Climate News February 2017

IPCC selects experts for Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius

In late February, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change selected the team of experts who will work on SR1.5: Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius: an IPCC special report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.

Debra Roberts, Co-Chair of Working Group II said: “The selection of the authors for the report is the first step in the critical journey started at COP21. This special report will facilitate this important journey by assessing the available science and highlighting the policy options available to support the achievement of a climate safe, equitable and sustainable world”.

Civil society court challenge to assess climate change impacts before granting environmental authorisation for coal power plant

Hard on the heels of a civil society court case to prevent nuclear procurement in South Africa, Earthlife Africa Johannesburg (ELA Jhb) will challenge the Minister of Environmental Affairs in court in early March for her decision to uphold the environmental authorisation for the proposed Thabametsi coal-fired power plant.

When ELA Jhb previously appealed the environmental authorisation for Thabametsi, the Minister required the power company to conduct a climate change impact assessment, the draft of which indicates that the power station will have “significant” greenhouse emissions and climate change impacts, and that water shortage as a result of climate change will impact on the operation of the plant and water availability for surrounding communities that cannot be mitigated by the power station.

Subsequently, the Minister upheld the environmental authorisation prior to the climate change impacts having been assessed.  ELA Jhb instituted proceedings in the Pretoria High Court in 2016 to challenge this decision, saying that the authorisation should have been set aside pending adequate assessment of the climate change impacts.

This case is thought to be the first in South Africa when a judiciary will consider the importance of and need for a climate change impacts assessment before granting environmental authorisation to a coal-fired power station.  ELA Jhb will be represented by the Centre for Environmental Rights.

For more information on the court case: http://cer.org.za/programmes/pollution-climate-change/legal-proceedings

To comment on the climate change impact assessment (deadline 27 February 2017): http://www.savannahsa.com/projects/project.php?project=438

Improved Housing a potential tool against malaria

A study published in PLOS Medicine shows that houses with metal roofs and finished walls are associated with a greater than 9 per cent reduction in malaria risk in children compared to thatched houses.  The research analysed data on malaria prevalence and housing using data collected in 29 surveys carried out in 21 African countries between 2008 and 2015.  The malaria status was known of about 140,000 children under the age of five living in about 84,000 households.

Malaria was detectable in between 0.4 per cent and 45.5 per cent of children living in modern housing, compared to between 0.4 per cent and 70.6 per cent of children living in traditional homes.  After controlling for household wealth and use of insecticides, modern housing was associated with a 9 to 14 per cent reduction in the odds of malaria infection, in comparison to a 15 to 16 per cent reduction of risk for children using insecticide-treated bed nets.

Lead author Lucy Trusting of Oxford University says that mosquitoes can be prevented from entering houses if they are well built.  Malaria transmission outdoors is not affected, and in many locations outdoor transmission is more common.  The study was undertaken by the University of Oxford, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Durham University, and the University of Southampton.

Climate change promotes selenium deficiency

Selenium is an essential micronutrient, with the selenium content of food dependent on selenium concentrations in the soil.  In a new study entitled Selenium deficiency risk predicted to increase under future climate change scientists from Switzerland, Germany and the UK explore the complex factors that are likely to affect the prevalence of this micronutrient in soils, and thus in crops and people’s diets.

The findings of the research indicate that climate change could result in selenium loss in two thirds of croplands by the end of the century.  With up to a billion people thought to be already affected by low selenium intake, there are potential impacts for human health.  The researchers say their study serves as an early warning for humanitarian organisations and the agro-industry.

Climate-soil interactions play a dominant role in controlling soil selenium concentration. Changes in climate are likely to impact on soil organic carbon content, and indications are that decreases in soil carbon will lead to overall decreased soil selenium concentrations, particularly in agricultural areas. These decreases could in turn increase the prevalence of selenium deficiency. As a result of climate change, selenium levels are expected to decrease overall, with areas of Europe, India, China, southern South America, southern Africa, and south-western United States being particularly affected. Selenium levels may increase in parts of Australia, China, India and Africa under moderate climate change. The research is published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:

http://www.pnas.org/content/early/2017/02/14/1611576114.full.

Third Global Coral Bleaching Event

Surface ocean temperatures during the 2016 El Niño resulted in a major coral die-off in the Maldives, causing reef growth rates to collapse. Erosion of the reefs by some reef species has also increased. Reef structure is reported to be now eroding faster than it is growing. Similar detrimental impacts are thought to be widespread, including reefs in other parts of the Indian and Pacific such as the northern Great Barrier Reef, and the 2016 event was therefore dubbed the Third Global Coral Bleaching Event.

There is concern about how long it will take for the reefs to recover.  In the past, reefs in the Maldives have taken 10 to 15 years to recover from such disturbances, but bleaching events are expected to become more frequent, which could lead to long-term loss of reef growth.  Prior to the 2016 El Niño, the Maldives reefs had been growing rapidly.  The research is published in Scientific Reports