Greenhouse gas in atmosphere hits new record: UNBy Jonathan Fowler 1 hour agoView gallerySmoke billows from a coal-fired power plant in Gelsenkirchen, western Germany, on January 16, 2012 (AFP Photo/Patrik Stollarz)Geneva (AFP) – The amount of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere hit a new record high in 2012, continuing an ever-faster rise that is driving climate change, the UN weather agency said
Wednesday.”The concentrations are reaching once again record levels,” Michel Jarraud, who heads the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), told reporters in Geneva.His organisation released its annual report on greenhouse gases Wednesday, showing that concentrations of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane and nitrous oxide all broke fresh records in 2012.Global concentrations of CO2, the main culprit in global warming, for instance reached 393.1 parts per million last year, or 141 percent of pre-industrial levels — defined as before 1750.The report was released a day after the UN Environment Programme warned the chances of limiting the global temperature rise to two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) over pre-industrial levels were swiftly diminishing, and ahead of UN climate talks that open in Warsaw next week.The UN’s two-degree target is being chased through efforts to curb Earth-warming greenhouse gas emissions, mainly caused by fossil-fuel burning to power industry, transport and farming.”The observations from WMO’s extensive Global Atmosphere Watch network highlight yet again how heat-trapping gases from human activities have upset the natural balance of our atmosphere and are a major contribution to climate change,” Jarraud said.Dave Reay, a carbon management expert at the University of Edinburgh, said that stabilising greenhouse gas concentrations was the key to successful climate negotiations, emissions regulations, and carbon markets rests.”Despite the financial crash, and reduced emissions from some nations, the global picture is one of carbon dioxide concentrations in our atmosphere reaching a record-breaking high year after year,” Reay added.’C02 has a ratchet effect’—Experts warn that unless more is done to rein in emissions, the world faces potentially devastating effects such as more frequent megastorms, species extinctions, water shortages, crop die-offs, loss of land to the rising seas as glaciers and polar ice melt, and spreading disease.”CO2 has a ratchet effect,” said Peter Wadhams, professor of ocean physics at the University of Cambridge.”Its influence on the climate system lasts for about 100 years, so we will be paying for our profligate use of fossil fuels for a long time to come — so long, in fact, that we may well have now made it impossible for the planet to avoid catastrophic global warming effects, even if we make a start now on reducing CO2 emissions.”The atmospheric increase of CO2 from 2011 to 2012 was higher than the average growth rate over the past 10 years, WMO said, stressing that the global concentrations of CO2 last year were dangerously close to the symbolic 400 parts per million threshold.That threshold was actually exceeded at several Arctic stations during the year, and the global annual average CO2 concentration looks set to cross it in 2015 or 2016, the UN agency said.This level has not existed on Earth in three to five million years, experts say.Concentrations of methane, meanwhile, were 260 percent of the pre-industrial level, while nitrous oxide reached 120 percent.The WMO report said that between 1990 and 2012 there was a 32 percent increase in so-called „radiative forcing” –- the warming effect on our climate -– because of heat-trapping gases.CO2 accounted for 80 percent of this increase.What is happening in the atmosphere is just part of the picture.Only about half of the CO2 emitted by human activities remains in the atmosphere, with the rest absorbed in the biosphere and in the oceans, the WMO underlined.Jarraud noted that the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change recently sounded the alarm over gas concentrations.”According to the IPCC, if we continue with ‘business as usual,’ global average temperatures may be 4.6 degrees higher by the end of the century than pre-industrial levels –- and even higher in some parts of the world. This would have devastating consequences,” he said.
Dutch demand freedom for Greenpeace activistsBy DAVID RISING 1 hour agoView gallery BERLIN (AP) — Attorneys representing the Netherlands argued Wednesday that Russia violated U.N. regulations when it seized the Dutch-flagged Greenpeace ship „Arctic Sunrise” and charged all on board with piracy.The Hamburg-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea agreed to hear arguments on the case even though Russia refused to attend. Russia argued that even though it had ratified the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, it stipulated it would not accept arbitration on cases it considered to be matters of national sovereignty.Dutch attorneys asked for the immediate release of 28 Greenpeace activists, a Russian photographer and a British videographer, as well as the „Arctic Sunrise” icebreaker. All were seized by the Russian coast guard after a protest near a Gazprom-owned oil rig in the Arctic on Sept. 18.The Dutch argued there was no evidence of piracy and that the Russians had no valid reason to board the vessel without permission, thus committing an „internationally wrongful act.” All moves that followed — like transferring the ship to Russian waters and arresting those on board — were also „internationally wrongful,” they said.Russia’s main investigative agency said two weeks ago that it had dropped the piracy charges against the jailed activists and replaced them with hooliganism charges — meaning a maximum possible seven-year sentence instead of 15 years. At the same time Russia warned it could also file additional charges, including violence against authorities, which carries up to 10 years in prison.As of Wednesday, however, Greenpeace said its attorneys had not yet been formally notified by Russia that the piracy charges had been dropped.”Russian authorities propose to jail 30 men and women for two decades because a couple of peaceful protesters tried to hang a small yellow banner from the side of a 500,000-ton oil platform,” Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said in a statement after the hearing.The Hamburg tribunal was formed after the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea came into force in 1994 to adjudicate maritime disputes. The court will first have to decide if it has jurisdiction in the case — Russia insists it does not — then decide on the arguments advanced by the Netherlands.The court expects to issue its ruling on Nov. 22.
UN: CO2 pollution levels at annual record highBy JOHN HEILPRIN 1 hour agoView gallery GENEVA (AP) — World carbon dioxide pollution levels in the atmosphere are accelerating and reached a record high in 2012, the U.N. weather agency said Wednesday.The heat-trapping gas, pumped into the air by cars and smokestacks, was measured at 393.1 parts per million last year, up 2.2 ppm from the previous year, said the Geneva-based World Meteorological Organization in its annual greenhouse gas inventory.That is far beyond the 350 ppm that some scientists and environmental groups promote as the absolute upper limit for a safe level.As the chief gas blamed for global warming, carbon dioxide’s 2012 increase outpaced the past decade’s average annual increase of 2.02 ppm.Based on that rate, the organization says the world’s carbon dioxide pollution level is expected to cross the 400 ppm threshold by 2016. That level already was reached at some individual measurement stations in 2012 and 2013.View gallery.”Oksana Tarasova, Scientific Officer at the World Meteorological Organization, WMO, informs the media …Scientists say the Earth probably last had this much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere at least a few million years ago, when sea levels were higher. Carbon dioxide levels were around 280 ppm before the Industrial Revolution.Trapping heat as a greenhouse would, carbon dioxide accounts for three-quarters of the planet’s heat-trapping gases that scientists say are causing sea levels to rise, glaciers to melt and some weather patterns to change. Methane, another destructive greenhouse gas, traps heat much more effectively but has a shorter life span.Atmospheric methane also reached a new high of 1,819 parts per billion in 2012, which is 260 percent higher than the pre-industrial level. Methane comes from natural sources such as wetlands and termites, but about 60 percent comes from cattle breeding, rice growing, landfills and other human activities.The rising amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere shows how people have „upset the natural balance of our atmosphere and are a major contribution to climate change,” said Michel Jarraud, the secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization.Carbon dioxide remains in the air for a century, some of it far longer, which means that a lot of future warming is already locked in.View gallery.”French Michel Jarraud, Secretary-General of World Meteorological Organization, WMO, informs the medi …The Nobel Peace Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is headquartered at the organization, says starvation, poverty, flooding, heat waves, droughts, war and disease are likely to worsen as the world warms from man-made climate change.The warming of the planet since 1950 is „unprecedented,” the panel says, and the Earth will warm by at least 2 more degrees Fahrenheit (1.1 degrees Celsius) this century, unless the world drastically cuts emissions, which appears unlikely.
View gallery Seized ivory tusks are displayed at the Customs and Excise Department in Hong Kong October 3, 2013. REUTERS/Tyrone …View gallery.”
Green groups concerned over Ghana whale deaths mysteryBy Chris Stein 4 hours agoView gallery Accra (AFP) – Decomposed whale carcasses have been washing up on beaches in Ghana’s oil-producing west, raising the ire of environmental groups worried the country’s growing petroleum industry may be killing marine life.A total of 20 dead whales have been discovered along Ghana’s coastline in the last four years, including at least eight since September.What killed the marine mammals remains a mystery.But environmental groups say they are concerned, given the proximity of the discoveries to the country’s new offshore petroleum industry.”The fears are rising as to what is killing the … whales,” said Kyei Kwadwo Yamoah, programme co-ordinator for Friends of the Nation, an environmental group that tracks the deaths.People living along the coast „want to know so they can rest assured if it would have impact on them or if it wouldn’t”, he added.Last week, the 20th whale carcass found since 2009 washed up on a remote beach in Western Region, where Ghana gets most of its oil, Yamoah said.Oil production did not start until 2010 but Yamoah said exploration intensified the year before.Friends of the Nation and other environmental groups raised the alarm in September, when five decomposed whales were discovered in Western Region and near the capital Accra in the space of a week. In October, two more bodies were found in Western Region.View gallery.”A man pulls at a rope tied to a dead whale on September 5, 2013 in Kokrobite, a coastal village just …Ghana produces about 115,000 barrels per day, mostly from the Jubilee field off the coast of Western Region’s Cape Three Points, where the latest dead whale was found.The west African nation has been trying to avoid the mismanagement and pollution that has plagued other regional oil giants like Nigeria, where billions of oil dollars have been lost through corruption and spills happen frequently.Ghana’s government, which has downplayed the whale deaths, is counting on the riches from oil production to build up the country’s infrastructure and improve the economy. It could do without any environmental scandal.The Anglo-Irish company Tullow — the Jubilee field’s main operator — declined to comment on the whale deaths and referred questions to Ghana’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).At the EPA, spokeswoman Angelina Mensah said an investigation into the deaths was under way but did not respond to additional questions sent via email.The EPA said after the discovery of the five dead whales last year that the situation was „of much concern” but it was not unprecedented.”The incidence of whales being washed ashore is a global occurrence and not limited to Ghana,” the statement said, adding that whales die frequently worldwide.Nevertheless, collisions with ships, water pollution and seismic activity from oil drilling can kill or disorient whales, said the head of the International Fund for Animal Welfare’s whale programme, Patrick Ramage.Last September, a scientific review panel determined that a 2008 mass beaching of whales in Madagascar was caused by the use of sonar by vessels exploring for oil.View gallery.”An oil rig in Sekondi waters, Ghana, is pictured on December 1, 2012 (AFP Photo/Pius Utomi Ekpei)But that was not necessarily occurring off the coast of Ghana.”It has to be a more careful analysis than the convergence of industrial activity and carcasses washing up off beaches,” Ramage said.”That is certainly concerning and for some very compelling but isn’t sufficiently convincing to allege that connection.”In the case of the Madagascar instance, it took the convening of a panel.”Determining what, if anything, in Ghana’s waters was responsible for the whale’s deaths may prove difficult, said Peter Ziddah, a fish health specialist who has examined some of the carcasses.Whales are usually badly decayed by the time they wash ashore and in some cases are beheaded by fishermen, according to local tradition.”Looking at a rotting carcass, we can’t determine anything,” Ziddah said.Other experts suggest that the cause could lie elsewhere.Ghana is on a path of migration for whales heading from South Africa to the waters off Britain and with the current flowing east, whatever killed the whales could be off the coast of neighbouring Ivory Coast — or further east.”It’s definitely unusual. But what may be the cause we can’t put our finger on,” said A.K. Armah, a lecturer at the University of Ghana, who studies marine life.
Dutch plead in court for release of Greenpeace activistsBy Eloi Rouyer 6 minutes agoView gallery Hamburg (AFP) – An international maritime court will rule this month whether to order Russia to release 30 crew members of a Greenpeace ship held since mid-September in a high-profile case brought by The Netherlands.Russia, as expected, did not attend the near three-hour hearing at the German-based International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea, based in the northern port city of Hamburg.Its angry response after two Greenpeace activists scaled a state-owned Gazprom oil platform to protest at Russian oil exploration in the Arctic has sparked an international outcry.Russian coastguards boarded the Dutch-flagged Arctic Sunrise icebreaker on September 19, arresting the 30 crew members, who included activists from 18 countries and two journalists, initially charging them with piracy.The Netherlands urged the tribunal, established by the United Nations to help settle maritime disputes between states, to take provisional measures, including releasing the crew and allowing the ship to sail.View gallery.”Greenpeace’s International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo at the International Tribunal for the Law …Liesbeth Lijnzaad, a legal adviser for the Dutch foreign ministry, told the tribunal’s judges that Russia had infringed the ship’s freedom to sail and violated the crew’s human rights.Expressing regret for the empty Russian seats at the tribunal, she accused Moscow of pursuing legal action for „apparently groundless” reasons. „The disagreement is worsening and spreading,” she said.The tribunal’s president Shunji Yanai said a decision on the Dutch demands would be announced on November 22.”We’re looking forward to that date and we’re confident that the decision reflects many of the points that have been made,” Lijnzaad said in a statement afterwards.The crew members have been placed in pre-trial detention in Russia until November 24 and several have complained about their conditions, including being kept in isolation, cold cells and lack of adequate food and clothing.View gallery.”This handout photo released by Greenpeace International shows British activist Frank Hewetson at the …Russian investigators last month reduced the piracy charge, which carries a maximum 15-year prison term, to hooliganism — the same charge used against the Pussy Riot punk band for a protest performance against Putin.The Pussy Riot action in a Moscow cathedral in February 2012 landed two band members in prison for two years.Greenpeace has said the Arctic activists never received official papers formally lifting the piracy charge.Jail for ‘a small yellow banner’Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said after talks last week with his French counterpart that Russia would not condone attempts to „influence technically complicated and unsafe processes” associated with the extraction of natural resources.View gallery.”The entrance to the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) in Hamburg, Germany, on No …Objects such as oil platforms are essentially „like a powder keg”, he said.Ahead of the hearing, around a dozen Greenpeace activists had rallied in front of the tribunal building.”As things stand, the Russian authorities propose to jail 30 men and women for two decades because a couple of peaceful protesters tried to hang a small yellow banner from the side of a 500,000-tonne oil platform,” Greenpeace International executive director Kumi Naidoo said in a statement.”In our view, there’s every prospect the tribunal will order the release of the Arctic 30, pending the arbitration case that The Netherlands has filed against Russia,” he added.German Chancellor Angela Merkel has voiced concern to Russian President Vladimir Putin over the detentions and French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault has also called for the release of the French national among the crew.View gallery.”Shunji Yanai — the president of the International Tribunal for the Law of the Sea (ITLOS) — at a h …In Britain, Canada and Argentina, relatives and supporters of the activists including British actor Jude Law have also protested.Greenpeace has said that 11 Nobel Peace Prize winners have also called on Putin to see that „excessive charges of piracy” laid against 30 activists are dropped.During the protest in the Barents Sea, Greenpeace hitched two activists to the side of the rig.The pair tried to scale the platform but eventually slipped into the freezing water and were recovered by the Russian coastguard.Russian security services seized control of the activists’ vessel the next day by descending onto the deck from helicopters in a commando-style raid.
China to close schools, stop outdoor activities during heavy smog5 hours agoView galleryResidents ride bicycles along a street amid heavy haze in Xingtai, Hebei province November 3, 2013. Dense BEIJING (Reuters) – Chinese cities should close schools, cut working hours and stop outdoor activities during the most severe spells of air pollution, the Ministry of Environmental Protection said on Wednesday.”Every possible compulsory measure” must be taken to cut emissions during the heaviest smog, which has a serious impact on health, the ministry said, including suspending factory production and imposing traffic restrictions.The ministry’s guidelines, issued in a circular, come as China grapples with frequent choking smog in its big cities, a consequence of years of breakneck economic growth that has fuelled public anger.State media recently reported that an 8-year-old-girl who lived near a busy thoroughfare in the coastal province of Jiangsu had been diagnosed with lung cancer. The case of the girl, called the country’s youngest lung cancer patient, has sparked a public outcry.Despite frequent calls for cutting pollution over recent years, and growing public anger, the problem has only got worse.Schools and workplaces typically operate as normal in all but the most severe smog, even when it reaches hazardous levels.Primary and middle schools suspended classes last month in the northeastern city of Harbin during a smog emergency. The airport and some bus routes were also closed.China must also toughen anti-pollution measures on industry and reduce its dependence on coal, which produces more than three quarters of electricity, the Environment Ministry said.Public security departments should also toughen checks on vehicles, including phasing out older ones, and ensure there are not too many on the roads, it said.China said in September it would slash coal consumption and shut down polluting mills, factories and smelters, though experts have said implementing the measures would be tough.Air pollution is expected to worsen this winter because of a chronic natural gas shortage.(Reporting By Megha Rajagopalan; Editing by Robert Birsel)
Body of missing British pensioner found in French Alps23 minutes agoView galleryFile image for illustration shows a mountain in Chamonix in the Haute-Savoie region of the French Alps, pictured on December 26, 2012 (AFP Photo/JeanGrenoble (France) (AFP) – The body of missing British expat Carol Sheridan was found Wednesday at the foot of a rocky cliff in the Haute-Savoie region of the French Alps, police said.”The death seems consistent with a fall from a considerable height,” a spokesman told AFP.Mountain rescue workers had been searching for Sheridan since her New Zealand-based daughter, who normally spoke to her mother every day, reported her missing last week.Her car was found on Monday in a parking spot that is the starting point for several mountain walks. Sheridan, 73 and a keen hiker, had retired to nearby Habere Poche.
British foil Australian bid to buy kangaroo, dingo paintings16 minutes ago LondonView gallery London (AFP) – Two paintings thought to be the first depiction of a kangaroo and a dingo in Western art will remain in Britain after a national fundraising campaign to stop them being sold to an Australian gallery, officials said Wednesday.The oils by British animal painter George Stubbs were first exhibited in London in 1773, giving the public their first glimpse of the exotic creatures most identified with the wild new territory of Australia.The National Gallery of Australia wanted to buy the paintings from their private owner, describing them as „integral to Australian art history” and insisting „they should belong to the people of Australia”.But the British government blocked their export in February until this week to allow a British museum to raise money to buy the works of „national importance” itself.The National Maritime Museum in London said it has now raised Â£4.5 million ($7.2 million, 5.4 million euros) with the help of charitable and public donations.View gallery.”A picture received on November 6, 2013 from Nevill Keating Picture Ltd shows a painting of a kangaro …This has enabled it to „save these paintings for the nation and bring these remarkable works to the widest possible audience”, a spokeswoman said.”Kongouro from New Holland” and „Portrait of a Large Dog” were commissioned by Joseph Banks, a naturalist who took part in Captain James Cook’s first voyage in the Pacific in 1768-71.Stubbs never himself set eyes on a dingo or a kangaroo but worked from verbal accounts, skeletons and by inflating the preserved skin of a kangaroo.Renowned British naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough welcomed their purchase by the London museum.”Exciting news that these two pictures, so important in the history of zoological discovery, are to remain where they were commissioned and painted,” he said.View gallery.”A picture received on November 6, 2013 from Nevill Keating Picture Ltd shows a painting of a dingo b …Culture Minister Ed Vaizey added: „This is great news and a perfect example of our cultural export licence system working to help keep a wonderful part of our cultural heritage in this country where it belongs.”
Indian mission to Mars blasts offBy Adam Plowright 20 hours ago IndiaMars Orbiter Blasts Off from Chennai Island .New Delhi (AFP) – India’s first mission to Mars blasted off successfully on Tuesday, completing the first stage of an 11-month journey that could see New Delhi’s low-cost space programme win Asia’s race to the Red Planet.A 350-tonne rocket carrying an unmanned probe soared into a slightly overcast sky on schedule at 2:38 pm (0908 GMT), monitored by dozens of scientists at the southern spaceport of Sriharikota.After 44 minutes, applause broke out in the tense control room as navigation ships in the South Pacific reported that the spacecraft had successfully entered orbit around Earth.Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) chairman K. Radhakrishnan allowed himself a smile, slapped a colleague on the back and announced he was „extremely happy” that the first objective had been reached.At the end of this month, once enough velocity has been built up to break free from Earth’s gravitational pull, „the great, long, difficult voyage will start” to Mars, he announced.View gallery.”A rocket carrying India’s Mars Orbiter probe lifts off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Srihar …”In September 2014, we expect this spacecraft to be around Mars and the challenge then is to precisely reduce the velocity and get it into an orbit,” he explained in comments broadcast by state television.The country has never before attempted inter-planetary travel, and more than half of all missions to Mars have ended in failure, including China’s in 2011 and Japan’s in 2003.Only the United States, Russia and the European Space Agency have been successful.The Mars Orbiter Mission, known as „Mangalyaan” in India, was revealed only 15 months ago by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, shortly after China’s attempt flopped.The timing and place of the announcement — in an Independence Day speech — led to speculation that India was seeking to make a point to its militarily and economically superior neighbour, despite denials from ISRO.View gallery.”Graphic on India’s Mars Orbiter Mission, which was launched on November 5, 2013 (AFP Photo/)The gold-coloured probe, the size of a small car, will aim to detect methane in the Martian atmosphere, which could provide evidence of some sort of life form on the fourth planet from the sun.President Pranab Mukherjee called Tuesday’s launch „a significant milestone”, while Prime Minister Manmohan Singh sent his best wishes „for the delicate next steps.”The mission has been hurriedly assembled, and was carried into orbit by a rocket much smaller than rival launch vehicles which can blast out of Earth’s gravitational pull and head directly for Mars.The cost of the project, at 4.5 billion rupees ($73 million), is less than a sixth of the $455 million earmarked for a Mars probe by NASA which will launch later this month.”We didn’t believe they’d be able to launch this early,” project scientist for the NASA Mars probe, Joe Grebowsky, told AFP before blastoff. „If it’s successful, it’s fantastic.”View gallery.”A frame grab from Indian television channel NDTV, broadcasting footage from state television Doordar …He stressed that journeying to Mars, which has an elliptical orbit — meaning it is between 50-400 million kilometres from Earth — was a far more complex prospect than the Moon, which India reached in 2008.”When you shoot a rocket at Mars you have to take into account that Mars is going to move a good deal before you get there. The Moon is fairly close,” he said.There have been recent setbacks for India too, including when its Moon probe Chandrayaan lost contact with its controllers in 2009. Another, larger launch vehicle blew up after take-off in 2010.The programme also has to contend with critics who say a country that struggles to feed its people adequately and where more than half have no toilets should not be splurging on space travel.”Had they spent that money on us we could have had better houses, better clothes, sent our kids to good schools,” said Goribai, a labourer in a slum in the diplomatic area of the capital.View gallery.”Indian bystanders watch a bank of screens showing the live telecast of the launch of India’s Mars Or …”But no, the country wants to find aliens,” she told AFP.ISRO counters that its technology has helped economic development through satellites which monitor weather and water resources and enable communication in remote areas.The Bangalore-based organisation and its 16,000 staff also share their rocket technology with the state-run defence body responsible for India’s missile programme.The United States is the only nation that has successfully sent robotic explorers to land on Mars, the most recent being Curiosity which touched down in August 2012.One of its discoveries appeared to undercut the purpose of the Indian mission to find methane.View gallery.”Indian scientists and engineers work on a Mars Orbiter vehicle at the Indian Space Research Organisa …A study of data from Curiosity, published in September, found the rover had detected only trace elements of the gas in the atmosphere.”Remember that it (Curiosity’s methane reading) is for a single spot. One point doesn’t make it a story for the whole planet,” top Indian space scientist Jitendra Nath Goswami told AFP.