Science update on climate change: from bad to worse

Activists protest against the carbon dioxide emissions trading in front of the World Congress Centre Bonn, the site of the COP23 U.N. Climate Change Conference, in Bonn, Germany, on Friday, November 17, 2017. (REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay)
Updated 17 November 2017
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Science update on climate change: from bad to worse

PARIS: Scientists monitoring the Earth’s climate and environment have delivered a cascade of grim news this year, adding a sense of urgency to UN talks on how best to draw down the greenhouse gases that drive global warming.
Here is a summary of recent findings:
Earth’s average surface temperature last year was a record 1.1 degrees Celsius (1.98 Fahrenheit) above the preindustrial era.
The planet’s rising fever is caused by the accumulation of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, especially carbon dioxide (CO2) cast off when fossil fuels are burned to produce energy.
Sixteen of the hottest years on record have occurred since the start of the 21st century, and 2017 is on track to be the warmest year not affected by the El Nino weather phenomenon.
The 196-nation Paris Agreement calls on humanity to block the rise in temperature at “well below” 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 F) compared to preindustrial levels, and to strive for a cap of 1.5 C.
The atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide (CO2) reached an average of 403.3 parts per million (ppm) in 2016, the highest level in at least 800,000 years.
CO2 emissions — after remaining stable for three years, raising hopes that they had peaked — will rise by two percent in 2017.
Concentrations of methane (CH4), the second most important greenhouse gas, have also risen sharply over the last decade, driven by leakage from the gas industry’s fracking boom and growth in global livestock production.
Many climate scientists argue that capping CO2 at 450 ppm offers a fighting chance at staying under the 2 C threshold. But others say the limit for a “climate safe” world is much lower, at about 350 ppm.
Arctic summer sea ice shrank to 4.64 million square kilometers (1.79 million square miles) in 2017, leaving ice extent well above the record low of 3.39 million square kilometers set in 2012.
But long-term trends are unmistakable: Arctic sea ice cover is declining at a rate of 13.2 percent per decade, relative to the 1981-2010 average.
Climate models predict the Arctic Ocean could be ice-free in summer as early as 2030.
At the other end of the world, Antarctic sea ice last year hit the lowest extent ever recorded by satellites.
Earth’s two massive ice sheets — atop Greenland and Antarctica — are shedding 286 billion and 127 billion tons of mass per year, respectively.
High-altitude glaciers, meanwhile, suffered a decline in surface area in 2016 for the 37th year in a row.
The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) says there are demonstrable links between climate change caused by human activity and some extreme weather events, especially heatwaves.
The number of climate-related extreme events — such as droughts, forest fires, floods and major storm surges — has doubled since 1990, research has shown.
2017 saw the first severe tropical storm known to sustain winds of 295 kilometers per hour (185 miles per hour) for more than 33 hours (Irma); and a hurricane that dropped a record 125 centimeters of water (nearly 50 inches) on land (Harvey).
The intensity of typhoons battering China, Taiwan, Japan and the Korean Peninsula since 1980, one study has shown, has increased by 12 to 15 percent.
Natural disasters drive about 26 million people into poverty every year, according to the World Bank, and cause annual losses of about $520 million (440 million euros).
Sea level rise — caused mainly by water expanding as it warms, as well as runoff from ice sheets and glaciers — is now 3.4 millimeters (0.13 inches) per year. Since 1993, the global ocean watermark has gone up by 84.8 mm (3.3 inches).
The pace is likely to pick up, threatening the homes and livelihoods of tens of millions of people in low-lying areas around the world.
Global warming is likely to add at least a meter (three feet) to the global watermark by century’s end, according to recent estimates.
Of the 8,688 species of animals and plants listed as “threatened” on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s (IUCN) Red List, 19 percent have been negatively affected by climate change.
Twenty-five years after 1,700 scientists issued a “warning to humanity” about environmental degradation, more than 15,000 experts updated the alert this month and noted that virtually all the planet’s problems are getting “far worse.”
Scientists say the planet has entered a “mass extinction event” — the sixth in the last half-billion years.
Sources: NASA, National Snow and Ice Data Center, WMO, peer-reviewed studies.


Vote count begins for Afghan election

Afghan election observers at a polling center after ballots in the country’s legislative election were counted in Kabul on Monday. (AFP)
Updated 22 October 2018
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Vote count begins for Afghan election

  • Some candidates said powerful figures were behind election rigging
  • The Electoral Complaints Commission said there was mismanagement during the election, and as of Sunday it had received some 5,000 complaints from voters and candidates

KABUL: Vote counting began on Monday for Afghanistan’s parliamentary election, which was marred by violence and irregularities, with political parties alleging “organized fraud.”

The parties said mismanagement and hundreds of Taliban attacks, which led to an extension of voting for another day at hundreds of polling stations, could raise questions over the election result, which is expected to be released in two months.

Some candidates said powerful figures were behind election rigging, and biometric devices, which were put in place to counter fraud, were smashed to facilitate the rigging. 

Abdul Bade Sayad, head of the country’s Independent Election Commission (IEC), was cited by local media as confirming incidents of biometric equipment being smashed, and the presence of strongmen inside some polling stations. 

But the IEC should not be held responsible for this, he said, adding: “When the government itself feels helpless before powerful figures, then senior officials of the commission should not be blamed.”

The Electoral Complaints Commission said there was mismanagement during the election, and as of Sunday it had received some 5,000 complaints from voters and candidates.

Afghanistan’s Independent Human Rights Commission (IHRC) said people could not vote on Saturday in some 1,000 polling stations. 

Ahead of the election, which was delayed for more than three years, the government said it could not open more than 2,000 stations due to security threats.

Alleged irregularities included polling stations opening late, biometric devices malfunctioning, and the absence of IEC staff and voter registration lists.

Of the 9 million people who had registered to vote, nearly 4 million cast their ballot, the IEC said.

The IHRC said the IEC should not shun its responsibility regarding “shortcomings and grave violations in voting centers.”

The Transparent Election Foundation of Afghanistan said: “In some of the polling stations, ballots were not counted; instead the ballot boxes were transferred to a different location for counting… without informing the observers about the new location.”