, and we will not hesitate to take harsh action against anyone else involved in such activities.

We would like to turn briefly to a number of other key developments in the sector.

Committee Of Enquiry

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As you will be aware, a Committee of Inquiry has been established in terms of a Cabinet decision, to investigate the feasibility of a possible trade in rhino horn, or not. The Inter-Ministerial Committee will meet soon to consider the report of the Committee of Inquiry and the Technical Advisory Committee, and will continue to engage with the process and formulate recommendations for Cabinet’s consideration and approval.

Domestic Trade In Rhino Horn

Many of you will have been following developments in the rhino horn moratorium judgment handed down by the High Court of South Africa, Gauteng Provincial Division, Pretoria,  in November 2015.

An application for leave to appeal was filed with the Registrar of the High Court  on  9 December 2015. The application for leave to appeal suspended the operation and execution of the judgment in terms of section 18 of the Superior Courts Act, 2013 (Act No. 10 of 2013). This means that the moratorium on the domestic trade in rhino horn remained in place.

Our application for leave to appeal was unfortunately dismissed with costs on the 20th of January 2016. With the result being that the court's decision is that the moratorium is no longer in place.

My legal team is not yet privvy to the reason for the decision, but I have decided to apply for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court of Appeal.

My application, once lodged, will result in the suspension of the operation and execution of the court’s decision to review and set aside the moratorium.

I will not be commenting any further on this application, but it must be emphasised that this matter does not have an impact on the international trade in rhino horn for commercial purposes. Commercial international trade in rhino horn is still prohibited in terms of the provisions of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

CITES COP17 

The Department of Environmental Affairs has provided information to the CITES Standing Committee relating to the preparations for the 17th Conference of Parties (CoP) to CITES, which will be hosted by South Africa. The meeting is scheduled to take place from 24 September 2016 – 5 October 2016 at the Sandton Convention Centre. A notification containing detailed information relating to logistical arrangements will be released by the CITES Secretariat later this month. This will include information relating to registration, accommodation, visa-requirements for participants, exhibitions and side events.

The Department of Environmental Affairs had a stakeholder workshop on 9 December 2015 to share information with stakeholders that registered to participate in preparations for the COP about the CoP, the processes leading up to the CoP and to solicit their views on the matters that would possibly be discussed at the COP. The agenda for the CoP has not been confirmed, but a draft agenda was discussed based on matters emanating from the 16th CoP to CITES.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

What is evident is that all sectors of society have mobilized around the the campaign to save our rhino.

It is heartening to see that South Africans from all walks of life, with the support of the donor community and NGO community, both locally and internationally, are behind us and working alongside us.

This briefing would not be complete without acknowledging the support we have received from various entities and stakeholders both locally and internationally: the support received from the Peace Parks Foundation, the CSIR, the Warren Buffet Foundation and the Dutch and Swedish Postcode Lottery Funds in particular. We are also grateful for the support received from a number of countries: the US, Germany, Netherlands, and the Global Environmental Facility. There are too many to name here: but we are immensely grateful for all your contributions, including our anonymous donors and our younger rhino ambassadors who are always finding ways to creatively raise funds to support this cause.

As we have emphasized throughout, it is our people who stand between our precious wildlife resources, and the poacher's gun.

The work they do on the poaching frontlines, in the service of their country, is to be commended again and again. I mention Mr. Amos Mzimba, who with his K9 Belgian shepherd "Killer" who recently received a medal from the UK's People's Dispensary for Sick Animals for his contribution towards the successful arrest of poachers in the Kruger National Park.

On behalf of the whole of South Africa we want to salute you, and thank you.

The war against rhino crime cannot be won by government alone.

As did President Zuma in his visit to the Kruger National Park last year, we once again implore each one of you to report any wildlife crime you are aware of so that we can continue to successfully act against those behind this senseless crime.

Let us make 2016 the year in which we can declare that are not only close to winning the war against poachers, but that we have all stood up done our part.

So much so that we as the Department of Environmental Affairs, together with our colleagues present here today, are claiming this success on behalf of each and every South African!

I thank you.

To access information regarding arrests and successful prosecutions, click on:

>> Briefing Note: Rhino Convictions- April 2015 to Date

>> Finalized Rhino Matters for April 2015 to March 2016

For media enquiries contact

Albi Modise
Cell: 083 490 2871

Minister Edna Molewa highlights progress in the fight against rhino poaching

Fishermen at work on Tonlé Sap lake, Cambodia. Photo: Sam Jones / The Guardian

By Sam Jones
1 December 2015

Tonlé Sap lake (Guardian) – Out past the floating villages, the daytrippers and the mangrove arcades, the brown waters of the Tahas river open into a vast, dull green lake fringed by forest and a seemingly endless horizon.

Silhouetted by a sinking afternoon sun, distant figures fish from small boats under a blue sky streaked with low cloud. It is the kind of weather that both tourists and Savon Pen prefer.

“Sometimes you look up at the sky and it’s gloomy and I worry that the boat will capsize,” says the 42-year-old fisherwoman.

“The wind blows them over and when the boats sink, they go straight to the bottom of the water. Every year, people die.” Over the past few months, two people from her community have drowned.

Tonlé Sap lake is many things to many people: a Unesco biosphere reserve since 1997; a wetland that supports the livelihoods of more than 1.2 million people; a tourist attraction; and the source of more than a third of all the protein eaten by Cambodia’s 15 million people. In the rainy season, its area can swell from about 2,700 sq km to 16,000 sq km. […]

In a bid to safeguard the lake’s population and diversity, an EU-funded programme has established a 200-hectare (494-acre) fish conservation area (FCA) close to the Kampong Phluk commune, which is home to nearly 3,900 people.

According to the local community fisheries, the FCA is paying dividends: its deputy chief claims that only 1% of the fishing in the area is illegal, compared with 30% across the whole commune.

But despite its success, some local fisherfolk worry it may be too little, too late. Vey Kuang, who has lived in Kampong Phluk for all of her 54 years, says the fish population has dwindled drastically over the past 30 years.

“When I was 18 or 19, there were a lot more fish than there are today,” she says.

“Back then, if we wanted to go fishing, four of us could catch the fish with our bare hands. There were a lot of tree branches in the water then to attract fish, but they have all gone now, so the fish population has decreased and some species are no longer found.”

The forests surrounding the lake have been denuded for decades because people rely on wood and charcoal for fuel, but Vey Kuang believes that climate change is also affecting the seasons and the fish.

“The weather is getting hotter and now even the rainy season is as hot as the dry season,” she says. “November is meant to be a cool month but this year, it’s hot.”

Ning Nee, the community’s commerce chief, agrees: “We have seen an increase in heat. It’s hotter now and we are urging people to plant trees.”

Vey Kuang has noticed other signs of climate change. She points to the water below the stern of the boat she is sitting on and says her mother has told her that, in her lifetime, the level of the lake has never been so low. What’s more, she adds, the lake has started to smell, which shouldn’t happen given the fresh downpours of the rainy season.

“I hope the fish conservation area will help,” she says. “But I am very worried about how things will be for my grandchildren. If there are no more fish, we’ll have to send people from the community to the city and then the young people will go and we, the old people, will be left here selling fish and vegetables.” [more]

Net loss: fish stocks dwindle in Cambodia's Tonlé Sap lake

Aerial view of Helheim glacier, one of Greenland's biggest, and Sermilik fjord.  Photo: Ellyn Enderlin / University of Maine

By Ari Daniel
24 January 2016

(PRI) – The breakfast on the edge of Greenland’s massive ice sheet is ordinary — granola, yogurt, bread and jam. Everything else here is anything but.

“You’d pay a million bucks for a view like this,” says Gordon Hamilton, from the University of Maine by way of Scotland. “Pretty nice breakfast buffet, I guess, for sitting out here next to the ice sheet.”

Hamilton, Detective No. 1 in our Greenland mystery, is sitting on the rocky rim of a glacier. Kind of figures. After all, the man is a glaciologist. But this isn’t just any glacier. It’s the Helheim glacier, one of Greenland’s biggest, a three-mile-wide river of mottled gray, whites and stunning blue ice that flows into Sermilik fjord on the island’s southeast coast.

We’re on one side of that fjord. Across, on the other side, is what drew us here — a horizontal stripe running the length of the fjord, about 600 feet above the ice.

“Everybody who’s come here with me has said, ‘What’s that line over there?’” Hamilton says. “And I say, ‘Well, that’s where the glacier was in 2003.’ It’s kind of like the signal clue that something really big had happened.”

Hamilton calls this clue the bathtub ring. Helheim’s surface sat right around the line for decades, maybe longer. But about a decade ago, he says, in the span of just a couple of years, it dropped dramatically and thinned out.

“And what that means is that all that volume of ice, from the current surface up to the height of that bathtub ring, is now in the ocean.”

Hamilton wants to know why, and what that big drop might mean for all of us.

Because it’s not just Helheim. Most of Greenland is covered by a massive block of ice, so big it’s difficult to imagine, even right here on the edge of it. Helheim is just one of thousands of glaciers that drain that ice sheet into the sea, and right around the time the bathtub ring showed up, some of the other big glaciers also changed suddenly.

“They retreated very quickly back up their fjords,” Hamilton says. “Their flow speed doubled or tripled. And this had the effect of putting more icebergs into the ocean. And when you put icebergs into the ocean, you displace ocean water and you cause sea levels to rise. [more]

In Greenland, a climate change mystery with clues written in water and stone

Net employment outlook by job family, 2015–2020. Graphic: WEF

By Judith Magyar
22 January 2016

(SAP Community Network) – Emerging technologies such as 3D printing and genetic engineering offer a lot of promise, but can also be double-edged swords. They can help make our lives easier, safer and healthier, but there is also potential to build weapons or dangerously modify organisms.

Developments like these raise questions for visionaries such as Nicholas Davis, Head of Society and Innovation, World Economic Forum. Over the course of three previous industrial revolutions, work changed from manual to mechanical to automated mass production. We are now entering the fourth cycle, the world of cyber systems which is disrupting industry faster than ever before.

So it is essential to world peace and prosperity that global leaders address ethical issues surrounding technology, cultivate new norms and values worldwide and provide more opportunities for growth, writes Davis in his thought provoking essay on understanding the fourth industrial revolution.

That’s why the brightest minds from government, business and civil society meet annually to tackle big issues together in the collaborative Spirit of Davos.

The World Economic Forum has been convening annually in the Swiss city for 45 years. Its mission is to improve the state of the world through public and private cooperation. […]

As we change technology, it changes us! Machines and robots are taking over the work of humans so quickly that jobs are becoming obsolete much faster than we can create new ones. Technology is threatening jobs that we previously considered safe, such as taxi drivers and airplane pilots -- both in danger from self-driving vehicles. Drones are even delivering pizzas!

New products and processes will certainly lead to new growth, but change does not happen at the same pace everywhere. Technologically advanced societies will profit more while others will lag behind. It’s up to the attendees in Davos to ensure that everyone will have the right education and skills to benefit from these exciting developments. [more]

Will the Fourth Industrial Revolution improve the state of the world?


23 January 2016 (DNA India) – The World Economic Forum exuded confidence that its growth story would continue and the country would consolidate its position as the 'bright spot' of the world.

The 5-day annual jamboree of the world's rich and powerful came to a close in this Alpine resort on Saturday, with leaders raising concerns about economic headwinds from China, geo-political risks arising from the refugee crisis in Europe and terror attacks in various parts of the world.

With regard to India, the leaders at the World Economic Forum (WEF) exuded confidence that its growth story would continue and the country would consolidate its position as the 'bright spot' of the world. It will also become easier to do business in the world's fastest growing economy, they felt. […]

Converging under the theme of “Mastering the Fourth Industrial Revolution”, the 46th edition of the WEF discussed a raft of issues, including those pertaining to economic uncertainties, geo-political worries, refugee problem and innovations ahead. […]

At the end of the meeting, various leaders also suggested that CEOs have to turn away from short-term thinking and narrow concerns of shareholder gains and instead take bold steps to improve workers conditions, promote diversity and take a wider stakeholder perspective.

There was a consensus on this among business, labour and academic leaders in a session on the last day of the WEF meeting that focused this year on the challenges posed by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the wave of rapid advances across technologies that are changing all aspects of life and work.

IMF Chief Christine Lagarde said the global economy would see a modest growth with a downside risk this year, while calling for a change in the way GDP is calculated in the wake of the emerge of various new sectors and business landscapes.

"We see global growth in 2016 as modest and uneven … There is modest optimism but significant risks," she noted. [more]

World Economic Forum meet ends; raises concerns over China, terror and refugees

A pair of German merchant ships are seen as they traverse the fabled Northeast Passage around Russia's Arctic coastline. Photo: Associated Press

By Eric Roston
22 January 2016

(Bloomberg) – As chairman of investments at Guggenheim Partners, Scott Minerd thought he had a realistic view on how big an economic challenge climate change poses.

Then, at a Hoover Institution conference almost three years ago, he met former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz. Minerd recalled him saying: “Scott, imagine that you woke up tomorrow morning, and the headline on the newspapers was, 'The World Has Discovered a New Ocean.’” The opening of the Arctic, Shultz told him, may be one of the most important events since the end of the ice age, some 12,000 years ago.

And while Shultz’s spokesman couldn’t confirm the conversation, there’s no doubting the melting of the Arctic ice cap, and the unveiling of resources below, presents mind- boggling opportunities for energy, shipping, fishing, science, and military exploitation. Russia even planted its flag on the sea floor at the North Pole in 2007.

Energy and shipping have been first up. Norway made its national fortune drilling in northern waters, and Arctic fossil fuel exploration has become a more prominent part of U.S. energy policy. Melting ice means that in summer months, cargo can travel approximately 5,000 km from Korea to New York, rather than the 12,000 km it takes to pass through the Panama Canal. Warming waters also open up access to commercial fish stocks, making the Arctic a growing source of food.

Not long after that Hoover conference, Minerd joined a World Economic Forum advisory council. Its task? Develop guidelines for those nations looking to do business at the top of the world. That framework was released Thursday, in Davos.

“The history of economic development in regions of the world has really been fraught with a mass of mistakes,” said Minerd, who before Guggenheim worked at Credit Suisse and Morgan Stanley. “It really seems that someone needed to start developing a minimum standard, as a guide for economic development in the region.”

The Arctic Investment Protocol, developed by a 22-member WEF “global agenda council,” puts forward sustainability principles similar to initiatives developed for mature economies in recent years. The focus is long-term: tap the expertise of indigenous communities and treat them as commercial partners, protect ecosystems (even as rising temperatures change them before our eyes), and prevent corruption while encouraging international collaboration. The Arctic nations include Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the U.S., so there is a lot of collaboration to be had. […]

Such an effort will require significant scientific observation, especially given how little data there is, and how few have ever lived north of 66 degrees. Jan-Gunnar Withner, director of the Norwegian Polar Institute and a member of the WEF group, said increases in shipping, mining or other natural resource harvesting will be at the mercy of a fast melting ice cap. The retreat of ice sheets has created a shifting seascape of shipping channels. Melting glaciers are spawning more pesky icebergs that can wreak havoc on container ships and drilling platforms.

The Arctic is warming faster than any other part of the globe, Winther says: “These changes are like nothing we have seen. We don't have anything to compare with in history.” [more]

The world has discovered a $1 trillion ocean

Flooding on John F. Kennedy Blvd in Sea Isle, New Jersey, 23 January 2015. Winter storm Jonas pounded the New Jersey and Delaware shorelines with 22-foot waves and a 3 to 5-foot storm surge that sent water levels to all-time highs. Photo: Sea Isle Chamber

By Andrew Freedman and Megan Specia
23 January 2016

(Mashable) – This blizzard has another hazard besides the snow, sleet and strong winds its bringing to the East Coast: flooding. The storm is pounding the New Jersey and Delaware shorelines with 22-foot waves and a 3 to 5-foot storm surge that sent water levels to all-time highs in some locations on Saturday morning.

As the snow came down hard and fast, areas were already experiencing coastal flooding around the time of high tide in the early hours of Saturday morning. Some residents along the coast described the strong winds outside as sounding like a freight train passing outside their windows.

A wind gust to hurricane force, or 75 miles per hour, was recorded in Rehobeth Beach, Delaware, where waves higher than 20 feet and a high astronomical high tide raised water levels to near record heights.

The storm brought Cape May, New Jersey's all-time highest coastal flood on record — beating its tide levels seen during Hurricane Sandy and the Ash Wednesday storm of 1962 — according to meteorologist Gary Szatkowski of the National Weather Service. […]

Long-term sea level rise of about a foot during the past century in this area has primed the area for more frequent and severe coastal flooding, making it easier for storms like this one to enter the record books. [more]

Blizzard brings record coastal flooding to New Jersey and Delaware

A thin polar bear lies on beach on the Siberan Arctic, because there is no sea ice to hunt on. Photo: Sergey Anisimov / The Siberian Times

5 January 2016 (The Siberian Times) – Average temperatures in the north of the Kara and Barents seas were 4C to 5C higher than previous years.

This startling increase comes as meteorologists say the negative consequences of this warning can be measured directly, with a rapid rise in deadly and destructive wild fires, for example. The Russian Hydrometeorological Centre say the the year 2015 in the Northern Hemisphere was the warmest since 1891 when the records began.

The average annual temperature in 2015 for the first time in history exceeded the norm by 1C within the first ten months of the year. Compared with 2014, which was considered to be the warmest in the world, the rise average temperature of the Northern Hemisphere was 0.2C.

Such a change in the average annual temperature in comparison with the previous year occurred for the first time in history. The largest anomaly in average temperatures was registered in the north of the Kara Sea - on the roof of Siberia - stretching westward to the Barents Sea. 

Overall, in Russia, 2015 was the second warmest in history beaten only by 2007. Large rises of more than +3C were registered in the Siberian Federal District and the Northern Urals. The Siberian Federal District repeated the records of 2007 and 2011.

The director of the Russian Hydrometeorological Centre,  Roman Vilfand, said: 'For many billions of years of existence of our planet, of course, there were higher temperatures, and lower, but there has never happened such a rapid rise in temperature. 

“The planet and humanity can adapt to the evolutionary process. But now revolutionary changes are taking place.

“There are many scientific theories on the dynamics of climate. First of all, this is a complex physical, mathematical, weather, climate challenge - (but) what determines the climate change? 

“Most scientists attribute this to a complex interaction between the ocean, atmosphere and continents. But in the post-industrial period, there is another factor that is not in doubt - human activity.

“The increase in production leads to increased levels of carbon dioxide. And this increase takes place at very high speeds. This leads to an increase in temperature.”

During the first 11 months there were 401 “meteorological events”, which led directly to “negative consequences”. In 2014, there were 368. 

The wildfires which destroyed huge tracts of pristine land in Siberia and the Russian Far East in 2015 were among these consequences, as were examples of serious flooding.

Siberian Arctic leads the way in 'revolutionary' Northern Hemisphere warming

Growth in global plastics production 1950–2014. Graphic: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

19 January 2016
By David Williams

(PhysOrg) – Plastic rubbish will outweigh fish in the oceans by 2050 unless the world takes drastic action to recycle the material, a report warned Tuesday on the opening day of the annual gathering of the rich and powerful in the snow-clad Swiss ski resort of Davos.

An overwhelming 95 percent of plastic packaging worth $80-120 billion (73-110 billion euros) a year is lost to the economy after a single use, said a global study by a foundation fronted by yachtswoman Ellen MacArthur, which promotes recycling in the economy.

The study, which drew on multiple sources, proposed setting up a new system to slash the leaking of plastics into nature, especially the oceans, and to find alternatives to crude oil and natural gas as the raw material of plastic production.

At least eight million tonnes of plastics find their way into the ocean every year—equal to one garbage truckful every minute, said the report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which included analysis by the McKinsey Centre for Business and Environment.

"If no action is taken, this is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050," it said, with packaging estimated to represent the largest share of the pollution. [more]

Plastic to outweigh fish in oceans by 2050, study warns


Forecast of plastics volume growth, externalities, and oil consumption in a business-as-usual scenario. In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (by weight). Graphic: Ellen MacArthur Foundation

19 January 2016 (Ellen MacArthur Foundation) – Applying circular economy principles to global plastic packaging flows could transform the plastics economy and drastically reduce negative externalities such as leakage into oceans, according to the latest report by the World Economic Forum and Ellen MacArthur Foundation, with analytical support from McKinsey & Company.

The New Plastics Economy: Rethinking the future of plastics provides for the first time a vision of a global economy in which plastics never become waste, and outlines concrete steps towards achieving the systemic shift needed. The report, financially supported by the MAVA Foundation, was produced as part of Project MainStream, a global, multi-industry initiative that aims to accelerate business-driven innovations to help scale the circular economy.

The new report acknowledges that while plastics and plastic packaging are an integral part of the global economy and deliver many benefits, their value chains currently entail significant drawbacks. Assessing global plastic packaging flows comprehensively for the first time, the report finds that most plastic packaging is used only once; 95% of the value of plastic packaging material, worth $80-120 billion annually, is lost to the economy. Additionally, plastic packaging generates negative externalities, valued conservatively by UNEP at $40 billion. Given projected growth in consumption, in a business-as-usual scenario, by 2050 oceans are expected to contain more plastics than fish (by weight), and the entire plastics industry will consume 20% of total oil production, and 15% of the annual carbon budget. […]

Plastic packaging generates significant negative externalities, conservatively valued by UNEP at USD 40 billion and expected to increase with strong volume growth in a business-as-usual scenario. Each year, at least 8 million tonnes of plastics leak into the ocean — which is equivalent to dumping the contents of one garbage truck into the ocean every minute. If no action is taken, this is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030 and four per minute by 2050. Estimates suggest that plastic packaging represents the major share of this leakage. The best research currently available estimates that there are over 150 million tonnes of plastics in the ocean today. In a business-as-usual scenario, the ocean is expected to contain 1 tonne of plastic for every 3 tonnes of fish by 2025, and by 2050, more plastics than fish (by weight).

New Plastics Economy report offers blueprint to design a circular future for plastics

In this 12 January 2016 photo, Abraham Fulguera shows his fisherman's credential, in the dried up Lake Poopo, on the outskirts of Untavi, Bolivia. 'I am the president of the September 10 Fishing Cooperative. We used to be 30 fishermen and there used to be ten or more fishing cooperatives in Lake Poopo. Now we work as construction laborers. Others have left to look for jobs. I hope we do not become a ghost town. We have faith that the lake will come back.' Fulguera said. Photo: Juan Karita / AP Photo

By Carlos Valdez, with additional reporting by Frank Bajak
21 January 2016

UNTAVI, Bolivia (AP) – Overturned fishing skiffs lie abandoned on the shores of what was Bolivia's second-largest lake. Beetles dine on bird carcasses and gulls fight for scraps under a glaring sun in what marshes remain.

Lake Poopo was officially declared evaporated last month. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have lost their livelihoods and gone.

High on Bolivia's semi-arid Andean plains at 3,700 meters (more than 12,000 feet) and long subject to climatic whims, the shallow saline lake has essentially dried up before only to rebound to twice the area of Los Angeles.

But recovery may no longer be possible, scientists say.

"This is a picture of the future of climate change," says Dirk Hoffman, a German glaciologist who studies how rising temperatures from the burning of fossil fuels has accelerated glacial melting in Bolivia.

As Andean glaciers disappear so do the sources of Poopo's water. But other factors are in play in the demise of Bolivia's second-largest body of water behind Lake Titicaca.

Drought caused by the recurrent El Niño meteorological phenomenon is considered the main driver. Authorities say another factor is the diversion of water from Poopo's tributaries, mostly for mining but also for agriculture.

More than 100 families have sold their sheep, llamas and alpaca, set aside their fishing nets and quit the former lakeside village of Untavi over the past three years, draining it of well over half its population. Only the elderly remain.

"There's no future here," said 29-year-old Juvenal Gutierrez, who moved to a nearby town where he ekes by as a motorcycle taxi driver. […]

Poopo is now down to 2 percent of its former water level, regional Gov. Victor Hugo Vasquez calculates. Its maximum depth once reached 16 feet (5 meters). Field biologists say 75 species of birds are gone from the lake. […]

Florida Institute of Technology biologist Mark B. Bush says the long-term trend of warming and drying threatens the entire Andean highlands.

A 2010 study he co-authored for the journal Global Change Biology says Bolivia's capital, La Paz, could face catastrophic drought this century. It predicted "inhospitable arid climates" would lessen available food and water this century for the more than 3 million inhabitants of Bolivia's highlands. […]

"Something could have been done to prevent the disaster. Mining companies have been diverting water since 1982," he said. [more]

Disappearance of Bolivia's No. 2 lake a harbinger

 

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