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

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.


Philippine trash trawlers earn little from virus-boosted surge in plastics

Updated 40 min 45 sec ago

Philippine trash trawlers earn little from virus-boosted surge in plastics

MANILA: Virgilio Estuesta has picked through trash in the Philippines’ biggest city for four decades, and is noticing an unusually large amount of plastics during his daily trawl of about 15 km (9.3 miles).
Tough curbs re-imposed to combat a surge in daily coronavirus infections are squeezing income for the 60-year-old, as many of the junkyards and businesses in Manila that buy his recyclables have been closed since March.
Plastic items, such as bottles and containers, dominate the contents of the rickety wooden cart Estuesta pushes through the deserted streets, far more than metals and cardboard, yet the money they bring in is not enough to get by.
“It’s been really hard for us, it’s been difficult looking for recyclables that sell high,” he said.
“Recently we’ve been seeing a lot more plastics, but the problem is they don’t really sell high.”
Environmentalists say the Philippines is battling one of the world’s biggest problems stemming from single-use plastics, and ranks among the biggest contributors to plastic pollution of the oceans. It has no reliable data for its plastics consumption.
Greenpeace campaigner Marian Ledesma said consumers and businesses are now using yet more single-use plastics, in a bid to ward off virus infections.
“The pandemic has really increased plastic pollution,” she added. “Just because there’s a lot more people using disposables now, due to misconceptions and fears around transmitting the virus.”
Since March 16, Manila has experienced lockdowns of varying levels of severity, in some of the world’s longest and tightest measures to curb the spread of the virus.
They are taking a toll on Estuesta, who hopes to start earning soon.
“When you go out, the police will reprimand you,” he said. “I was stuck at home and had to rely on government aid, which was not enough. I had to resort to borrowing money from people.”