A global environment update
Two ice shelves that existed before Canada was settled by Europeans diminished significantly this summer, one nearly disappearing altogether, the Associated Press reported scientists at Canada’s Carlton and Ottawa universities as saying. The rapid loss, recorded in new research, is considered important as a marker of climate change and underscores the severity of the warming trend scientists are observing.
The Arctic stratosphere’s ozone layer suffered unprecedented depletion early this year but, according to Science News, whether the record loss constituted a “hole” depends on which experts are asked. While NASA-led research published by Nature describes the 2011 loss as “an Arctic ozone hole”, other scientists say the thinning, while dramatic, was not a hole. The definition of an ozone hole has never been codified, even for the Antarctic – where a hole recurs annually.
In the South Pacific, the tiny nation of Tuvalu and the New Zealand-administered territory of Tokelau are in urgent need of water and seeking help from abroad, The New Zealand Herald reported. Months of dry weather have worsened drought conditions in the islands, beset by one of the most severe La Niña weather patterns in decades.
A feud over the right to tap what could be the world’s biggest discovery of natural gas in years has stoked tensions in the eastern Mediterranean, The Guardian said, pitting a newly ascendant Turkey against other countries in the region. With a treasure trove of hydrocarbon reserves thought to lie beneath the sea, the stakes are high.
Global subsidies for fossil-fuel consumption are set to reach US$660 billion in 2020 unless measures are passed to effectively eliminate them, Reuters quoted the International Energy Agency as saying. In an extract from its annual World Energy Outlook, due in November, the IEA said such subsidies “represent a significant economic liability”.
A new European Commission directive sets minimum environmental quality standards for a range of fuels, including oil from tar sands and shale rock and oil converted to liquid, The Guardian said. EU member states are to meet in four to six weeks to vote on the proposal; the European parliament would then have final approval.
In an effort to reduce the number of sandstorms originating in Iraq, Iran and Iraq will jointly pay an unidentified foreign company US$1.2 billion to reduce the number of dunes, according to Agence France-Presse. Iran’s news agency quoted the country’s Environmental Protection Agency chief as saying one million hectares of Iraqi soil would be stabilised over the next five years. The sandstorm problem has been blamed on desertification and deforestation.
Japan will proceed with its 2011-12 whale hunt in Antarctica while increasing security to guard against possible harassment by environmental protesters, Agence France-Presse reported. In February, Japan cut short its 2010-11 hunt by a month – after taking only 20% of its planned catch – citing interference from the Sea Shepherd group’s vessels.