US President Donald Trump has declared a state of emergency as Tropical Storm Barry bears down on New Orleans, as the southern city braces for extreme winds over the weekend.
The weather system is expected to reach hurricane strength Friday or early Saturday when it nears Louisiana’s coast, according to the National Hurricane Center (NHC), and has already caused major flooding in the low-lying city.
Trump on Thursday issued a national disaster declaration, which will allow federal agencies to participate in emergency relief efforts, in response to a request by Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards.
“Thank you President Trump for quickly responding to my request… We appreciate the support of the White House and our federal partners as we continue our unprecedented flood fight,” the governor said in a tweet Thursday.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) separately announced that it would temporarily halt immigration enforcement activity in areas subject to the state of emergency.
It said that the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency would not target migrant families who were evacuating during the storm, ahead of sweeping operations nationwide to detain and deport illegal immigrants expected to start this weekend.
“Our highest priority remains the preservation of life and safety. In consideration of these circumstances, there will be no immigration enforcement initiatives associated with evacuations or sheltering related to the storm, except in the event of a serious public safety threat,” the agency said in a Thursday press release.
The incoming storm has evoked memories of Hurricane Katrina, the costliest and deadliest hurricane in US history, which submerged about 80 percent of New Orleans as the city’s flood defenses gave way.
Katrina also pounded other parts of Louisiana as well as Mississippi and Alabama, leading to about 1,800 deaths and more than $150 billion in damage.
More than 100 people have been arrested in ongoing climate change protests in London that brought parts of the British capital to a standstill, police said Tuesday.
Demonstrators started blocking off a bridge and major central road junctions on Monday at the start of a civil disobedience campaign that also saw action in other parts of Europe.
The protests were organised by the campaign group Extinction Rebellion, which was established last year in Britain by academics and has become one of the world’s fastest-growing environmental movements.
London’s Metropolitan Police said that by early Tuesday 113 adults had been arrested.
The figure includes three men and two women who were arrested at the UK offices of energy giant Royal Dutch Shell on suspicion of criminal damage. Campaigners daubed graffiti and smashed a window at the Shell Centre building.
The majority arrested were seized for breaching public order laws and obstructing a highway.
The protest saw more than a thousand people block off central London’s Waterloo Bridge and lay trees in pots along its length. Later, people set up camps in Hyde Park in preparation for further demonstrations throughout the week.
The police have ordered the protesters to confine themselves to a zone within Marble Arch, a space at the junction of Hyde Park, the Oxford Street main shopping thoroughfare and the Park Lane street of plush hotels.
“The information and intelligence available at this time means that that Met (police) feels this action is necessary in order to prevent the demonstrations from causing ongoing serious disruption,” the police said.
The group wants to governments to declare a climate and ecological emergency, reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero by 2025, halt biodiversity loss and be led by new “citizens’ assemblies on climate and ecological justice”.
Spokesman James Fox said the group had attempted to maintain a blockade overnight at four sites in central London before the police came to impose the new restriction.
People were arrested “mostly at Waterloo Bridge where the police came to try to stop everyone, but there were too many of us”, he told AFP.
Fox said the protesters attached themselves to vehicles and to each other using bicycle locks.
“We have no intention of leaving until the government listens to us,” he said.
“Many of us are willing to sacrifice our liberty for the cause.”
Luggard, a lively three-year-old, limps behind the rest of his ragtag troupe of orphan elephants, halting to graze or rub against a tree.
When he was just five months old, Luggard was found struggling to keep up with his herd in Kenya’s Tsavo East National Park.
He had been shot twice.
One bullet pierced his left front foot, and another shattered his right, hind femur just above the knee joint.
The calf was discovered “too late for successful surgery,” said Edwin Lusichi, 42, head keeper at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (SWT) elephant nursery in Nairobi National Park, Luggard’s new home.
With the rest of the gang of 20 elephant babies in this unusual orphanage, Luggard comes charging with great enthusiasm, though hobbling heavily on his deformed leg, out of the bush for a 9:00 am feeding.
The calves greedily slurp from oversized “baby bottles”, rumbling contentedly and trumpeting excitedly as they ingest the special mix of human baby formula, water and vitamins.
Each calf at the nursery has a tragic story: orphaned by poachers, drought, or in conflict with humans encroaching ever further into the few wild places left.
“We rescue them from just a few days old,” DSWT administrator Kirsty Smith told AFP.
The youngest elephant in the centre’s care is Larro, 10 months.
She was found lost and alone in the Maasai Mara game reserve, likely after her family clashed with humans.
“Sometimes the elephants get into the communities, farms and homes, people fight them, chase them away, and in the process of the fight they (the babies) get separated from their families,” Lusichi explained.
Without its mother, an elephant calf will die.
They are weaned between the ages of five and 10, when they enter adolescence. Adulthood starts around the age of 18, and left undisturbed, elephants can live to be 70.
But poaching claims many prematurely.
Killing for Ornaments
About 20,000 African elephants per year — 55 per day — are killed, mainly for their tusks, according to the WWF.
“You’re killing a whole elephant just to have the tusks! For what — just to have an ornament?” asks an exasperated Lusichi.
He points to Enkesha, a tiny two-year-old.
“You see the trunk? She was found trapped in a snare” which all but severed the appendage elephants use to breathe, eat, drink water, and communicate.
Enkesha was rescued, stitched up, and after a long rehabilitation, now uses her badly-scarred trunk almost as normal, ripping up grass to eat and sucking up water.
The nursery keeps babies like Luggard, Larro and Enkesha until they are about three — the age at which elephants start craving more independence.
But until then, they receive 24-7 care with a bottle feeding every three hours.
The babies sleep in single wooden rooms at night, and the youngest each have a keeper with them.
“It’s similar to spending a night in a bedroom with… a human baby,” said Julius Shivegha, 43, one of the caretakers.
“We have to make sure that they are well-covered with a blanket, to keep them warm… They keep waking up for the milk… We are around for reassurance and for company, just to make sure they don’t feel lonely.”
The bond between animal and human is a close one.
During the daytime, the keepers accompany the group as they wander about the savannah, browsing and playing.
They call their charges by name, and the elephants respond.
As a treat, the keepers prepare mud baths into which the babies dive with abandon, rolling and sliding about, blowing bubbles, and wildly splashing the wet earth around with their trunks.
‘Sometimes we just cuddle’
“We sometimes play soccer with them,” said Shivegha of the daily routine.
“Sometimes we just cuddle them, we hug them. Some of them will keep on trying to just grab your hands or suck your fingers like a pacifier. All of this makes them really close to us… We are their mothers.”
This makes for a “bitter-sweet” separation: when the elephants graduate from the nursery, they go to one of three reintegration centres at Tsavo.
Here they spend several years learning to live independently, eventually joining a herd or forming their own and setting off into the wider park.
For disabled elephants like Luggard, the SWT runs a haven in Kibwezi Forest with abundant food and water all year round, and no human settlements nearby.
In 42 years, the trust has rehabilitated more than 230 orphan elephants. Over 120 are living wild and have given birth to 30 known calves, said Smith.
Ending attacks on elephants will be difficult in a part of the world where poverty and the danger posed to human life and property by wild elephant herds, are seen as justification.
To try and change mindsets, the SWT takes children on excursions to cultivate a love for wildlife and provides schools with books and desks with money raised through its projects.
Shivegha called for “everyone’s support”, in creating alternatives to poaching, such as small business opportunities, for people who live near game reserves.
Also, crucially, “let’s try and stop the end product market, let’s tell people to stop buying (ivory),” he urged.
Walls draped in lush vertical gardens and air filtered through purifiers insulate diners at a swanky New Delhi food court from the choking haze outside in one of the most polluted places on earth.
But these eco-eateries, offering cleaner air as well as modern menus to the well-heeled are beyond reach for the poor, who have little means of escaping the deadly smog which coats the city for much of the year.
Air pollution kills more than one million Indians every year, according to a study by Lancet Planetary Health, and Delhi is ranked one of the most toxic urban centres to live, regularly exceeding World Health Organisation (WHO) limits.
But for Ramavtar Singh there is no escape: like many of the city’s poorest, he eats, sleeps, and works outside.
“I work for six to eight hours every day and my children eat and sleep outside most times of the year,” the father of five tells AFP at a roadside food stall, gulping down a 50-cent dish of rice and lentils.
Singh earns a living by cycling passengers and cargo around Delhi on his rickshaw, a strenuous activity that means he’s inhaling dangerous concentrations of tiny pollutants deep into his lungs.
At best, he can wrap a rag over his mouth on smoggy days, a low-cost approach taken by labourers and rickshaw drivers that does little to prevent the most dangerous particles entering the bloodstream.
Delhi’s smog peaks from October to February, routinely exceeding WHO recommendations for PM2.5 — tiny and harmful airborne particles — and some days registers levels more than 20 times safe limits.
Experts warn the long term health consequences of living enveloped in pollution are disastrous, often causing chronic sickness and in some cases early death.
‘A quick oxygen shot’
Across town, Abhimanyu Mawatwal is settling down for lunch at a food court in Worldmark Aerocity, a grand commercial centre boasting purified air.
A meal here could cost twice Singh’s monthly salary, but it is a price Mawatwal is willing to pay because outside the smog is at hazardous levels.
“I love to come here for my meals. It is like getting a quick oxygen shot,” the office worker says, surrounded by creeper vines and a faux stream as he breathed lungfuls of filtered air circulating through expensive filters.
“We need to bring greenery to concrete jungles and create places where everybody can come for a breath of fresh air,” insists S. K. Sayal, CEO of Bharti Realty which owns Worldmark Aerocity.
Delhi’s affluent, who are often better informed about the dangers of pollution, increasingly expect the same safety measures they have in place at home, to be available when they are out.
High-end eateries, bars and cinemas are tapping into that demand — installing electronic air purifiers and creating dedicated areas of rich vegetation to help filter airborne toxins.
But for Singh, and the one in five Indians living on less than $2 a day, visiting such places is nothing more than a fantasy.
“What will I do if I spend all the money on one meal? How will I feed my family?” said the rickshaw cyclist, who earns about 1,200 rupees ($17) a month.
He cannot dream of buying the foreign-made air purifiers to protect his family at home – machines favoured by Delhi’s elite, expat communities and office workers – that easily cost Singh’s annual wage.
“The rich and the poor have to breathe the same poisonous air. But the poor are more exposed to pollution,” explains Sunil Dahiya, a campaigner for Greenpeace India.
He adds: “Most of the time, they don’t even know the effects the toxic air is having on their health. Poor communities are definitely at the losing end.”
World leaders gathered in Kenya on Thursday to lend political muscle to UN environment talks, calling for “urgent action” to slow the destruction of natural habitats and accelerate funding for green development.
French President Emmanuel Macron and Kenyan counterpart Uhuru Kenyatta were among several heads of state in Nairobi for the fourth UN Environment Assembly — a vast gathering of ministers, legal experts, charities and business leaders.
The assembly aims to push countries to commit to slashing pollution and widening renewable energy, recycling and conservation.
But it lacks the legal teeth to compel nations to act, and there is no prospect of it reaching a binding international action plan this week.
“Current global statistics are quite sobering and projections for future generations are dire and demand urgent action,” Kenyatta told delegates.
“Climate change continues to be a major threat to sustainable development worldwide. And its impact places a disproportionately heavy burden on the poor and vulnerable.”
Thursday’s One Planet Summit, also in Nairobi, saw a number of pledges for green investment in Africa — a continent experiencing some of the worst impacts of climate change despite producing a tiny percentage of global greenhouse-gas emissions.
“We need to act. We must put environment and biodiversity at the heart of the economy,” Macron said.
Earth is already experiencing fallout from its fossil fuel addiction, with climate change driving more frequent droughts, floods and superstorms fuelled by warmer, rising seas.
Pollution from toxic and non-toxic materials is having a dire effect on global health, the UN said this week.
At least eight million tonnes of plastic end up in our oceans every year, breaking up into micro-fragments that enter the marine food chain.
Macron was in Kenya — the first-ever visit there by a French head of state — a day before a global wave of school strikes by students demanding that governments act over the environment.
“Young people are telling us ‘you’re not going fast enough’. And they’re right because we have been too slow,” Macron said.
“We all have to move: governments, big business, citizens.”
Nations on Sunday struck a deal to breathe life into the landmark 2015 Paris climate treaty after marathon UN talks that failed to match the ambition the world’s most vulnerable countries need to avert dangerous global warming.
Delegates from nearly 200 states finalised a common rulebook designed to deliver the Paris goals of limiting global temperature rises to well below two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit).
“Putting together the Paris agreement work programme is a big responsibility,” said COP24 president Michal Kurtyka as he gavelled through the deal after talks in Poland that ran deep into overtime.
“It has been a long road. We did our best to leave no one behind.”
But states already dealing with devastating floods, droughts and extreme weather made worse by climate change said the package agreed in the mining city of Katowice lacked the bold ambition to cut emissions the world needed.
Egyptian ambassador Wael Aboulmagd, chair of the developing nations G77 plus China negotiating bloc, said the rule book saw the “urgent adaptation needs of developing countries relegated to a second-class status.”
Executive Director of Greenpeace Jennifer Morgan said: “We continue to witness an irresponsible divide between the vulnerable island states and impoverished countries pitted against those who would block climate action or who are immorally failing to act fast enough.”
The final decision text was repeatedly delayed as negotiators sought guidelines that could ward off the worst threats posed by the heating planet while protecting the economies of rich and poor nations alike.
“Without a clear rulebook, we won’t see how countries are tracking, whether they are actually doing what they say they are doing,” Canada’s Environment Minister Catherine McKenna told AFP.
At their heart, negotiations were about how each nation funds action to mitigate and adapt to climate change, as well as how those actions are reported.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who has recently backed down on anti-pollution fuel tax hikes in the face of country-wide “yellow vest” protests, said France must “show the way” as he welcomed the progress made at the talks.
“The international community remains committed to the fight against climate change,” he tweeted on Sunday.
“Congratulations to the UN, scientists, NGOs and all negotiators. France and Europe must show the way. The fight goes on.”
Developing nations had wanted more clarity from richer ones over how the future climate fight will be funded and pushed for so-called “loss and damage” measures.
This would see richer countries giving money now to help deal with the effects of climate change many vulnerable states are already experiencing.
Another contentious issue was the integrity of carbon markets, looking ahead to the day when the patchwork of distinct exchanges — in China, the Europe Union, parts of the United States — may be joined up in a global system.
The Paris Agreement calls for setting up a mechanism to guard against practices, such as double counting emissions savings, that could undermine such a market.
A major sticking point, delegates eventually agreed Saturday to kick the issue down the road until next year.
One veteran observer told AFP that Poland’s presidency at COP24 had left many countries out of the process and presented at-risk nations with a “take it or leave it” deal.
Progress had “been held up by Brazil, when it should have been held up by the small islands. It’s tragic.”
One of the largest disappointments for countries of all wealths and sizes was the lack of ambition to reduce emissions shown in the final COP24 text.
Most nations wanted the findings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to form a key part of future planning.
‘The system must change’
It highlighted the need to slash carbon pollution by nearly half before 2030 in order to hit the 1.5C target.
But the US, Saudi Arabia, Russia and Kuwait objected, leading to watered-down wording.
The final statement from the Polish COP24 presidency welcomed “the timely conclusion” of the report and invited “parties to make use of it” — hardly the ringing endorsement many nations had called for.
“There’s been a shocking lack of response to the 1.5 report,” Greenpeace’s Morgan, told AFP.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who made three trips to Katowice over the course of the talks, said the world’s climate fight was just beginning.
“From now on my five priorities will be: Ambition, ambition, ambition, ambition, ambition,” he said in a message read out by UN climate chief Patricia Espinosa.
With the political climate process sputtering on well into its third decade as emissions rise remorselessly, activists have stepped up grassroots campaigns of civil disobedience to speed up action.
“We are not a one-off protest, we are a rebellion,” a spokesman for the Extinction Rebellion movement, which disrupted at least one ministerial event at the COP, told AFP.
“We are organising for repeated disruption, and we are targeting our governments, calling for the system change needed to deal with the crisis that we are facing.”
European Union countries on Wednesday backed the outlawing of certain single-use plastics, bringing the bloc a step closer to an outright ban on the products which account for huge quantities of waste in the world’s oceans.
The approval by the 28 member states follows an overwhelming vote in the European Parliament last week to ban single-use plastic items such as straws, cutlery, cotton buds and balloon sticks.
Work will begin next week to draft detailed legislation with a view to agreeing on a text in December and having it enter into law in 2021.
The European Council, which groups the member states, supported ending the use of plastic products for which there are sustainable alternatives and wants to go further in apportioning responsibility for clearing up waste.
While the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, has suggested that clean-up costs should be paid by plastic producers, the council wants to see companies which import and sell the products pay a share as well.
The council also called for national targets to cut the consumption of single-use plastics where there is currently no environmentally-friendly alternative.
Rethink Plastic, a coalition of NGOs, welcomed the move but expressed disappointment that the proposals were based on “voluntary agreements” rather than mandatory deals.
The commission has said single-use plastics account for some 70 per cent of the waste in the oceans and beaches, and research last week appeared to show for the first time the widespread presence of plastics in the human food chain.
More than 70 percent of Earth’s last untouched wilderness lies in the territories of just five countries, scientists said on Wednesday — mostly nations that alarm environmentalists with their lukewarm response to climate change.
True wild spaces — land and sea areas mostly unaffected by mankind’s explosive expansion and insatiable appetite for food and natural resources — now cover just a quarter of the planet.
They form vital refuges for thousands of endangered species threatened by deforestation and overfishing, and provide some of our best defences against the devastating weather events brought about by climate change.
New research published in the journal Nature found that nearly three quarters of the wilderness that’s left belongs to Australia, Brazil, Canada, Russia, and the US.
“For the first time we’ve mapped both land and marine wilderness and showed that there’s actually not much left,” James Watson, professor of conservation science at the University of Queensland and lead paper author, told AFP.
“A few countries own a lot of this untouched land and they have a massive responsibility to keep the last of the wild.”
Researchers used open-source data on eight indicators of human impact on wilderness, including urban environments, farm land and infrastructure projects.
For oceans, they used data on fishing, industrial shipping and fertiliser run-off to determine that just 13 percent of the planet’s seas bore little or no hallmarks of human activity.
In a week when scientists warned that animals were being driven to the brink of extinction by runaway consumption, the paper’s findings that most remaining wilderness lies with just five nations will likely set conservationists’ nerves on further edge.
Russia’s vast swathes of taiga forest and permafrost contains trillions of trees that suck carbon from the atmosphere, tempering the impact of greenhouse gas emissions.
But Russia has been vague in its conservation commitments and President Vladimir Putin suggested last year that climate change was not caused by humans.
President Donald Trump has said the US is leaving the landmark Paris deal on climate change, and Brazil this week elected a right-wing former army captain who has pledged to drawdown existing legal protections for the Amazon rain forest.
“One take on the list is that alarm bells go off,” said Watson.
“But the other is to say actually there’s time to break the mold and show some leadership. Because to sustain wilderness you just have to stop industry and not allow people in.”
Due to voracious human consumption of fossil fuels, wood and meat, as well as our exploding population, just 23 percent of land on Earth is untouched by the impact of agriculture and industry.
A century ago that figure stood at 85 percent.
Between 1993 and 2009, an area of wilderness the size of India was lost to human settlement, farming and mining.
The conservation group WWF warned this week that mankind’s consumption had decimated global wildlife and triggered what is known as a mass-extinction event.
In the last 40 years populations of fish, birds, amphibians reptiles and mammals have plummeted, on average, by 60 percent.
In their paper, Watson and his colleagues warned that Earth’s wild places were facing “the same extinction crisis as species”.
“Similar to species extinction, the erosion of the wilderness is essentially irreversible,” they wrote.
‘Nature needs a break’
As well as being havens for biodiversity, wildernesses such as the boreal forest in northern Canada — which acts as a carbon sink and which is protected by federal law — form mankind’s frontline protection against runaway climate change.
“These areas are the places where many, many species retreat to,” said Watson. “At the same time they have massive amounts of carbon reserves.”
Scientists called for greater legislation to protect other unspoilt areas from industry, and to reformat global finance initiatives to provide incentives for forest protection.
“It requires nations to legislate and not let industry in. Nature needs a break,” said Watson.
“We can’t just exploit everywhere and these nations still have these strongholds of wilderness. I think the world would appreciate these nations standing up and saying we’re going to look after these places.”
Exposure to toxic air both indoors and out kills some 600,000 children under the age of 15 each year, the World Health Organization warned Monday.
Data from the UN health body shows that every day, 93 percent of children under the age of 15 – a full 1.8 billion youngsters, including 630 million under the age of five – breath dangerously polluted air.
This has tragic consequences: In 2016 alone, some 600,000 children died from acute lower respiratory infections caused by polluted air, the WHO report found.
“Polluted air is poisoning millions of children and ruining their lives,” WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said in a statement.
“This is inexcusable. Every child should be able to breathe clean air so they can grow and fulfil their full potential.”
According to WHO data, more than nine out of 10 people on the planet breath dangerously toxic air, causing some seven million premature deaths each year.
Air pollution is especially dangerous for children, and accounts for nearly one in 10 deaths among children under five around the globe, the report found.
WHO’s study, which examined the health toll on children breathing health-hazardous levels of both outdoor and household air pollution, focused on dangerous particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres (PM2.5).
These include toxins like sulfate and black carbon, which pose the greatest health risks since they can penetrate deep into the lungs or cardiovascular system.
The report found that children in poorer countries are far more at risk, with a full 98 percent of all children under five in low- and middle-income countries exposed to PM2.5 levels above WHO air quality guidelines.
That compares to 52 per cent in high-income countries, WHO said.
Triggers asthma, cancer
Together, household air pollution from cooking and outdoor air pollution cause more than half of all cases of acute lower respiratory infections in young children in low- and middle-income countries, WHO said.
The report, launched ahead of the WHO’s first ever Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health, revealed that when pregnant women are exposed to polluted air, they are more likely to give birth prematurely and have small, low birthweight children.
It found that children are often more vulnerable to the impact of air pollution since they breath more rapidly than adults, and thus absorb more pollutants at a time when their brains and bodies are still developing.
They also live closer to the ground, where a number of pollutants reach peak concentrations, WHO said, pointing out that newborns and young children are also more susceptible to household air pollution in homes that use polluting fuels for cooking, heating and lighting.
Air pollution can impact a child’s development and cognitive ability and can trigger asthma and childhood cancer, WHO said.
Children who have been exposed to high levels of air pollution may also be at greater risk for chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease later in life, it said.
“Air pollution is stunting our children’s brains, affecting their health in more ways than we suspected,” warned Maria Neira, the head of the WHO’s department of public health and environment.
The UN health body is calling for an acceleration of the switch to clean cooking and heating fuels, and for the promotion of cleaner transportation, lower emissions, and better waste management, among other measures.
“The world needs to reduce the overdependence we have on fossil (fuel), and accelerate to clean, renewable energy,” Neira told reporters in a conference call.
Researchers have found a new way that global warming is bad for the planet: more hungry bugs.
Rising temperatures will stimulate insects’ appetites — and make some prone to reproducing more quickly — spelling danger for key staples like wheat, corn and rice which feed billions of people, researchers said Thursday.
And since these three crops account for 42 per cent of the calories people eat worldwide, any uptick in scarcity could give rise to food insecurity and conflict, particularly in poorer parts of the globe.
“When it gets warmer, pest metabolism increases,” said Scott Merrill, a researcher at the University of Vermont and co-author of the study in the journal Science.
“And when pest metabolism increases, insect pests eat more food, which is not good for crops.”
Prior studies have already warned of climate change’s harmful effects on food staples, whether by making water scarce for irrigation or sapping nutritious content from cereal grains.
The latest study adds to that body of research by focusing on the boosted appetites of pests like aphids and borers.
To find out just how bad it could get, researchers ran simulations to track temperature-driven changes in metabolism and growth rates for 38 insect species from different latitudes.
Results varied by region, with cooler zones more likely to see a boost in voracious pests, and tropical areas expected to see some relief.
Overall, “global yield losses of these grains are projected to increase by 10 to 25 per cent per degree of global mean surface warming,” said the report.
“In France or the northern United States, most of those insects will have a faster population growth if the temperature warms up a bit,” lead author Curtis Deutsch told AFP.
“In Brazil or Vietnam or a very warm place, then it might be the opposite,” said Deutsch, a researcher at the University of Washington.
France stands to lose about 9.4 per cent of its maize to pests in a world that is 2 C warmer, compared to about 6.6 per cent of yield losses today due to pests.
In Europe, currently the most productive wheat producing region in the world, annual pest-induced yield losses could reach 16 million tons.
Eleven European countries are predicted to see 75 per cent or higher losses in wheat from pests, compared to current pest damage.
In the United States, the world’s largest maize producer, insect-induced maize losses could rise 40 per cent under current climate warming trajectories, meaning 20 fewer tons of maize per year.
China, home to one-third of the world’s rice production, could see losses of 27 million tons annually.
The study did not account for any anticipated increase in pesticide use or other methods of stemming the expected crop loss.
‘Insane’ aphid population
Consider the case of a particularly dangerous pest, the Russian wheat aphid.
Though tiny, these bugs are a major threat in North America, where they are considered an invasive species after first being detected in the 1980s.
Merrill said no aphid males have been found in Canada or the United States. The females, it seems, are reproducing clonally, essentially “giving birth to live clones of themselves,” he told AFP.
“These insects are born alive. They are born pregnant. Not only that, their granddaughters are developing inside them when they are born. It is crazy,” he added.
“They can reproduce under ideal temperatures very quickly,” on the order of eight daughters a day.
“You can imagine how quicky a very small population, even one aphid, can just explode over a whole field season. One or two aphids could turn into a trillion under ideal conditions. It is insane how quickly these populations could grow.”
Until now, most research on crop effects from global warming has focused on the plants themselves.
But researchers hope their findings will spark a hunt for more local solutions, like selecting heat and pest resistant crops and rotating plantings rather than simply dumping more pesticides into the environment.
“We have to start thinking about how are we going to short-circuit some of those things before they actually happen,” Merrill said.
Once-a-century rains that have pounded the Indian state of Kerala and displaced 1.3 million people are in line with the predictions of climate scientists, who warn that worse is to come if global warming continues unabated.
The monsoon rains upon which farmers in the southwestern state depend for their food and livelihoods dumped two-and-a-half times the normal amount of water across the state last week, according to Indian meteorologists.
It is difficult to attribute any single extreme weather event — such as the Kerala flooding — to climate change, said Roxy Mathew Koll, a climate scientist at the Indian Institute of Tropical Meteorology in Pashan, near Mumbai.
At the same time, “our recent research shows a three-fold increase in widespread extreme rains during 1950-2017, leading to large-scale flooding,” he told AFP.
Across India, flooding caused by heavy monsoons rainfall claimed 69,000 lives and left 17 million people without homes over the same period, according to a study he co-authored, published last year in Nature Communications.
In Kerala, all 35 of the state’s major reservoirs were brimming with rainwater by August 10, forcing local authorities to open the sluice gates on the Idukki Dam for the first time in 26 years.
“These floods that we are seeing in Kerala right now are basically in line with climate projections,” said Kira Vinke, a scientist at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research in Germany.
“If we continue with current levels of emissions — which is not unlikely — we will have unmanageable risks,” she told AFP.
The weather patterns behind these destructive downpours are well understood, even if the fingerprint of global warming is still hard to distinguish from what scientists call “natural variability”.
Rapid warming in the Arabian Sea and nearby landmass causes monsoon winds to fluctuate and intensify for short spans of three-to-four days, Koll explained.
During those periods, moisture from the Arabian Sea is dumped inland.
South Asia’s ‘hotspots’
“Over the last decade, due to climate change, the overheating of landmass leads to the intensification of monsoon rainfalls in central and southern India,” said monsoon expert Elena Surovyatkina, a professor at the Russian Academy of Sciences, and a senior scientist at PIK.
The changes observed so far have occurred after an increase in Earth’s average surface temperature of only one degree Celsius (1.8 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.
On current trends, India’s average annual temperatures are set to rise 1.5 C to 3 C compared to that benchmark by mid-century, according to a World Bank report entitled “South Asia’s Hotspots”.
“If no corrective measures are taken, changing rainfall patterns and rising temperatures will cost India 2.8 percent of its GDP and will drag down living standards of half its population by 2050,” the World Bank said in a statement.
The 196-nation Paris climate treaty calls for capping global warming at “well below” 2 C (3.6 F), and 1.5 C if possible.
But voluntary national pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, even if respected, would still see temperatures rise at least 3 C.
Flooding is not the only problem India’s burgeoning — and highly vulnerable — population will face as a consequence of global warming.
“What we will see with climate change in India is that the wet season is going to be wetter and the dry season drier,” said Vinki.
“Already we are observing that the monsoon is becoming harder to predict with traditional methods.”
If manmade carbon emissions continue unabated, some regions in northeast India could literally become unlivable by the end of the century due to a deadly combination of heat and humidity during heatwaves, recent research has projected.
Indeed, large swathes of South Asia, including the Ganges-Brahmaputra Basin, could approach the threshold for survivability outdoors.
Coastal cities, meanwhile, are especially vulnerable to sea level rise, driven by melting ice sheets and expanding ocean water, on the one hand, and subsidence due to over-development and the depletion of water tables, on the other.
Greenpeace activists said Tuesday they had flown a drone fitted out as a flying Superman into a nuclear energy plant in southeast France, aiming to show how the country’s reactors are vulnerable to terror attacks.
A video released by the environmental group shows the drone zipping through restricted airspace above the Bugey plant about 25 kilometres (16 miles) outside Lyon before crashing into a building on site.
It said the drone struck a storage pool for spent nuclear fuel next to a reactor, one of the most radioactive areas at the site.
“This is a highly symbolic action: it shows that spent fuel pools are very accessible, this time from the air, and therefore extremely vulnerable to attack,” Yannick Rousselet, head of Greenpeace France’s anti-nuclear campaign, in a statement.
French electricity group EDF played down any security risk, saying police forces had intercepted one of two drones launched by Greenpeace at dawn on Tuesday.
“The fuel building is key for security, designed in particular to withstand natural or accidental damage, which ensures its high degree of robustness,” the company said, adding that it would lodge a complaint with police.
Greenpeace has carried out several actions aimed at highlighting the danger posed by French nuclear plants, which generate the bulk of the country’s electricity needs.
In February, eight activists were sentenced to jail terms or fines after breaking into a plant and setting off fireworks last year.
After Greenpeace activists broke into another nuclear plant last November, the French government opened a parliamentary inquiry into nuclear safety and security.
The findings of the report, which include an analysis of potential risks of drones equipped with explosives, are expected to be released soon.
In 2014 and 2015, drone flights were reported over several French nuclear plants, including Bugey, though Greenpeace denied any involvement.