Thursday, November 18, 2004

CSIRO warns: Australia to get hotter, wetter, with more extreme weather


Recent research by CSIRO and Bureau of Meteorology scientists puts forward that climate change is a reality in Australia and is set to make the Australian climate much warmer, wetter, with more extreme weather events. While average rain across the continent has increased over the last 50 years, certain areas such as south west Australian and parts of Eastern Australia may actually be much drier.

Average temperatures are set to rise, with the possibility that some inland towns may become inhabitable. Bush fires, droughts, storms and flooding will have increasing impact on social and economic infrastructure. The overwhelming consensus amoung scientists is that such climate change has been brought about through global warming caused to a large extent by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide produced by humans.

* Predictions for Victoria
* Climate hots up in NSW for Premier Carr
* Increase in extreme rainfall
* Australia is getting wetter, while droughts continue

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Escalating global species extinction crisis

Repost of World Conservation Union media release

A total of 15,589 species face extinction, reveals the 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. One in three amphibians and almost half of all freshwater turtles are threatened, on top of the one in eight birds and one in four mammals known to be in jeopardy.

Bangkok , Thailand , 17 November 2004 (IUCN) – From the mighty shark to the humble frog, the world’s biodiversity is declining at unprecedented rates.Halting the growing extinction crisis will be a major concern for IUCN’s 1,000 plus member organizations attending the 3 rd IUCN World Conservation Congress, which kicks off in Bangkok today.

The situation facing global biodiversity is clearly escalating and the 4,000 delegates, including representatives of the private sector, governmental and non-governmental organisations, will be outlining ways to halt this alarming trend. They will draw the attention of the international community to the fact that species loss has critical implications for human wellbeing, and that conserving biodiversity is central to managing the risks this poses to sustainable development.

There is some good news. Conservation measures are already making a difference – a quarter of the world’s threatened birds have benefited from such measures. What is needed is more of them, and to focus them better using the constantly improving information at our disposal. That means more resources, resources applied more effectively, and new coalitions across all sections of society.

These are among the key messages to emerge from the Global Species Assessment (GSA) based on, and released in conjunction with, the 2004 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. It is the most comprehensive evaluation ever undertaken of the status of the world’s biodiversity. The GSA is produced by the Red List Consortium comprising IUCN and its Species Survival Commission, Conservation International and its Center for Applied Biodiversity Science, BirdLife International and NatureServe.

The Global Species Assessment shows trends in biodiversity over four years since the last major analysis in 2000, and it includes, for the first time, complete assessments of amphibians, cycads (an ancient group of plants) and conifers, as well as regional case studies. It also highlights which species are at greatest risk of extinction, where they occur, and the many threats facing them.

“Governments are starting to realise the value of biodiversity and the critical role it plays in their peoples’ wellbeing. Species provide food, medicine, fuel, and building materials. They help filter water, decompose waste, generate soil and pollinate crops. Recognition of this is growing but governments need to mobilize far more resources. The private sector also needs to play a central role by actively promoting and pursuing the sustainable use of the world’s natural resources,” said Mr David Brackett, Chair of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission.

IUCN’s Congress, the world’s largest democratic environmental forum, plays a unique and urgent role in bringing knowledge about biodiversity into the mainstream of development decision-making. It will set priorities for conservation work for the coming four years.

In 1996 it was revealed that one in eight birds (12%) and one in four mammals (23%) were threatened with extinction (falling into the Critically Endangered, Endangered or Vulnerable categories). This infamous line-up has now been joined by one in three amphibians (32%) and almost half (42%) of turtles and tortoises.

With amphibians relying on freshwater, their catastrophic decline is a warning about the state of the planet’s water resources. Even though the situation in freshwater habitats is less well known than for terrestrial, early signs show it is equally serious. More than half (53%) of Madagascar’s freshwater fish are threatened with extinction.

The vast ocean depths are providing little refuge to many marine species which are being over-exploited to the point of extinction. Nearly one in five (18%) of assessed sharks and rays are threatened.

Many plants have also been assessed, but only conifers and cycads have been completely evaluated with 25% and 52% threatened respectively.

For the first time, the assessment includes the Red List Index, a new tool for measuring trends in extinction risk. This shows overall changes in threat status (projected risk of extinction) over time for a particular group. It will be important for measuring changes in biodiversity. Red List Indices are currently available for birds and amphibians, and show that their status has declined steadily since the 1980s.

“Although 15,589 species are known to be threatened with extinction, this greatly underestimates the true number as only a fraction of known species have been assessed. There is still much to be discovered about key species-rich habitats, such as tropical forests, marine and freshwater systems or particular groups, such as invertebrates, plants and fungi, which make up the majority of biodiversity,” says Craig Hilton-Taylor, IUCN’s Red List Programme Officer.

People, either directly or indirectly, are the main reason for most species’ declines. Habitat destruction and degradation are the leading threats but other significant pressures include over-exploitation for food, pets, and medicine, introduced species, pollution and disease. Climate change is increasingly recognised as a serious threat.

“It is clear that the situation facing our species is serious and getting worse. We can continue to assess and bemoan the loss of the world’s biodiversity or we can act! We must refocus and rethink the way in which society must respond to this global threat,” says Achim Steiner, IUCN’s Director General.

“While most threats to biodiversity are human-driven, human actions alone can prevent many species from becoming extinct. There are many examples of species being brought back from the brink including the southern white rhino and black-footed ferret, and thousands of dedicated people around the world are doing their utmost to reverse the extinction rate,” he added. “But this cannot continue to be the task of the environmental community alone. Governments and business must commit to these efforts as well”.

Since the release of the 2003 Red List, more than 15,633 new entries have been added and 3,579 species reassessed. There are now 7,266 threatened animal species and 8,323 threatened plant and lichen species. A total of 784 plant and animal species are now recorded as Extinct with a further 60 known only in cultivation or captivity.

Since 2003, there have been some notable changes to the List, including some marked deteriorations, like the St Helena olive (from Extinct in the Wild to Extinct), the Hawaiian crow (from Critically Endangered to Extinct in the Wild), the Balearic shearwater (From Near Threatened to Critically Endangered), the giant Hispaniolan galliwasp lizard (from Near Threatened to Critically Endangered), and an African begonia, Begonia oxyanthera (from Near Threatened to Vulnerable).

But there have also been some improvements, such as the European otter (from Vulnerable to Near Threatened) and the Christmas Island Imperial pigeon (from Critically Endangered to Vulnerable).

The 2004 assessment shows that threatened species are often concentrated in densely populated areas, particularly in much of Asia and parts of Africa. A major conservation challenge will therefore be to reconcile the demands of large numbers of people on the environment, whilst protecting the biodiversity upon which so many people’s livelihoods depend.

The importance of international support in safeguarding biodiversity is critical says the assessment. Many countries with a high concentration of threatened species have a low Gross National Income (GNI) per capita and are unable to implement the required conservation measures without international assistance.

Some key findings from the Global Species Assessment

* Numbers of threatened species are increasing across almost all the major taxonomic groups.
* The marine environment is not as well known as the terrestrial environment but initial findings show that marine species are just as vulnerable to extinction as their terrestrial counterparts.
* Freshwater habitats are also poorly known, but recent surveys reveal that many aquatic species are threatened with extinction.
* Most threatened birds, mammals, and amphibians are located on the tropical continents - Central and South America, Africa south of the Sahara, and tropical South and Southeast Asia. These regions contain the tropical broadleaf forests which are believed to harbour the majority of the earth’s living terrestrial and freshwater species.
* Australia , Brazil, China, Indonesia and Mexico hold particularly large numbers of threatened species.
* Countries with high numbers of threatened species and relatively low GNI include Brazil, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Peru and the Philippines.
* The world’s list of extinctions increases – from 766 in 2000 to 784 documented extinctions since 1500 AD.
* Although estimates vary greatly, current extinction rates are at least one hundred to a thousand times higher than background, or "natural" rates" .
* Over the past 20 years, 27 documented extinctions or extinctions in the wild have occurred but this underestimates the true number that have taken place.
* While the vast majority of extinctions since 1500 AD have occurred on oceanic islands, over the last 20 years, continental extinctions have become as common as island extinctions.
* Humans have been the main cause of extinction and continue to be the principle threat to species at risk of extinction.
* Habitat loss, introduced species, and over-exploitation are the main threats, with human-induced climate change becoming an increasingly significant problem.

www.iucn.org/congress/index.cfm

Tuesday, November 9, 2004

Polar Regions experiencing severe climate change


The Arctic and Antarctic are experiencing severe climate change. The Arctic ice cap is melting at an unprecedented rate due to human induced global warming, according to a new study conducted by 300 scientists and elders from native communities in the arctic, released 8 November. Over the last 30 years the ice cap has shrunk 15-20 per cent. In 2003 the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf, the largest in the Arctic, broke into two pieces. With the build up of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, the trend is set to accelerate with forecasts that by the summer of 2070 there maybe no ice at all.

Friday, November 5, 2004

Warming In Antarctica: cause for concern

In Antarctica the ocean food chain is crashing due to the loss of ice shelves around the Antarctic peninsula caused by climate warming. The breakup of the Larsen B ice shelf in 2002 has also released several glaciers, increasing their speed eight fold, and dumping their loads into the Weddell Sea contributing to a rising sea level, according to new research.

Thursday, November 4, 2004

Carbon Dioxide Emissions cause Arctic to Melt, Sea Levels to Rise

The Arctic ice cap is melting at an unprecedented rate due to human induced global warming, according to a new study conducted by 300 scientists and elders from native communities in the arctic. Over the last 30 years the ice cap has shrunk 15-20 per cent. With the build up of greenhouse gases, primarily carbon dioxide, the trend is set to accelerate with forecasts that by the summer of 2070 there maybe no ice at all.

The report said that the Arctic "is now experiencing some of the most rapid and severe climate change on Earth", Further: "Over the next 100 years climate change is expected to accelerate, contributing to major physical, ecological, social and economic changes, many of which have already begun."

It found that the Arctic ice cap is only half as thick as it was 30 years ago. The melting could cause sea levels to rise by a meter over the next century, increasing coastal flooding and disrupting the Gulf Stream, which moderates the weather of northern Europe. The melting of the Greenland ice cap is likely to further exacerbate sea level rises.

"For the past 30 years, there's been a dramatic increase in temperature and a decrease in the thickness of ice," said Robert Corell, a senior fellow with the American Meteorological Society and chairman of the Arctic climate impact assessment group, which produced the report.

The 144-page study took four years to compile under the auspices of the Arctic Council. The Arctic Council is comprised of the governments of Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden and the United States.

The report emphasised that some short term gains may be seen, such as the creation of a "northern passage" for shipping between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, new areas for fishing, mining and oil and gas exploration.

Against this, several fish and mammal species could succumb to climate change, including the Polar Bear. The elimination of summer sea ice will threaten the polar bear with extinction.

Reference: Key Findings

Environmentalists warn "cut emissions of carbon dioxide now"

Director of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) global climate change campaign, Jennifer Morgan, said "The big melt has begun, .... Life on Earth will change beyond recognition with the loss of the ice sheet at the north pole and higher sea levels threatening major global cities such as London."

"Industrial countries are carrying out an uncontrolled experiment to study the effects of climate change and the Arctic is their first guinea pig," Ms Morgan said.

"This is unethical and wrong. They must cut emissions of carbon dioxide now."

United States, Australia inaction on Greenhouse emissions

The United States is the largest contibutor to Green House gas emissions, mainly through the use of cars and industry. The United States has spent eight billion dollars on climate change research in recent years, but says mandatory carbon dioxide cuts, as demanded under the Kyoto treaty, could lead to job loses and an economic downturn. The United States Government has refused to ratify the Kyoto Treaty, along with Australia. George Bush pulled out of the UN's Kyoto protocol on global warming in 2001, arguing it was too expensive.

There are no statements from the US Government about compensating those peoples affected by rising sea levels. There are currently 17 million people living less than one metre above sea level in Bangladesh. Rising Sea Levels will place under threat: some Pacific Island nations, Florida and Louisiana in the United States, and the Asian cities of Bangkok, Calcutta, Dhaka and Manila. Much agricultural land will also be put under risk.

Accusation: Report delayed for US Presidential election?

The full report is due to be released on November 9, but its summary findings were leaked to the media early. Several of the Europeans involved accused the Bush Administration of delaying publication until after the presidential election, due to the political contentiousness of global warming. But Gunnar Palsson of Iceland, chairman of the Arctic Council, said there was "no truth to the contention that any of the member states of the Arctic Council pushed the release of the report back into November".

Paal Prestrud, vice-chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment report, said "We are taking a risk with the global climate,".

For Extra information:

* The Arctic Council
* The big melt (WWF)
* Arctic sea ice changes in gfdl r30 greenhouse scenario experiments
* Is Arctic sea ice rapidly vanishing? (2002)

Rescued from Melbourne Indymedua via the Web Archive