World sees rapid upsurge in extreme weather: report

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The US capital is shrouded in snow on March 21, 2018 amid the fourth Nor’easter to strike in less than three weeks. Winter Storm Toby is throwing a fresh blanket of snow just as spring begins. (AFP / DAVID GANNON)
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In this Feb. 28, 2018 file photo, students rally for clean energy in front of San Francisco City Hall. A federal judge presiding over lawsuits accusing big oil companies of lying about global warming is turning his courtroom into a classroom. U.S. District Judge William Alsup has asked lawyers for two California cities and five of the world's largest oil and gas companies to come to court on Wednesday, March 21, 2018 to present "the best science now available on global warming." (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)
Updated 21 March 2018
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World sees rapid upsurge in extreme weather: report

PARIS: A world addled by climate change has seen a four-fold increase in major flooding events since 1980, and a doubling of significant storms, droughts and heat waves, Europe’s national science academies jointly reported Wednesday.
In Europe, where precise data reaches back decades, the number of severe floods has jumped five fold since 1995, according to the report, which updates a 2013 assessment.
“There has been, and continues to be, a significant increase in the frequency of extreme weather events,” said Michael Norton, environmental program director for the European Academies’ Science Advisory Council.
“They underline the importance of avoiding greenhouse gases, which are fundamentally responsible for driving these changes,” he told AFP.
For impacts that cannot be avoided, he added, “this makes climate proofing all the more urgent.”
In the United States, the damage wrought by storms doubled, on average, from $10 billion in 1980 to $20 billion in 2015, adjusted for inflation, according to the report, based in part on data from insurance giant Munich Re’s NatCatSERVICE.
The update also assessed new findings on possible changes in the Gulf Stream, powerful ocean currents running between the Arctic region and the Caribbean that warm the air in northwestern Europe and the US eastern seaboard.
The weakening of the Gulf Stream “is now a credible hypothesis,” said Norton.
“Some of the underlying drivers of extreme weather which were speculative four years ago are looking less speculative.”
The prospect of the Gulf Stream — also known as the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) — slowing, or even shutting down entirely, “must be taken as a serious possibility,” he added.
Scientists have estimated that winters in Britain and much of western Europe would be several degrees Celsius colder under such a scenario.
The study also examined recent disruptions of the polar Jet Stream, a band of west-to-east winds that circulate at bullet-train speed some 10 kilometers above Earth’s surface at the upper boundary of the troposphere.
Recent research has linked severe winters in North America and Europe, as well some extreme summer weather, to Jet Stream fluctuations possibly driven by global warming in the Arctic, where temperatures have risen twice as fast as for the planet as a whole.
A 2016 study in Climatic Change forecast that, by mid-century, pockets of southern Europe will face at least one severe climate hazard every year of the scale now occurring only once every 100 years.
By 2100, according to these predictions, Europe’s entire Mediterranean seaboard will be confronted annually with extreme droughts, coastal floods or heatwaves.
And a few “hotspots” will be hit every year by two or more such formerly once-in-hundred-years hazards, which also include wildfires, river floods and windstorms.


Egypt denies Sinai battle is choking off food and medicine supplies

Updated 1 min 11 sec ago
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Egypt denies Sinai battle is choking off food and medicine supplies

CAIRO: An Egyptian military campaign to defeat Daesh militants in the northern Sinai Peninsula is choking essential food and medical supplies to thousands of residents in the desert region, Human Rights Watch said on Monday. The army denied the charge.
The New York-based organization warned of a wider humanitarian crisis if North Sinai continued to be cut off from the Egyptian mainland, saying the army’s actions “border on collective punishment.”
The army launched an operation in February to crush militants who have waged an insurgency that has killed hundreds of soldiers, police and residents over many years.
Air strikes and raids have killed scores of suspected militants since then, the military says, as it imposes curfews and tight movement restrictions around towns in North Sinai. The army has said it is winning the battle.
A military spokesman denied there were shortages, saying it was providing food and medical support throughout the areas it operated in, The HRW report had used “undocumented sources” in its report, he said.
“Thousands of food parcels have been and are being provided to people in North Sinai,” Col. Tamer Al-Rifai, the spokesman, added.
International news outlets are prevented from traveling to North Sinai to report.
Residents said food supplies, medicine and fuel were insufficient and that movement restrictions meant most people were unable to leave the region, HRW reported.
“A counter-terrorism operation that imperils the flow of essential goods to hundreds of thousands of civilians is unlawful and unlikely to stem violence,” HRW’s Middle East and North Africa director Sarah Leah Whitson said.
The report said authorities had banned the sale of petrol and cut communication lines, water and electricity in some areas of North Sinai including near the border with the Gaza Strip.
Residents told Reuters last month they often waited for hours for bread handouts which were not guaranteed to arrive.
Defeating the militants and restoring security after years of unrest that followed Egypt’s 2011 popular uprising has been a promise of President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who was re-elected in March in a landslide victory against no real opposition.
El-Sisi’s critics say he has presided over Egypt’s worst crackdown on dissent. Supporters say such measures are needed to bring stability and improve the country’s hard-hit economy.
In Sinai, analysts and foreign diplomats say heavy-handed military tactics including air strikes and demolitions of populated areas have failed to defeat the insurgency.