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The week that's gone: 30 March 2013

This is a summary of the stories we have published in the week ending Saturday 30 March. Yes, we’re late again – but at least this time we have the excuse of a technology crisis, now resolved.  (All the stories are archived).

Climate change: One more problem for Pakistan

ISLAMABAD, 24 March – The Indus river, originating on the Tibetan Plateau and flowing for nearly 2,000 miles through the disputed  territory of Jammu and Kashmir and finally down to the province of Sindh and out into the Arabian Sea, is key to life in Pakistan. The majority of Pakistan’s 190 million people are involved in agriculture: the Indus, fed by glaciers high up in the Hindu Kush-Karakoram Himalaya mountain range, provides water for 90% of the country’s crops. Meanwhile hydro-power facilities based on the Indus generate around 50% of Pakistan’s total electricity. Climate change is now threatening this vital waterway – and the future of millions in Pakistan. In recent weeks it has launched, in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), its first ever national policy on climate change. “Pakistan is among the most vulnerable countries facing climate risks”, says Marc-Andre Franche, the UNDP’s Pakistan director. “…the climate change clock is ticking too fast and the time to act is here and now.”

UK Government warms to nuclear power

LONDON, 25 March – Companies wishing to prospect for shale gas in the UK have been granted ten-year tax breaks and will get special planning permission from the Government if they go for large scale projects. To avoid delays, the Government also used its budget to announce plans to tempt local communities with cash to accept these developments. This controversial push to exploit shale gas for electricity production comes as the Government’s already contentious plans to subsidise new nuclear stations ran into legal trouble in Brussels. With many EU countries opposed to nuclear power, including Germany, it is unlikely that a majority of the 27 member states would vote to set aside existing competition legislation to let the UK favour nuclear power over other forms of generation. This setback for nuclear in the UK is a blow for the industry worldwide, since Britain has been seen as the flagship country for a new nuclear renaissance, the only large western economy to embrace a new generation of nuclear power stations.


Asia cuts its carbon faster than Europe

LONDON, 25 March – When it comes to prowess in moving towards a low-carbon economy, some countries in Asia are increasingly outpacing Europe and the United States, a new report shows. Three of the top G20 countries best placed to compete in the global low-carbon economy are now from East Asia, having overtaken their European and American competitors, according to an index which measures how carbon-competitive countries are. The report, the Climate Institute/GE Low-Carbon Competitiveness Index, published by the Climate Institute, was first released in 2009. This year’s edition relies on data from 2010. In that year France, the UK and Germany were placed first, third and fifth. Today France is still in first place (thanks largely to its heavy reliance on nuclear power to generate electricity) but the UK has slipped down while Germany, sixth, is out of the top group.


Old King Coal keeps rollin’ along

LONDON, 26 March – The good news is that US greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are continuing to decline. “Over the last four years, our emissions of the dangerous carbon pollution that threatens our planet have actually fallen”, said President Obama in his State of the Union address last month. The bad news is the US is exporting its polluting gases, particularly in the form of coal, like never before. Figures released earlier this month by the official US Energy Information Administration (EIA) show US coal exports reached a record of more than 115 million tons in 2012, more than double the 2009 figure. In a report examining the legal implications of increased US coal exports, the Columbia Law School notes that GHG emissions are not just a national issue. “Because the impacts of CO2 emissions are global in nature, it makes no difference from a climate change perspective whether coal mined in Wyoming is consumed in Chicago or Shanghai”, it says.


Drier climate will spread diarrhoea

LONDON, 27 March – Diarrhoea, which kills 1.5 million children annually, is likely to become more prevalent in many developing countries as the climate changes, a report says. But the authors found an unexpected twist in the way the climate is likely to affect the disease. Kathleen Alexander, an associate professor of wildlife at Virginia Tech’s College of Natural Resources and Environment, says climate drives a large part of diarrhoea and related disease, increasing the threat which a changing climate poses to vulnerable communities. The analysis of 30 years of data by her team found an unexpected peak of diarrhoea during the hottest and driest part of the year, when there were most flies. Her study, “Climate change Is likely to worsen the public health threat of diarrheal disease in Botswana”, is published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health. It is based on three decades of historical data and has implications for arid countries worldwide.


Climate will harm Mekong Basin harvests

LONDON, 29 March – One of the most fertile areas of south east Asia, the Lower Mekong Basin, faces a bleak future from the impacts of climate change, according to a US-funded study. The lead author of the study, Dr Jeremy Carew-Reid, says some of its findings are “very shocking”. Hotter and wetter rainy seasons and more long-lasting dry seasons in Cambodia, Laos, Thailand and Vietnam will jeopardise the region’s reputation as one of the world’s major producers of crops on which hundreds of millions depend. Climate change will also have a profound economic impact in the region. “We’ve found that this region is going to experience climate extremes in temperature and rainfall beyond anything that we expected”, says Dr Carew-Reid. The Basin is known for its production of maize and rice, the two grains with the highest worldwide production levels. Rice provides more than a fifth of the calories consumed by humans.


Poorest nations say yes to emissions cuts

LONDON, 30 March – In what could be a far-reaching move, the world’s poorest countries say they are now prepared to commit themselves to binding cuts in their emissions of greenhouse gases. The move has the potential to quicken the pace of the glacially-slow UN negotiations… The Group of Least Developed Countries (LDCs) is a major negotiating bloc at the UN talks, with its member states including 12% of the world’s people… Quamrul Chowdury is a lead climate negotiator of the LDC Group. He told the Climate News Network: “Prakash Mathema, the current Chair of the LDCs in the climate negotiations, has a new mantra: ‘Follow us’. That means the 49 LDCs under his leadership are set to act in the process as a very pro-active group. They will lead by example – by doing. The LDCs are no longer waiting for others to act… They are even ready to go first in helping to cut back global greenhouse gas emissions…”