Thousands of UK kids skip school for climate protests

LONDON (AFP) – Thousands of schoolchildren went on “strike” across Britain on Friday (Feb 15) in a protest against climate change, with hundreds rallying in London’s Parliament Square.

Children of all ages chanted, “Save our planet,” cheered as flares were lit and clambered onto statues in the shadow of Big Ben to call for action and to raise awareness.

“As humans, we got ourselves into this predicament, it’s our responsibility to get out of it,” said 15-year-old Hal, who normally attends a school in Hammersmith, west London.

“As well as being a message to the politicians, it’s a way to spread awareness to everyone,” added the teenager, who was wearing his school uniform “to accentuate the fact that I should be at school”.

The protesters waved makeshift placards reading “Make Earth Cool Again”, “Don’t Mess With My Mother”, “We Stand For What We Stand On” and “I’m Getting Detention For This”.

There were similar protests in dozens of towns and cities, including Brighton, Leeds, Manchester and Oxford.

Many of the children said their schools had shown them leniency in attending the “Youth Strike 4 Climate” event, part of a Europe-wide movement that has seen walkouts in Belgium, France, Germany, and Sweden.

“I’m originally from Germany so my friends already did it, then I saw people talk about it, and I said ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to come’,” art student Emily El-Harake, 17, told AFP.

The teenager called on politicians to get Brexit sorted quickly in order to focus on “more important issues” like the environment.

“Young people are a lot more conscious of it, most people I know, we buy our clothes second hand,” added friend Erin Mantle, 16, who said their school was supportive of their strike.

“It’s the little things that we are doing, but it’s the government that needs to do the big things.”


Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said it was good that young people were “engaged in the issues that affect them”, but that the protest “wastes lesson time that teachers have carefully prepared for”.

The movement was inspired by the actions of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old girl who held a solitary protest outside the Swedish Parliament in Stockholm last year.

Geography student Paige Reardon, 16, said her teacher was “happy that I was going” to the protest, and urged politicians to take action.

“They need to consider it’s their children and grand children who are going to suffer. Stop being selfish.”

Some parents were also in attendance, including Minnesota native Sally Hodgkinson, 42, and her 11-year-old daughter Isis.

“She expressed an interest, as did some kids from her school, and I thought it was a good way for them to get engaged,” said mother Sally.

“It has to be put to the top of the agenda.”

Student Hal said that social media was helping young people to coordinate action worldwide.

“It would’ve been a much smaller cause without it. It’s a really good thing social media brought all these people together.”


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E.P.A. Will Study Limits on Cancer-Linked Chemicals. Critics Say the Plan Delays Action.

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WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday said it will start work by the end of the year on a long-awaited plan to set national drinking-water limits for two harmful chemicals linked to cancer, low infant birth weight and other health issues.

But environmentalists and Democratic lawmakers criticized the plan, saying it in effect delayed desperately needed regulation on a clear public health threat from chemicals that are commonly used in cookware, pizza boxes, stain repellents and fire retardants.

E.P.A. officials described their proposal as the “first-ever nationwide action plan” to address the health effects of human-made chemicals known as poly- and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs. There currently no federal regulations on the production or monitoring of that class of about 5,000 chemicals, which are manufactured and used in a wide variety of industries and products. Studies have shown that they can linger in the human body for years, causing harmful health impacts.

“The PFAS action plan is the most comprehensive action plan for a chemical of concern ever undertaken by the agency,” said Dave Ross, E.P.A.’s assistant administrator for water, in a telephone call with reporters on Thursday. Andrew Wheeler, the E.P.A.’s acting administrator, who is now President Trump’s nominee to head the agency, called the plan a “pivotal moment in the history of the agency.”

The American Chemistry Council, an industry lobbying group, voiced support for the plan. “We continue to support strong national leadership in addressing PFAS and firmly believe that E.P.A. is best positioned to provide the public with a comprehensive strategy informed by a full understanding of the safety and benefits of different PFAS chemistries,” it said in a statement.

Critics called on the agency to move more quickly, citing 2016 action by the Obama administration on two of the chemicals that suggested the urgency of the risk.

“While E.P.A. acts with the utmost urgency to repeal regulations, the agency ambles with complacency when it comes to taking real steps to protect the water we drink and the air we breathe,” said Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment Committee.

After a public outcry over tests showing dangerous levels of PFASs in communities around the United States, particularly around military bases and fire stations, the E.P.A. under the Obama administration in 2016 proposed creating a national standard for limiting the levels in drinking water of two of the most prevalent varieties of PFAS chemicals, known as PFOA and PFOS.

It also issued a health advisory recommending that water utilities and public health officials monitor levels of the two chemicals in public water supplies, and notify the public if the combined levels of those chemicals reached 70 parts per trillion. A draft report released last year by the Department of Health and Human Services recommended that the “minimal risk level” for exposure to those two chemicals should be less than half that amount.

Given the available data on the effect of PFAS chemicals, environmentalists criticized the E.P.A.’s response as inadequate to the threat.

Scott Faber, an expert on chemical policy with the Environmental Working Group, an advocacy organization, called it a “drinking water crisis facing millions of Americans.” But the E.P.A., he said, is “just not treating the crisis the way it deserves.”

In particular, critics of the E.P.A. have sited the role of Nancy Beck, a former lobbyist with the American Chemistry Council, in a slowdown of the agency’s response to addressing PFASs.

Last May, Scott Pruitt, the previous administrator of the E.P.A., convened a summit aimed at addressing the threat of PFAS chemicals, an announced that, as a first step, the E.P.A. would decide whether to set a national drinking water standard for PFOA and PFOS. Mr. Wheeler said Thursday that the agency intends to act quickly to begin that regulatory process.

“Our goal is to close the gap on the science as quickly as possible,” he said, adding that the agency is also looking into technology to clean or reduce PFAS chemicals from drinking water.

But Mr. Wheeler did not offer a clear timeline of when such a standard might be completed. Such regulatory processes can often take years.

Mr. Carper suggested that the E.P.A.’s failure to provide a clear timeline on completing the standard could influence the outcome of Mr. Wheeler’s Senate confirmation vote to lead the E.P.A., although given the Republican majority in the Senate, his confirmation is still likely assured.

“I urge Mr. Wheeler to reverse course and treat this public health threat with the urgency it deserves,” Mr. Carper said. “And I ask my colleagues in the Senate to take note of Mr. Wheeler’s lack of urgency in addressing this threat as they consider his nomination to be E.P.A.’s permanent administrator.”

For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.

Coral Davenport covers energy and environmental policy, with a focus on climate change, from the Washington bureau. She joined The Times in 2013 and previously worked at Congressional Quarterly, Politico and National Journal. @CoralMDavenport Facebook

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As ice melts, Greenland could become big sand exporter: Scientists

OSLO (REUTERS) – Greenland could start to export sand in a rare positive spinoff from global warming that is melting the island’s vast ice sheet and washing large amounts of sediment into the sea, scientists said on Monday (Feb 11).

Mining of sand and gravel, widely used in the construction industry, could boost the economy for Greenland’s 56,000 population who have wide powers of self-rule within Denmark but rely heavily on subsidies from Copenhagen.

By mining sand, “Greenland could benefit from the challenges brought by climate change,” a team of scientists in Denmark and the United States wrote in the journal Nature Sustainability.

The study, headlined “Promises and perils of sand exploitation in Greenland”, said the Arctic island would have to assess risks of coastal mining, especially to fisheries.

Rising global temperatures are melting the Greenland ice sheet, which locks up enough water to raise global sea levels by about seven metres if it ever all thawed, and carrying ever more sand and gravel into coastal fjords.

“You can think of it (the melting ice) as a tap that pours out sediment to the coast,” said lead author Mette Bendixen, a researcher at the University of Colorado’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research.

Worldwide demand for sand totalled about 9.55 billion tonnes in 2017 with a market value of US$99.5 billion (S$135.4 billion) and is projected to reach almost US$481 billion in 2100, driven by rising demand and likely shortages, the study said.

That meant a rare opportunity for the island.

“Normally the Arctic peoples are among those who really feel climate change – the eroding coast, less permafrost,” said Bendixen. “This is a unique situation because of the melting ice sheet.”

David Boertmann of Aarhus University, who was not involved in the study, said there was already some local mining of sand for the domestic construction industry in Greenland.

Drawbacks for Greenland, common to other mining projects on the island ranging from uranium to rare earth minerals, include the distance to markets in Europe and North America, he said.

Still, Bendixen said sand was already often transported long distances, such as to Los Angeles from Vancouver or from Australia to Dubai.

“At the moment it is an inexpensive resource but it will become more expensive,” she said.

The study said that sand and gravel might also be used in future to reinforce beaches and coastlines at risk of rising sea levels, caused in part by Greenland’s thaw.


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Two-thirds of Himalayan glaciers could melt, study warns

KATHMANDU (AFP) – Two-thirds of Himalayan glaciers, the world’s “Third Pole”, could melt by 2100 if global emissions are not sharply reduced, scientists warned in a major new study issued Monday (Feb 4).

Even if the most ambitious Paris Agreement goal of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is achieved, one-third of the glaciers would go, according to the Hindu Kush Himalaya Assessment.

Glaciers in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya (HKH) region are a critical water source for some 250 million people in the mountains as well as to 1.65 billion others in the river valleys below, the report said.

The glaciers feed 10 of the world’s most important river systems, including the Ganges, Indus, Yellow, Mekong and Irrawaddy, and directly or indirectly supply billions of people with food, energy, clean air and income.

Impacts on people from their melting will range from worsened air pollution to more extreme weather.

Lower pre-monsoon river flows will throw urban water systems and food and energy production off-kilter, the study warned.

Five years in the making, the 650-page report was published by the International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development (ICIMOD) in Nepal, one of eight countries on the front line.

More than 350 researchers and policy experts, 185 organisations, 210 authors, 20 editors and 125 external reviewers contributed to its completion.

“Global warming is on track to transform the frigid, glacier-covered mountain peaks… cutting across eight countries to bare rocks in a little less than a century,” Philippus Wester of ICIMOD said in a statement.

“This is the climate crisis you haven’t heard of.”


The 2015 Paris Agreement vowed to cap global warming “well below” two deg C above pre-industrial levels, and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 deg C.

In December, the UN climate forum agreed on a common rule book to implement the accord, but failed to deliver fresh commitments to reduce planet-warming greenhouse gases.

Voluntary pledges currently in place would see Earth heat up by more than 3 deg C, a recipe for widespread human misery, say scientists.

The new report notes that a 1.5 deg C increase in global temperatures would mean a rise of at least 2.1 deg C in the Himalayas region. If emissions continue unabated, the roof of the world would warm by an unlivable 5 deg C.

“This is a landmark piece of work,” commented Jemma Wadham, a professor of glaciology at the University of Bristol in England who did not contribute to the report.

“The discovery that a third of the Himalayan glaciers could disappear signals potentially disastrous consequences for river flows, pollution and managing natural hazards associated with extreme events for more than one billion people.”

The Himalayan glaciers, which formed some 70 million years ago, are highly sensitive to changing temperatures. Since the 1970s, they have thinned and retreated, and the area covered by snow and snowfall has sharply decreased.

As the glaciers shrink, hundreds of risky glacial lakes can burst and unleash floods.

Satellite data shows that numbers of such lakes in the region grew to 4,260 in a decade from 3,350 in 1990.

“Emerging hazards – in particular glacial lake development and increasingly unstable rock and ice faces – will become a major concern,” said Duncan Quincey, an associate professor at the University of Leeds school of geography.

Air pollution from the Indo-Gangetic Plains – one of the world’s most polluted regions – also deposits black carbon and dust on the glaciers, hastening melting and changing monsoon circulation, the ICIMOD study said.

The region would require up to US$4.6 billion per year by 2030 to adapt to climate change, rising to as much as US$7.8 billion per year by 2050, according to an estimate in the report.

“Without the ice reserve in the mountains to top up the rivers through the melt season, droughts will be harsher on those living downstream,” noted Hamish Pritchard, an expert on ice dynamics at the British Antarctic Survey, commenting on the findings.


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Norway's Arctic islands at risk of 'devastating' warming: Report

OSLO (REUTERS) – Icy Arctic islands north of Norway are warming faster than almost anywhere on Earth and more avalanches, rain and mud may cause “devastating” changes by 2100, a Norwegian report said on Monday (Feb 4).

The thaw on the remote Svalbard islands, home to 2,300 people and where the main village of Longyearbyen is 1,300km from the North Pole, highlights risks in other parts of the Arctic from Alaska to Siberia.

Average temperatures on Svalbard have leapt between three and five degrees Celsius since the early 1970s and could rise by a total of 10 deg C by 2100 if world greenhouse gas emissions keep climbing, the study said.

Almost 200 governments promised in the 2015 Paris climate agreement to limit a rise in average global temperatures to”well below” 2 deg C above pre-industrial times by 2100.

Worldwide, temperatures are up about 1 deg C.

On Svalbard, the envisaged rise in temperatures would thaw the frozen ground underpinning many buildings, roads and airports, cause more avalanches, “slushflows” and landslides, melt glaciers and threaten wildlife such as polar bears and seals that rely on sea ice to hunt.

“A 10 degree warming, with the implications for Arctic nature, ice-dependent species, will be devastating,” Climate and Environment Minister Ola Elvestuen told Reuters.

Norway will have to increase investment to relocate buildings from avalanche paths and drill deeper infrastructure foundations as permafrost thaws, the report said.

Two people died in 2015 when an avalanche destroyed 10 houses in Longyearbyen.

Many other parts of the Arctic, especially its islands, are also warming far quicker than the world average as the retreat of snow and sea ice exposes darker water and ground that soaks up ever more of the sun’s heat.

Temperatures on Svalbard would stay around current levels only if governments make unprecedented cuts in global emissions, the report said.


“No one is doing enough” to limit greenhouse gas emissions, Elvestuen said of government actions. “We have to do more … The use of oil and gas has to go down.”

Norway is western Europe’s biggest oil and gas exporter.

Inger Hanssen-Bauer, head of the Norwegian Centre for Climate Services, which produced the report, said the findings were a warning for the rest of the Arctic.

“The main message is that these changes are happening so fast,” she told Reuters.

Ketil Isaksen, a lead author at the Norwegian Meteorological Institute, urged researchers to pay more attention to landslides as the permafrost melts.

“There is now a lot of focus on snow avalanches, but landslides in summer should be taken more into account,” he said.


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Teenagers Emerge as a Force in Climate Protests Across Europe

BRUSSELS — Tens of thousand of children skipped school in Belgium on Thursday to join demonstrations for action against climate change, part of a broader environmental protest movement across Europe that has gathered force over the past several weeks.

In Germany, France, Sweden, Switzerland and elsewhere, activists have come together on social media to gather in large numbers and without much apparent preparation, the protests taking a different shape in each country.

In Germany, students have protested on Fridays, communicating mainly through the messaging app WhatsApp; in Belgium, they organize on Facebook and have skipped school by the thousands on four consecutive Thursdays.

Last Sunday, climate protests in Brussels swelled to an estimated 100,000 people of all ages. That same day, an estimated 80,000 took part in cities across France — more than turned out for the “Yellow Vest” protests the day before.

The climate movement has no obvious leaders or structure, but a 16-year-old Swede, Greta Thunberg, has drawn worldwide attention and inspired many of the protesters. She has called for school strikes to raise awareness of global warming, scolded world political and economic leaders at this month’s gathering in Davos, Switzerland, and even has her own TED Talk.

Most older people do not feel the urgency young people do about global warming, said Axelle Kiambi, 17, who joined a demonstration in Brussels on Thursday with her sisters, Pauline, 16, and Elisa, 19.

“To us, it is so self-evident that we can’t keep on going in this direction,” said Axelle, raising her voice above the drumming, whistling and shouting of her fellow protesters.

“We come here with the right intentions, to protest in peace and to raise awareness about climate change, because we want to be on the right side of history,” Elisa Kiambi said. “It is time for the government to act.”

After meeting this week with a delegation of climate activists, Belgium’s prime minister, Charles Michel, said he was prepared to act, but not at any cost.

“Nothing is for free, someone always has to pay the bills,” he said.

He seemed to refer to the Yellow Vest movement against economic woes and inequality, which has resonated with people across Europe, including in Belgium. That movement, which began in reaction to a planned fuel tax increase — presented as an environmental measure — has been at odds with concerns about the climate.

“We need a climate policy that is positive for the environment, but also one that is positive for the purchasing power of the families,” Mr. Michel said.

In France, few students have skipped school to protest, but an online petition demanding climate action by the government has gathered more than 2.1 million signatures. On the Place de la République in Paris last Sunday, protesters debated how to force climate change into President Emmanuel Macron’s nationwide dialogue in response to the Yellow Vests.

In both movements, there are people who argue that the fights against inequality and climate should not conflict.

“One shouldn’t think that the Yellow Vests aren’t mindful of ecology, of the planet,” said Ingrid Levavasseur, 31, a Yellow Vest protester who is running for a seat in the European Parliament.

In Germany on Friday, about 3,500 high school and university students gathered in Munich under the banner “Fridays for Future.”

In Berlin, about 10,000 climate activists with signs like “It’s our future you are playing with” and “Climate S.O.S.” demonstrated in front of the Ministry of Economics and Technology, joined by the Chinese dissident artist Ai Weiwei.

“We tell people, dress warmly, because we are only getting started,” said Luisa Neubauer, 22, a university student who helps organize the Berlin protests.

On Friday morning, organizers met with the economics minister, Peter Altmaier, and members of the government’s coal commission. The next day, the commission recommended ending the use of coal to generate electricity by 2038.

In Brussels, Liam , 18, who was protesting for the third Thursday in a row, said there was “a growing momentum” in the movement, but he wondered if it should be more disruptive to draw more attention.

“Most adults probably think it’s cute that children protest,” he said. “But maybe we should change the timing of the protests to rush hour.”

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OECD urges Australia to step up carbon emissions cuts

MELBOURNE (REUTERS) – Australia needs to cut carbon emissions more sharply to meet its 2030 Paris Climate accord target, the OECD warned on Wednesday (Jan 30), contradicting claims by the country’s conservative government that the goal will be easily met.

Despite rapidly growing use of wind and solar power, Australia remains heavily dependent on coal and natural gas for energy, while emissions from the transport sector are growing.

That will make it tough for Australia, one of the 10 worst greenhouse gas emitters in the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), to cut total greenhouse gas emissions by 26 per cent to 28 per cent from 2005 levels by 2030, as promised under the Paris agreement.

“Australia needs to intensify mitigation efforts to reach its Paris Agreement goal: emissions are projected to increase by 2030,” the OECD said in a review of Australia’s environmental performance.

The report shows Australia’s greenhouse gas emissions are set to rise slightly from current levels to 570 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, well above its commitment to cut emissions to between 430 million tonnes and 442 million tonnes.

“Adopting an integrated energy and climate policy framework for 2030 with an emission reduction goal for the power sector would avoid the projected rise in GHG emissions,” OECD Secretary-General Angel Gurria said in the report.

The power sector is the country’s biggest single polluter, accounting for a third of greenhouse gas emissions.

The report comes five months after the right wing of the Liberal-National coalition government forced the ditching of a long-awaited comprehensive energy policy and ousted former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull.

His successor, Mr Scott Morrison, scrapped the effort to craft an integrated energy and climate policy to focus only on driving down power and gas prices.

Under pressure to do more from opposition Labor, the Greens and the country’s Pacific island neighbours, which face the threat of rising sea levels from global warming, Mr Morrison has repeatedly said Australia will easily meet its climate accord target, as it had with the previous Kyoto accords.

“This is an ambitious target but… as indeed I have said on many occasions, we will meet our 2030 targets at a canter,” Mr Morrison said on a visit to Fiji earlier in January.

The OECD urged Canberra to set an emission reduction goal for the power sector, use energy taxes and road pricing to better reflect the climate costs of fuel use, and increase investment in rail and public transport.


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Melting sea ice sparks debate on tourism and shipping in the Arctic

TROMSO, Norway – Many tourists are drawn to the region around the North Pole for its magnificent glaciers and dancing northern lights.

And with climate change and melting sea ice making the icy north more accessible, tourism to the area is only likely to increase. This has raised concerns over how Arctic cities would cope with the influx of tourists, and the impact that the extra people would have on the environment.

The Arctic region is broadly defined by the eight Arctic states, including Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.

Singapore company Keppel Corporation has proposed a solution. “We are looking into the possibility of creating an Arctic Hub, a floating structure which will allow tourists to disembark and visit the Arctic while minimising their impact on the fragile environment,” said Mr Aziz Merchant, executive director of the marine and deepwater technology division of Keppel Offshore and Marine, on Tuesday (Jan 22).

Speaking at the plenary on Arctic seaways at the Arctic Frontiers conference here, he said the Arctic hub could rely on a network of smaller passenger vessels and ships to take tourists to land, but had the potential to become a destination in itself.

He told The Straits Times tourists will always be on the lookout for new experiences, and that the Arctic Hub had the potential to provide such an experience without the accompanying environmental damage.

He said: “Some concerns we have heard is that cities may not have the right infrastructure to support Arctic tourism if ships were to dock on land. The Arctic Hub was a concept we put forward to show how tourists can enjoy the Arctic environment and ambience, but without disturbing the fragile environment.” The tourism revenue could also benefit Arctic communities and livelihoods, he added.

However, Mr Merchant said plans for the Arctic Hub were still at a conceptual stage, and that Arctic tourism was still a developing area.

In the shorter term, Keppel’s interests in the Arctic lie in building infrastructure to support the maritime industry in the Arctic, whether in the form of search-and-rescue facilities, or in the construction of ice-class vessels, he said.

“Singapore is a maritime nation, and Keppel Offshore and Marine is a global leader in offshore rig design, construction and repair, ship repair and conversion, and specialised shipbuilding,” said Mr Merchant.

The opportunities and challenges brought about by a warming Arctic were discussed at length at the conference on Tuesday, with policy makers, academics and business representatives sharing their views on a range of issues, from fisheries to new sea routes.

At the plenary on fisheries, there were discussions of the role of Arctic fisheries and aquaculture in contributing to global food security, at a time when global warming is restricting the ranges for Arctic species such as cod .

For instance, aquaculture currently contributes between 30 and 40 per cent to Norway’s overall seafood production, with fisheries making up the bulk. But Norway’s state secretary for fisheries Roy Angelvik predicted this proportion would increase in the years ahead.

“The (global) population is growing, somebody has to produce food,” said Mr Angelvik. He noted the Norwegian government is in discussion with the industry on how food production can be done with minimal environmental impact.

But it was the role of tourism in the Arctic that sparked heated debate on Tuesday, with both panellists and members of the audience debating if having greater numbers of visitors would be more of a boon or bane to the pristine north.

Mr Daniel Skjeldam, chief executive of the Norwegian explorer cruise line Hurtigruten, said tourism, if done in a sustainable way, could create “climate ambassadors” – tourists who, after witnessing the impacts of climate change on their travels, make changes to their daily lives.

“If you block all forms of tourism to this area, you are taking away livelihoods from a lot of people, and you are not doing the teaching. But (the tourism) has to be organised, and done in a safe way,” he said during the plenary.

Others were less convinced, with an audience member asking the panellists about the impact of noise pollution created by big ships on sea animals such as whales.

She said: “We talk about people, we talk abut money, but what about nature?”

Dr Michael Byers, Canada research chair in global politics and international law at the University of British Colombia, said the Canadian government is looking to identify corridors for shipping that steer vessels away from Inuit communities, who are dependent on wildlife.

“The ships are kept away from environmentally sensitive areas because the noise from the ships can be very disturbing to marine mammals, some of which use echolocation to hunt,” he said. “This is part of what Canada is seeking to do to reduce the impact of shipping, by providing these corridors as recommendations for where responsible companies should go.”


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Lessons for the Arctic from Singapore's smart nation drive

TROMSO – Singapore is a small country with no natural resources, but it has successfully harnessed technology, including sensors and automated meters, to help it fulfil its ambitions of becoming a smart city.

This is an experience it hopes to share with other nations looking to technology for solutions to challenges such as climate change, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sam Tan said on Monday (Jan 21).

Speaking to a crowd of policy makers and academics at the Arctic Frontiers conference in Tromso, Norway, Mr Tan said the theme of this year’s event, “Smart Arctic”, was a timely one, with new technologies bringing about opportunities and disruptions.

For example, Singapore is investing in revamping its power grid to become more energy-efficient and deploying sensors that can collect real-time data on wind, sunlight and shade in residential areas. By analysing this information, urban planners will be able to get more insight into how to design and site future housing estates to reduce the need for air-conditioning. “This will in turn reduce our carbon emissions,” said Mr Tan.

The use of technology to strike a balance between development and the protection of the Arctic environment looks set to be major theme during the five-day Arctic Frontiers conference, which kicked off on Sunday.

On Monday (Jan 21), Norway’s Minister of Climate and Environment Ola Elvestuen cited a recent scientific report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as being an urgent call for countries to transition to a low carbon future.

The report highlighted the differences in impacts of a 1.5 deg C global warming scenario versus a 2 deg C one, with the latter resulting in catastrophic impacts on earth systems, human livelihoods and biodiversity. “We must be smarter and more efficient at using energy. We need smart cities and communities, and… strong policies to speed up transitions to a low emission society,” he said.

Some of Singapore’s home-grown innovations could help.

Local start-up Third Wave Power, for example, has designed a portable solar charger that can be used by off-grid rural communities. “This is useful for people living in remote areas, not just in South-east Asia, but also the Arctic region,” said Mr Tan.

Ms Hema Nadarajah, a Singaporean doctoral candidate studying international relations at the University of British Columbia’s department of political science, said both the Arctic and South-east Asia have many remote communities that experience extreme weather conditions, and share common issues related to ageing energy infrastructure. She said: “With similar challenges, solutions can be translated and adapted to the local context.”

Mr Tan also highlighted the importance of context during the event, acknowledging that solutions from Singapore cannot be directly applied to the Arctic region due to the differences between both regions.

“But I hope this will provide examples and options to think about while you are planning for a smarter Arctic. As an observer, we would like to share our information and experience with our Arctic counterparts” he said, referring to how Singapore was granted observer status at the Arctic Council in 2013.

He added: ” Together, we can make the Arctic cool again.”


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Greenland’s Melting Ice Nears a ‘Tipping Point,’ Scientists Say

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Greenland’s enormous ice sheet is melting at such an accelerated rate that it may have reached a “tipping point,” and could become a major factor in sea-level rise around the world within two decades, scientists said in a study published on Monday.

The Arctic is warming at twice the average rate of the rest of the planet, and the new research adds to the evidence that the ice loss in Greenland, which lies mainly above the Arctic Circle, is speeding up as the warming increases. The authors found that ice loss in 2012 was nearly four times the rate in 2003, and after a lull in 2013-14, it has resumed.

The study is the latest in a series of papers published this month suggesting that scientific estimates of the effects of a warming planet have been, if anything, too conservative. Just a week ago, a separate study of ice loss in Antarctica found that the continent is contributing more to rising sea levels than previously thought.

Another new analysis suggested that the oceans are warming far faster than earlier estimates. Warming oceans are currently the leading cause of sea-level rise, since water expands as it warms.

Researchers said these findings underscored the need for action to curb emissions of planet-warming gases and avoid the worst effects of climate change.

Rising sea levels are one of the clearest consequences of global warming; they are caused both by thermal expansion of the oceans and by the melting of ice sheets on land. Current projections say that if the planet warms by two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) over preindustrial times, average sea levels will rise by more than two feet, and 32 million to 80 million people will be exposed to coastal flooding.

Much of the previous research on Greenland’s ice has dealt with the southeast and northeast parts of the island, where large chunks of glacial ice calve into the sea. The new paper focuses on the ice-covered stretches of southwest Greenland, which has few large glaciers and was not generally considered as important a source of ice loss. But as the earth warms, the paper concludes, within two decades the southwest “will become a major contributor to sea level rise.”

Greenland Is Melting Away

This river is one of a network of thousands at the front line of climate change.

The study, which appears in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, used satellite data and ground-based instruments to measure Greenland’s ice loss in the 21st century. It looked closely at what seemed to be a pause in the ice loss for about a year, beginning in 2013, that followed a stretch of greatly accelerated melting.

The researchers tied the pause in melting to a reversal of the cyclical weather phenomenon known as the North Atlantic Oscillation. Before the pause, the oscillation was in what is known as its negative phase, which is associated with warmer air hitting west Greenland, along with less snowfall and more sunlight, all of which contribute to ice loss. When the cycle shifted into a positive phase in 2013, an “abrupt slowdown” of melting occurred.

Yet, the slowdown was anything but good news, said Michael Bevis, the lead author of the paper and a professor in the School of Earth Sciences at Ohio State University.

The North Atlantic Oscillation has occurred throughout the historical record, he noted. But before 2000, overall average temperatures were cool enough that the N.A.O.’s positive and negative cycles did not have much of an effect on rates of melting in Greenland.

Now, the strong effect that the cooler cycle had on the rate of melting — even if it was helpful in stopping ice loss — is a reason for concern, Dr. Bevis said. If the warm cycles of the N.A.O. are associated with huge losses of ice, and the cool cycles only pause the melting, it suggests a threshold has been reached: As average temperatures rise further, melting will be more sustained, and the cooling cycles will have less of an effect in slowing the ice loss.

“If a relatively minor cycle can cause massive melting,” he said, “it means you’ve reached a point of amazing sensitivity” to warmer temperatures, which could represent “the tipping point.”

And so, he said, “One degree of warming in the future will have way more impact than one degree of warming in the last century.”

The new research dovetails with other recent papers on the accelerating melting. Last month a team of researchers published a paper in Nature that used satellite observations, analysis of ice cores and models to show that losses from the Greenland ice sheet have reached their fastest rate in at least 350 years.

At the other end of the earth, the speed of Antarctica’s ice loss is also becoming clearer. A study published last week, also in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, surveyed four decades of data and found faster losses in some regions than scientists had previously estimated.

The continent has presented a mixed story in recent years, with researchers measuring substantial losses in some regions but stability and even gains in others. But the new paper found considerable losses of glacial ice in East Antarctica, previously considered to be relatively stable. As a whole, Antarctica lost about 40 billion tons of ice per year in the 1980s, but it has been losing roughly 250 billion tons per year in the past decade.

That new paper adds to a body of recent research showing that Antarctica’s ice loss is accelerating, including a study in June that found that the rate of ice loss had tripled since 2007. Scientists estimate the Antarctic melting will contribute six inches to sea-level rise by 2100.

Luke D. Trusel, a glaciologist at Rowan University and an author of last month’s Nature paper on Greenland, said the new research by Dr. Bevis and his colleagues “provides clear and further illustration of how sensitive Greenland now is” to global warming.

“What’s happening today is well beyond the range of what could be expected naturally,” he said. “The human fingerprint on Greenland melting today is unequivocal.”

Still, he said, most estimates of a tipping point for Greenland ice loss cite higher average temperatures than are currently occurring, more along the lines of 1.5 or two degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Global average temperatures have already increased by about one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit).

A co-author of the Nature paper, Sarah B. Das, a scientist at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, agreed that Dr. Bevis’s study reinforced her own team’s conclusions and showed “how quickly Greenland is disappearing.” The common finding, she said, is that climate change has brought Greenland to a state in which “a little bit of a nudge is going to have an outsized impact,” causing enormous melting.

But, she said, “I take issue with using ‘tipping point’ to describe the accelerating mass loss Greenland is experiencing,” because “it makes it appear as if we have passed, or soon will pass, the point of no return.” She said she saw reasons for hope.

Dr. Trusel agreed that talk of tipping points could discount the humans’ ability to mitigate global warming. “We may be able to control how rapidly the ice sheet changes in the future,” he said.

“By limiting greenhouse gas emissions we limit warming, and thus also limit how rapidly and intensely Greenland affects our livelihoods through sea-level rise,” he added. “That, it seems, is our call to make.”

For more news on climate and the environment, follow @NYTClimate on Twitter.

John Schwartz is part of the climate team. Since joining The Times in 2000, he has covered science, law, technology, the space program and more, and has written for almost every section. @jswatz Facebook

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