Skipping plastic straws might not do much to stop marine pollution, experts say

An estimated 8 million tonnes of plastic trash enter the ocean every year, and plastic straws make up only a very small percentage of it.
Aqil Haziq Mahmud Channel NewsAsia 26 Jul 18;

SINGAPORE: Saying no to plastic straws might feel like a conscientious effort to reduce marine litter, but this global movement does little to stem the pollution, experts said.

One industry observer told Channel NewsAsia that the real problem lies with poor waste management systems in countries that leak huge amounts of garbage into the ocean.

“The best that can be said about the collective actions to eliminate straws is that it’s good at raising awareness, but that’s not the solution,” said Mr Steven Russell, plastics division vice president at the American Chemistry Council, which represents multi-national chemical and plastic manufacturers.

Mr Russell was in Singapore earlier in July to meet with waste companies, plastic companies and consumer brands on working together to solve global waste management problems.

The anti-plastic straw movement is believed to have taken off in 2015, after a video showing a sea turtle with a straw stuck up its nose went viral.

Soon enough it spread globally, with cities like Seattle and Mumbai and companies like Starbucks and Ikea ditching the eco-unfriendly straws.

In Singapore it is no different: KFC is just one in a growing list that includes Millennium Hotels and Common Man Coffee Roasters to have signed up.

“If you have eyes, you see the images,” Mr Russell said. “Everybody feels understandably compelled to act, so the impulse to reduce what we use is a good one.”


So, what exactly is the problem with the movement? Mr Russell feels it could lull companies and individuals into thinking they’ve done enough to save the ocean, given the relatively short attention such issues get.

“It would be a shame to think we’ve banned straws – we’re done,” he said, dusting off his hands. “That would be environmental malpractice to address only 0.2 per cent of the waste stream. We’re not helping the ocean.”

In a recent report on science website, a pair of Australian scientists estimated that there are up to 8.3 billion plastic straws strewn across coastlines around the world.

Seems like a big number, but even if all those straws were suddenly swept to sea, they would only make up less than 1 per cent of the 8 million tonnes of plastic estimated to enter the ocean in a given year. (Plastics make up about 80 per cent of marine litter.)

This whopping figure, derived in a 2015 study published in the journal Science, is equivalent to five normal-sized plastic bags filled with plastic entering the ocean along every 0.5m of coastline in the world.

“The only thing that is going to help the ocean is getting serious about managing waste in places where it’s not managed,” Mr Russell added.


These places are likely to be middle-income countries with rapidly growing economies, the study noted, as they lack the waste management systems to handle all that extra waste.

China, Indonesia, the Philippines, Vietnam and Sri Lanka were ranked as the top five producers – out of 192 countries – of mismanaged plastic waste in 2010. This was based on an analysis of people living within 50km of the coast.

Mismanaged plastic waste refers to trash that can possibly enter the ocean.

“If people in those places aren’t served by waste collection, if they don’t have a place to put their used things, these fall from their hands to the ground, river and ocean,” Mr Russell explained, highlighting the growing consumer class in such countries.

In this respect, Singapore fares much better. The city-state produced about 6,500 tonnes of mismanaged plastic waste in 2010, coming in at 114th. (China generated almost 9 million tonnes.)

For countries that need help, Mr Russell said an upcoming initiative will see consumer brands set up a fund and offer low to no-interest loans to help communities in Asia improve their waste management. This model is similar to the Closed Loop Fund in North America.

The loans can be used to purchase new garbage bins or invest in recycling technology, for instance.

“That model is being adapted for an Asian context with a focus on Indonesia and perhaps India,” Mr Russell said, adding that the initiative will be announced in October at the Our Ocean Conference in Bali.


While Mr Russell might be speaking as an interested party, his argument is shared by more neutral observers.

Bloomberg columnist Adam Minter wrote that “straws make up a trifling percentage of the world's plastic products, and campaigns to eliminate them will not only be ineffective, but could distract from far more useful efforts”.

The movement, he argued, should instead pressure global seafood companies to mark their fishing nets and gear, which studies said make up a good chunk of plastic garbage in the ocean. This holds a person or company accountable when the gear is abandoned.

Ms Olivia Choong, who co-founded the environmental group Green Drinks Singapore, said the current movement is “not effective in removing marine litter because straws are only one of many things that make it to the marine environment”.

“Plastic bags, Styrofoam boxes and cigarette butts are some common things found at beaches,” she said. “Sometimes slippers too.”

Nevertheless, Ms Choong added that plastic straws are a “good starting point” when it comes to reducing single-use plastics.


Plastic-Lite Singapore founder Aarti Giri agreed, saying the movement is a “great first step in the right direction”.

Noting that plastic straws are among the top 10 items littered along beaches and waterways, she said cutting down on them “will definitely help” reduce plastic gunk in the ocean and its harmful effects on marine life.

READ: Tanah Merah beach cleaning drive turns up 500kg of waste
“Anti-straw movements have a larger effect of creating awareness in the minds of consumers on the overall negative environmental impact of disposable plastics, not just straws," she added.

“They also help in reducing the number of disposable plastic straws used in Singapore on a day-to-day basis, which also has a positive overall environmental impact from (saving) the energy and material resources used in the manufacturing and logistics of these straws."

Still, Ms Giri called for the effectiveness of such campaigns to be measured using studies with statistical data. “I sincerely hope for this movement to be a progressive one and not one that terminates at plastic straws,” she stated.


Short of starting a campaign to mark fishing gear or improve trash collection in Indonesia, what else can you do to stop marine pollution?

READ: A commentary on what it will take for Singapore to give up plastic
Ms Giri said taking part in beach clean-ups can help raise awareness on plastic pollution and develop a fondness for the environment. But this should translate to behavioural changes, like bringing your own bag and bottle when going out.

“If we cannot transfer this awareness towards being able to reduce usage of the plastics we litter pick, it will not have a positive difference,” she added.

In particular, Ms Giri said to avoid Styrofoam containers as they are light and easily washed into the sea. They also break up easily, making it tedious to pick up during beach clean-ups.

And then there’s the obvious. Don’t litter, said Ms Choong, especially at the beach. “There is so much trash that can be found on our shores, brought in through water currents from somewhere else, or generated by residents,” she added.

Source: CNA/hz(ms)

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NEA to set limits on petrol and diesel additives next year

Straits Times 25 Jul 18;

The National Environment Agency (NEA) will regulate additional fuel quality parameters and additives in petrol and diesel from July 1 next year.

This is part of NEA's ongoing efforts to improve Singapore's ambient air quality and safeguard public health, the agency said yesterday.

Among the new regulations are limits for methanol, methylcyclopentadienyl manganese tricarbonyl (MMT), phosphorus, and fatty acid methyl ester (Fame) additives in petrol and diesel.

These additives have negative effects on the environment and public health when added to petrol and diesel, NEA said.

Methanol produces toxic substances such as formaldehyde, which can cause cancer.

Manganese and phosphorous can damage the catalytic converters in petrol vehicles, causing higher emissions over time.

Fame may increase the emission of nitrogen oxides from diesel vehicles. Nitrogen oxides increase the risk of respiratory infection in humans and react with other compounds to form ozone, a greenhouse gas.

The Government will review the carbon tax rate by 2023, with plans to increase it to between $10 and $15 per tonne of emissions by 2030.

Methanol will be limited to a maximum of 3 per cent volume for petrol, while MMT will be limited to 2mg a litre of both petrol and diesel.

Phosphorus shall not be added to petrol, NEA said. Fame will be limited to a maximum of 7 per cent volume of diesel.

NEA said that it regularly reviews and tightens vehicular emission standards, as well as fuel quality standards for automotive use under the Environmental Protection and Management (Vehicular Emission) Regulations.

All petrol and diesel sold at petrol stations and other authorised outlets must comply with the new limits by July 1 next year, it said.

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Malaysia: New plan saves forests, orangutan

Borneo Post 25 Jul 18;

KOTA KINABALU: Forever Sabah (FS) in partnership with Sabah Forestry Department began engaging with several Forest Management Units (FMU) in an FMU Roundtable in 2015, bringing license holders to the table to discuss the transformation of the industry towards an innovative, diversified and circular economy.

Most FMU holders sought a shift from the timber industry of the past and amongst them were progressive “captains of industry” committed to the process of transformation towards business models and ethics that reflect Sabahan aspirations.

A key concern however, was that the right government leadership and governance was imperative for the private sector to make the bold investments necessary for change.

The roundtable envisioned better vertical integration and down streaming of the industry within Sabah, including co-designing and prototyping conservation economies such as carbon, bio-plastics from wood waste, grid-tied mini hydropower from healthy watersheds, community forestry, training institutes and others.

Another important vision that emerged was to co-develop with government and civil society a 25-year holistic Forest Management Plan (FMP), which governs all of Sabah’s forests as an integrated landscape.

In 2016, and after some rigorous scrutiny, a focused engagement with FMU 5 began due to the significant conservation value of the landscape with intact forests, considerable hydrological resources, and significant orang utan population, as well as its value as a “climate change refugium” for wildlife.

As a result of this engagement, Forever Sabah, Hutan and WWF Malaysia formed the FMU 5 NGO Council and entered into a five-year Memorandum of Understanding with Sabah Forestry Department and the concession holder Anika Desiran Sdn Bhd at the International Heart of Borneo conference in October 2017.

The objectives of the MoU are stated as: Transparency and accountability in the development, implementation and monitoring of management plans and related operations; Effective protection and restoration of natural vegetation, wildlife habitats, watershed and other forest ecological functions, especially in areas of high conservation value, of importance to indigenous local communities, of steep terrain and riparian zones; Effective protection of wildlife populations against hunting and other activities that jeopardize their long-term survival; Assist with agreed phasing-out of logging and replacement with alternative opportunities within a conservation and circular economy; and To respect all laws of Sabah and of the Federation that applies.

This marked an unprecedented engagement between government, private sector and civil society to innovate through shared governance and responsibility.

Prior to the signing of the MoU, a transformed Forest Management Plan (FMP) with fundamental input from the NGO Council was agreed upon by all parties: transforming the land use regime from large-scale, intensive salvage logging and plantations to Natural Forest Management with Reduced Impact Logging (RIL) principles and practices based on the FSC-certified Deramakot Forest Reserve model. “With the new FMP, we succeeded in avoiding deforestation and losing orang utan habitat in over 40,000 hectares, preserved forest connectivity, reduced damage to streams and rivers, and protected approximately 2,400 hectares of village gravity water supply catchments which were mapped by Forever Sabah with the permission of Sabah Forestry Department and the concessionaire”, stated Cynthia Ong, Chief Executive Facilitator of Forever Sabah.

According to Dr John Tay, WWF Malaysia’s Sabah Head, “Collective next steps in the following months are community dialogues on the new FMP with surrounding villages, the development of the carbon product, the study of renewable energy feasibility, the training of Anika Desiran staff in High Conservation Value monitoring, and the continued satellite and field monitoring of RIL activities”.

The FMU 5 case paves the way for, and makes all the more urgent a 25-year FMP process to guide landscape level governance and planning.

“Such a 25-year statewide FMP can guide the reorientation of individual FMUs as their FMPs expire, and like the FMU 5 story, we are making the case that civil society is at the governance table; the way forward is for transparent and collaborative processes between government, private sector and civil society,” concludes Dr Marc Ancrenaz, director of Hutan.

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Indonesia prepares 200 artesian wells to anticipate haze during Asian Games

Antara 26 Jul 18;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The Peat Restoration Agency (BRG) would drill 200 artesian wells in six villages in Ogan Komering Ilir, a land fire-prone area that could spread the haze to Asian Games venues in Jakabaring sport complex in South Sumatra`s city of Palembang.

"There will be 200 artesian wells. We are focusing on areas that could affect the Asian Games. Based on analysis, we have started to build (artesian wells) in six villages in OKI (Ogan Komering Ilir), which could spread the haze to Jakabaring," BRG`s Deputy of Construction, Operation and Maintenance Alue Dohong said here on Wednesday.

The agency has started drilling the artesian wells in three villages with aquifer level between 20 and 30 meters, namely Bakung, Kuro and Betung Island Villages, since three days ago.

In three other villages with aquifer level between 80 and 100 meters, the agency would have to wait for the appropriate design prepared by the Geological Agency of the Energy and Mineral Resource Ministry.

"BRG has worked closely with the Geological Agency to design artesian wells in areas with deep aquifer level, where conventional method cannot be used," he added.

Dohong remarked that the development of artesian wells in the six villages has been included in BRG`s working plan for 2018. Each village could have up to 50 artesian wells, and the agency would speed up its construction to anticipate land and forest fires during the Asian Games.

"Based on the information, the area is prone to land and forest fires. Therefore, we need to anticipate this," he added.

In addition to the artesian wells in OKI, BRG has also been tasked to build 120 artesian wells in fire-prone conservation area.

BRG would work in coordination with the Natural Resources Conservation Agency (BKSDA) and South Sumatra`s environment office to block 18 canals in Padang Sugihan wildlife reserve.

Previously, the BRG and local BKSDA had closed 10 canals in the wildlife reserve and replanted 50 hectares of land.

Reported by Virna P. Setyorini
(T.SYS/A/KR-BSR/A/E002) 25-07-2018 21:20:47
Editor: Fardah Assegaf

Government discusses precautionary measures against forest fires
Bayu Prasetyo Antara 25 Jul 18;

Jakarta (ANTARA News) - The government has held discussions on precautionary measures against land and forest fires following the onset of the dry season in 2018.

"We are experiencing the dry season now. I have received information from regions on the emergence of hotspots, and that they have been overcome soon," Presidential Chief of Staff Moeldoko stated here on Wednesday.

Moeldoko remarked that efforts to overcome land and forest fires will involve some related institutions, including the Meteorological, Geophysical, and Climatology Agency; National Disaster Management Agency; Peat Restoration Agency; Transportation Ministry; the military; and police.

Moeldoko has summoned some governors from forest fire-prone areas, such as South Sumatra, Riau, West Kalimantan, Aceh, and North Sumatra, and called on the police to conduct thorough investigation into land and forest fires.

"Certainly, the police will take legal measures. So far, no one have been arrested," he added.

Moeldoko stressed that the government will take stern measures against individuals or institutions that have started fires.

The measures are also aimed at supporting the smooth implementation of the Asian Games 2018 in South Sumatra`s city of Palembang and Jakarta as well as the IMF-World Bank annual meeting in Bali.


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Indonesia: Tidal waves cause floods, displace hundreds in West Lombok

Panca Nugraha The Jakarta Post 25 Jul 18;

Tidal waves hit Induk Beach at Taman Ayu village in West Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, on Wednesday morning, forcing hundreds to flee following tidal floods that had inundated their village.

Seawater started to enter residential areas in the village at 8:35 a.m on Wednesday, causing knee-deep flooding, said Mataram Search and Rescue Agency spokesman I Lanang Wiswananda said.

“To anticipate worsening conditions, we immediately evacuated villagers [from the area],” he said, adding that the floods had affected 178 residents.

The agency, along with other personnel and volunteers, helped in the evacuation.

Wiswananda explained that the flooding was caused by tidal waves up to 4 meters high hitting the coastal village.

It had been reported that one house was severely damaged, and three fishing boats could not yet dock because of high waves.

Village head Lalu Imran said the tidal waves had been hitting the village since 4:30 a.m., followed by floodwater entering people’s houses from 7 a.m. Panicked residents then asked for help from the authorities to be evacuated to safer place. (nor/rin)

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Philippines archipelago provides vital habitat for juvenile whale sharks

Brooks Hays UPI 24 Jul 18;

July 24 (UPI) -- Satellite tracking data suggests the waters surrounding the Philippines archipelago are vital to endangered whale sharks.

In 2015 and 2016, researchers with the Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines attached satellite tags to 17 juvenile whale sharks. The most recent analysis of the satellite data -- published this week in the journal PeerJ -- revealed the importance of the Philippines archipelago to whale sharks.

Scientists attached tracking devices that floated above the sharks, attached by a thin tether. The new types of satellite tags ensure the devices breached the surface more often, returning clear signals and delivering more data.

Over the course of the tracking period, all 17 whale sharks remained in the vicinity of the archipelago. Despite traveling up to 30 miles per day -- in the case of one fast-swimming male -- the whales never left the islands.

Whale sharks are protected in the Philippines, but in 2016, the International Union for Conservation of Nature upgraded the species from "vulnerable" to "endangered" as a result of the population's dramatic decline in the Indo-Pacific. Illegal fishing remains one of the largest threats to the whale shark, Rhincodon typus.

In addition to combating illegal fishing activities, scientists say habitat protection is essential to whale shark conservation. And efforts like the latest satellite tracking survey can help conservationists decide where protections would prove most beneficial.

"This research highlights the high mobility of whale sharks, even juveniles, and the need for broader scale management and conservation plans for this endangered species," biologist Gonzalo Araujo said in a news release.

Satellite tracking reveals Philippine waters are important for endangered whale sharks
PEERJ EurekAlert 24 Jul 18;

A new scientific study published in PeerJ - the Journal of Life and Environmental Sciences has tracked juvenile whale sharks across the Philippines emphasising the importance of the archipelago for the species. The study is the most complete tracking study of whale sharks in the country, with satellite tags deployed on different individuals in multiple sites.

The Philippines is an important hotspot for whale sharks and globally hosts the third largest known population of whale sharks ( While the species has been protected in the Philippines since 1998, globally the species was uplisted in 2016 to 'endangered to extinction' in the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species due to a population decline of more than 50%, largely caused by continued exploitation in the Indo-Pacific. Particularly in South East Asia, concerns remain due to continued fishing in regional waters; understanding the movements of whale sharks in the Philippines is vital if we are to identify conservation priorities for the species.

By attaching Wildlife Computers SPOT5 satellite tags to whale sharks, researchers from Large Marine Vertebrates Research Institute Philippines (LAMAVE), Marine Megafauna Foundation (MMF) and Tubbataha Management Office (TMO) were able to follow the movements of juvenile whale sharks in near real-time to gain an insight into their behaviour. The tags work by communicating with passing ARGOS satellites, transmitting a location when the wet/dry sensor is triggered when a tagged whale shark breaks the surface. To aid transmission tags were tethered to a whale shark by a 1.8-meter line to ensure the tags broke the surface more frequently.

17 individual whale sharks were tagged in three different locations in the Philippines: Panaon Island (Southern Leyte), northern Mindanao (Misamis Oriental and Surigao del Norte) and Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (Palawan). Tagging took place between April 2015 and April 2016. All tagged whale sharks were juveniles, ranging in size between 4.5 - 7 meters and 73% of them were male.

In their paper, peer-reviewed and published in PeerJ - the Journal of Life & Environmental Sciences, the researchers discovered that the tracks from the tags showed that all whale sharks stayed within the Philippines over the tracking period, emphasising the importance of the archipelago for the species. The longest track observed was from a whale shark originally tagged in Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, which appeared to swim through the Sulu and Bohol Seas and into the Pacific, a journey accumulating over 2,500 km in length. While whale sharks are not known for their speed, results revealed that one individual whale shark was averaging 47km a day, further emphasising the species' mobile tendencies.

Lead author of the study, Gonzalo Araujo stresses that "this research highlights the high mobility of whale sharks, even juveniles, and the need for broader scale management and conservation plans for this endangered species."

Dedicated research by LAMAVE and citizen science has identified over 600 individuals in the Sulu and Bohol Seas, yet the proximity of this population to fisheries in the broader region (South China Sea) means it is vital to monitor this population as a whole to understand if this population is in recovery or continuing to decline. Identifying threats and mitigation strategies is a conservation priority for the species. LAMAVE continues to study whale sharks in five key areas in the Philippines, working with local and national governments as well as collaborating organisations to develop conservation strategies for this iconic species.



Sally Snow -

Media pack (including embargoed article, video and images):

Video 1: Behind the Science: Tagging Whale Sharks in the Phillipines (link)


Image credit: A tagged juvenile whale shark swims through the waters of Panaon Island, Southern Leyte (Gonzalo Araujo)

Image credit: The team tag a whale shark, surrounded by barracuda in Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (Steve De Neef)

Image credit: Tracks of whale sharks tagged in Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, with park boundaries in orange. Araujo G, Rohner CA, Labaja J, Conales SJ, Snow SJ, Murray R, Pierce SJ, Ponzo A. (2018) Satellite tracking of juvenile whale sharks in the Sulu and Bohol Seas, Philippines. PeerJ 6:e5231 (CC BY)

Link to the Published Version of the article (quote this link in your story - the link will ONLY work after the embargo lifts): your readers will be able to freely access this article at this URL.

Citation to the article: Araujo et al. (2018), Satellite tracking of juvenile whale sharks in the Sulu and Bohol Seas, Philippines. PeerJ 6:e5231; DOI 10.7717/peerj.5231

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Poland: No day at the beach as toxic algae hit Baltic coast

AFP Yahoo News 25 Jul 18;

Warsaw (AFP) - Polish health authorities said Wednesday they had closed scores of beaches along the country's Baltic Sea coast due to a massive toxic algae bloom triggered by a heat wave.

"Swimming is prohibited on eight beaches along the open sea and about twenty beaches in Gdansk Bay because of the appearance... of cyanobacteria," Tomasz Augustyniak, health inspector for the northing Gdansk province, told AFP referring to blue-green algae.

"The algae is toxic and poses a health risk," he said, adding that the week-old bloom was "particularly intense" due to a long stretch of hot weather.

Polish television this week broadcast aerial footage showing a green carpet of algae covering the sea.

Run-off containing nitrates and phosphates from farm fertilisers and sewage have seeped into the Baltic, triggering large algal blooms in recent years, Augustyniak said.

Dying algae also triggers complex organic processes that suck the oxygen out Baltic waters leading to "dead zones" where no marine life can exist.

Scientists termed oxygen loss in the Baltic "unprecedentedly severe" in a study published this month in the European Geosciences Union journal Biogeosciences.

They note that as a relatively small, shallow and enclosed sea, the Baltic has a very limited ability to flush out pollutants into the waters of the North Sea, making it an extremely vulnerable ecosystem.

Encircled by nine countries -- Estonia, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden -- the Baltic has an estimated 16 million people living along its shores.

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U.K.: Regular heatwaves 'will kill thousands'

Roger Harrabin BBC 26 Jul 18;

The current heatwave could become the new normal for UK summers by 2040 because of climate change, MPs warn.

The Environmental Audit Committee warns of 7,000 heat-related deaths every year in the UK by 2050 if the government doesn't act quickly.

Higher temperatures put some people at increased risk of dying from cardiac, kidney and respiratory diseases.

The MPs say ministers must act to protect people - especially with an ageing population in the UK.

Isn't the heatwave natural?

Scientists differ on whether the current global rash of heatwaves is definitely caused by climate change.

But all agree that future heatwaves will be hotter and more frequent thanks to carbon emissions.

The MPs point to a warning from the Met Office that UK summer temperatures could regularly reach 38.5C by the 2040s.

How can people be protected?

The government says it is committed to cutting carbon emissions, although it is not on track to meet its targets.

But the MPs say ministers should be much smarter about heat-proofing the UK.

They say the government's current plans will not stop buildings overheating.

They want tougher rules to ensure that homes and transport networks can deal with extreme heat.

They also say local councils should plant trees and keep green spaces to provide cool air.

What about the NHS?

The usual number of consultations for heat-related illness doubled during the 2013 heatwave, the report says.

And the MPs want hospitals and care homes inspected to check they can cope with scorching heat.

"The ability of nursing homes to cope with the serious health impact of heatwaves on older people is not assessed," the report says.

This is worrying given that in the 2003 heatwave, excess deaths in nursing homes in some parts of the UK rose by 42%.

Mary Creagh, who chairs the Environmental Audit Committee said: "Heatwaves threaten health, wellbeing and productivity.

"The government must stop playing pass-the-parcel with local councils and the NHS, and develop a strategy to protect our ageing population from this increasing risk."

Which homes are most at risk from heat?

In a densely populated city, temperatures will be higher.

Homes built in the 1960s and 1970s can present a particular risk - so can flats with windows that are small, hard to open or all face the same way.

The committee complains that there is no regulation to prevent overheating in buildings.

It wants the government to stop supporting the building of modular homes, which are factory-made then bolted together on site. They are not resilient to hot weather, it says.

Meanwhile, the Committee on Climate Change wants shading structures introduced on buildings.

Will there be a problem with transport?

The report says only 50% of the UK's motorways and major roads are surfaced with material that can withstand the kind of summer temperatures the country is beginning to experience regularly.

During the peak of the June heatwave, railway tracks buckled - causing cancellations and delays.

How should offices and schools adapt?

High heat reduces productivity. Workers arriving sweating to the office take time before they're ready to do the job. People working outside find themselves doing less and needing more breaks.

The committee says Public Health England should tell employers to relax dress codes and allow flexible working in heatwaves.

The government should also consider introducing maximum workplace temperatures, especially for physical work.

In schools, head teachers should be advised about safe temperatures in the classroom. And they should relax school uniform policy during hot weather.

A recent study suggested that wealthy private schools that could afford air conditioning would increase the relative exam success of their pupils during summer heat.

Should we fear the heat island?

Cities can be up to 10C hotter than the surrounding countryside because hard surfaces absorb heat during the day and give out heat at night. This is the heat island effect.

If people get too hot in bed, it prevents them recovering from the previous day's heat. The MPs say that in the 2003 heatwave, excess deaths in London increased by 42%.

Yet the government's planning framework makes no mention of the heat island effect.

What's more, ministers withdrew funding for local authority climate change adaptation officers, who were trying to tackle the issue.

The report says the government should introduce an urban green infrastructure target - and ensure towns and cities are adapted to more frequent heatwaves.

What about water supplies in heatwaves?

The committee wants new homes to have to use water more efficiently. There have been consistent demands for the water companies to store more water - especially in the dry South East - and to plug leaks.

Kathryn Brown, head of adaptation at the Committee on Climate Change, said: "Water shortages are a concern - we can expect greater water deficits across the country, including in cooler wetter areas like the north-west of England.

"The area of land well suited to the production of water-intensive crops, such as rain-fed potatoes, could decline by over 80% by the 2050s."

Will we get out-of-season heatwaves?

The committee says the government's heatwave alert system runs only from June to September, so vulnerable people will not be warned about unseasonal heatwaves.

The MPs heard that alerts are put out only if approximately 30°C is reached - even though the medical director at Public Health England said heat-related deaths began at upwards of 25°C.

When was this report commissioned?

The inquiry began just after Christmas.

What about cold weather?

In the UK, many more preventable deaths happen because of cold weather than hot weather - but the government has failed to deliver its targets for insulating homes.

If the UK's winters get warmer, as generally predicted, winter deaths will be reduced. But in a year like this one, the UK has suffered extremes of cold and heat.

Both heat-related and cold-related health burdens in future will be amplified by population ageing.

How will heatwaves affect poor countries?

Charities will point out that the UK's challenges from future heatwaves will be dwarfed by the consequences in poor nations, which haven't caused the climate problem.

A study by Prof Richard Tol, at the University of Sussex, suggests that poorer countries are likely to see their economic growth slowed because they depend on agriculture and outdoor work.

His study says nations with hot climates will need economies three times larger than cooler countries if they are to withstand significant temperature rises.

He said: "[This] raises concerns over the inequality of future climate impacts, and [raises] calls for policymakers to consider poverty reduction as a crucial element of climate policy."

What does the government say?

An official told BBC News; "We are taking robust action to ensure our country is resilient and prepared for the challenges a changing climate brings.

"We will continue to support vulnerable people across society by issuing public health alerts during spells of hot weather, providing advice to schools, and taking steps to tackle overheating risks in new homes.

"Our long-term plan for climate change adaptation sets out ongoing work and investment to make sure food and water supplies are protected, businesses and communities are properly prepared and the right infrastructure is in place

"The government will carefully consider each of the report's recommendations."

How does the 2018 heatwave compare to that of 1976?
David Shukman BBC 25 Jul 18;

Comparisons are being drawn between the heatwave of 2018 and the summer of 1976. So how do the two years measure up?

I had to sit my A-level exams back then, when the temperatures were so punishing we couldn't sleep.

We first tried the cellar, which was cool but too claustrophobic, and then the garden, which was too exposed to the unwelcome light of dawn.

I didn't realise it at the time but I was living through a heatwave that has gone down as one of the seminal events in British weather history.

Mark McCarthy, of the Met Office, says: "'76 is the yardstick we always fall back on because it was such a remarkable heatwave and drought - it's one of the standouts in our records."

It was so serious that the government of the day introduced a Drought Act and even appointed a Minister for Drought, Denis Howell, whose job was to encourage the public to use less water.

The newspapers loved it when he told them he had taken to sharing baths with his wife.

So how does 1976 stack up against the extreme conditions large parts of the UK are now experiencing week after week?

There are some striking similarities but also some key differences.

Beyond the horizon, the surface waters of the Atlantic Ocean play a crucial role in determining our weather - and sea conditions back then were very like what we're seeing now.

In both years, a particular pattern formed in which there is cool water near Greenland, warm water further south and then more cool water closer to the British Isles - and research has shown how that pattern of sea temperatures can be linked to warmer drier summers in the UK.

And both heatwaves have involved the same kind of lingering high pressure in which temperatures can soar.

But in 1976 the high pressure system was centred further to the east of the UK than now.

That had the effect of drawing up hot humid air from the south, making night-time temperatures even hotter than they have been this year.

The exact location of systems such as this really matters because the UK is relatively small - so a shift one way or the other can have a big effect.

So what about the actual heat?

This is no comfort to anyone toiling outdoors now but 1976 was in a different league to this year. It saw an extraordinary 18 days running when somewhere in the UK had temperatures above 30C.

The latest figures for 2018 show that, so far, we've had "only" nine days on the trot above 30C. Also, 1976 had a staggering 15 consecutive days in which temperatures topped 32C.

But the biggest difference is in rainfall and what that means for water supplies.

From as far back as May 1975, parts of the UK had suffered a long dry spell - so when the heatwave struck, the country was already thirsty.

In Yorkshire and East Anglia, standpipes were fitted in the streets. In Wales and the west of England, supplies were turned off during the day. And dozens of companies had restrictions imposed or were told to order shorter working weeks.

What about this year? It has seen the driest first half of a summer for half a century and a hosepipe ban is in prospect for north-west England. Six of the Met Office's rain gauges have received less than 1mm of rain since 29 May.

Also this year, some regions have not reached even 10% of the average rain seen in June and July - although with seven days of the month left, this could change.

But overall most water companies say they are happy with supplies, for the moment.

Luckily last winter delivered its usual amount of rain and spring rainfall was above average. Much of the country had water in the bank when all this began.

So where does that leave us?

While 1976 did see more severe conditions than now, there has been a profoundly important change in the intervening 42 years: the global average temperature has crept up and is set to rise further.

That makes it "very likely" (in the words of the UN climate science panel) that heatwaves will become more frequent in future. And this has potentially devastating implications.

After the 2003 heatwave that was blamed for causing 2,000 extra deaths in the UK and tens of thousands across continental Europe, a study concluded that the temperatures of 2003 would seem normal by the summers of the 2040s.

Global warming is not the only change. Since 1976, the population has soared, demand for water has rocketed and the stuff has never been so precious.

The water companies are under pressure to fix wasteful leaks. And the rollout of water meters is designed to reduce demand - our supplies used to flow without any record of how much we used. Water saving devices in the home also help us to consume less.

Even in East Anglia, the driest region of the country, where there's less rain per person than in Jerusalem, Anglian Water has managed things so that water demand per head is lower than the UK average. Technology and awareness are combining to provide solutions.

What now? The current heatwave isn't over yet. It could endure through August. More records could be set - or, as often happens during times of maximum public interest, the heavens will suddenly open and the air will cool.

In the case of the minister for drought, his appointment was inevitably followed by a deluge and he was quickly made minister for floods instead (two years later Mr Howell served as minister for snow). The papers loved that too - another reason that 1976 was so memorable.

Sadly, the break in the weather came too late for me and my exams. But when it came to the results, at least I had an excuse.

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Fast-spreading California wildfire nears Yosemite park

Reuters 23 Jul 18;

(Reuters) - A raging California mountain blaze that has already killed one firefighter grew over the weekend and bore down on Yosemite National Park, prompting the closure of some smoke-choked campgrounds and roads at the popular tourist destination.

The so-called Ferguson Fire, which started on July 13 in the Sierra National Forest, grew by more than 10 percent in size over the weekend, sending smoke billowing for miles (km) and causing air quality alerts for parts of the San Joaquin Valley, officials said on Sunday.

“Air quality and visibility have been severely affected by smoke. Visitors should expect limited visibility and should be prepared to limit outdoor activities during periods of high concentration,” Yosemite National Park said on its Twitter feed over the weekend.

The Sierra Hotshots, from the Sierra National Forest, are responding on the front lines of the Ferguson Fire in Yosemite in this US Forest Service photo from California, U.S. released on social media on July 22, 2018. Courtesy USDA/US Forest Service, Sierrra Hotshots/Handout via REUTERS
Parts of the Ferguson Fire were about 20 miles to 30 miles (30-50 km) south and southwest of the park as of Sunday. Nearly 3,000 firefighters were battling the blaze that has burned through nearly 30,500 acres (12,340 hectares) of bone-dry terrain and was 6 percent contained as of Sunday, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Crews have been struggling to build fire lines around the blaze because flames are burning in steep canyons that are difficult to access with heavy equipment.

Firefighter Braden Varney was killed shortly after the fire broke out when a bulldozer he was using to cut a fire break overturned. Varney was the 10th U.S. wildland firefighter to die in the line of duty this year, according to National Interagency Fire Center data.

The fire is one of about 50 major wildfires burning in the United States over the weekend that have so far scorched an area of about 1.2 million acres (485,620 hectares). Most are in western states with blazes also in Central Texas and Wisconsin, according to the InciWeb tracking service.

As of July 22, wildfires had burned through about 3.65 million acres (1,477,100 hectares) so far this year, above the 10-year average for the same calendar period of 3.43 million acres (1,388,070 hectares), according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

Reporting by Jon Herskovitz; Editing by Sandra Maler

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Greece: Rescuers scour scorched towns after wildfires kill at least 74

Hélène COLLIOPOULOU AFP Yahoo News 25 Jul 18;

Athens (AFP) - Rescue workers in Greece continued to search charred homes and burned-out cars Wednesday as the toll from some of the worst wildfires this century is expected to rise from at least 74 dead and 187 injured.

Many people fled to the sea to try to escape the flames as they tore through towns near Athens stoked by high winds, reducing pine forests to ash and devouring hundreds of buildings.

Greek media have described the disaster as a "national tragedy", while Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras cut short a visit to Bosnia and announced three days of national mourning.

The government has not yet said how many people are still missing from the fires, which broke out on Monday, as firefighters continue to battle blazes in some areas.

Residents and terrified holidaymakers were overtaken by the flames in homes, on foot or in their cars. AFP photographers saw the burnt bodies of people and dogs.

The charred bodies of 26 people, including small children, were discovered at a villa at the seaside resort of Mati, 40 kilometres (25 miles) northeast of Athens, said rescuer Vassilis Andriopoulos.

They were huddled together in small groups, "perhaps families, friends or strangers, entwined in a last attempt to protect themselves as they tried to reach the sea", he said.

As world leaders including Pope Francis affirmed their solidarity, Athens said 308 engineers would arrive on site by Wednesday to assess the damage.

But "the problem is what is still hidden under the ashes," said emergency services vice president Miltiadis Mylonas.

The death toll could surpass that from the blazes that hit Greece's southern island of Evia in 2007 in which 77 people perished.

One Belgian was among the victims, said Belgium's foreign minister Didier Reynders, while in Warsaw Poland's government said a Polish woman and her son also died.

Some 187 people have been hospitalised, with 82 still being treated on Tuesday evening, including almost a dozen children, most of whom were in a "serious condition", the fire services said.

Dramatic video footage showed people fleeing by car as the tourist-friendly Attica region declared a state of emergency.

Athanasia Oktapodi, whose home is surrounded by pine trees, said she first spotted the fire moving down the hill "and five or ten minutes later it was in my garden".

"I ran out like a crazy person, got to the beach and put my head in the water. Then the patrol boats came," said the 60-year-old.

- Resort 'no longer exists' -

Fire service spokeswoman Stavroula Maliri said firefighters were still searching for more victims and taking "dozens of calls" from people looking for relatives.

Winds of above 100 kilometres per hour (60 mph) in Mati caused a "sudden progression of fire" through the village, said Maliri.

"Mati no longer exists," said the mayor of nearby Rafina, Evangelos Bournous, adding that more than a thousand buildings and 300 cars had been damaged.

"I saw the flames outside the window of our hotel. I thought it would explode," said Alina Marzin, a 20-year-old German tourist who had been staying at the Capo Verde hotel in Mati on Monday evening with her brother and their parents.

At least six people died trying to escape the flames into the sea. Some 715 people were evacuated by boats to Rafina, the government said.

"People are shocked, lost. Some of them have lost everything: children, parents, homes," said Red Cross spokeswoman Georgia Trisbioti.

The European Union activated its Civil Protection Mechanism after Greece sought help. Several countries said they were sending aircraft to help fight the flames.

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted the EU "will spare no effort to help Greece and the Greek people", while Pope Francis spoke of his "deep sadness," sentiments echoed by EU and NATO leaders.

NATO head Jens Stoltenberg offered the alliance's full solidarity with Greece, whose government earmarked financial aid for victims' relatives.

- 40-degree heat -

Interior Minister Panos Skourletis said the priority was to extinguish a fire still burning in Kineta, 50 kilometres from Athens.

Near the town of Marathon, residents fled to safety along the beach, while 600 children were evacuated from holiday camps.

Officials raised the possibility the blazes could have been started deliberately by criminals out to ransack abandoned homes.

"I am really concerned by the parallel outbreak of these fires," Tsipras said as supreme court prosecutors announced they had opened an investigation into the causes of the fire.

Showers were set to see temperatures around Athens drop slightly after hitting 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit).

- Fires across Europe -

The wildfires come as record temperatures in northern Europe have seen blazes cause widespread damage in recent days.

Sweden, experiencing an unprecedented drought and the highest temperatures in a century, has counted more than 20 fires across the country.

Fires have also hit Finland's northernmost Lapland province.

Norway, which experienced its hottest May temperatures on record, has seen several small fires. One firefighter was killed on July 15 trying to contain a blaze.

Fires have raged for five days in Latvia, destroying more than 1,000 hectares in the Baltic state.

Greek wildfires: dry winter and strong winds led to tinderbox conditions
Experts call for better forest management and focus on prevention after blaze that killed more than 70 people
Fiona Harvey The Guardian 24 Jul 18;

An unusually dry winter, with less than average rainfall interspersed with localised flooding in some areas, is emerging as a major contributing factor to the wildfires that are ravaging the mainland of Greece.

Lack of the expected steady rainfall in the winter months meant groundwater sources failed to recharge and left vegetation unable to recover fully from the high temperatures of the 2017 summer. As a result, when temperatures topping 40C hit some areas during this summer’s heatwave and drought, the conditions were already in place for wildfires to take hold.

Strong winds then fanned the flames and spread the fires widely before stretched fire-fighting teams could gain control. The fact that the fires took hold on land close to densely inhabited and resort areas was largely a matter of chance, but one that led to a death toll of more than 70 people and wrought devastation on homes.

These are widely regarded as the short-term causes of the fires, but experts are also concerned that the conditions experienced in Greece in the last two years are likely to be replicated more often in future, owing to the changing climate.

Nikos Charalambides, executive director of Greenpeace Greece, said: “As the death toll rises and the full size of the disaster is still to be recorded, it would be premature to attribute these [fires] to either climate change or the failures of the fire prevention and fire-fighting mechanisms.”

However, he said the contributing factors included drought, strong winds and unusually high temperatures, all of which are likely to be aggravated by climate change.

The current heatwave across Europe and much of the northern hemisphere could be seen as “a foretaste of what weather extremes we are threatened by as the climate crisis progresses”, said Charalambides.

Growing more trees and managing forests properly would help to make the land more resilient to droughts, heatwaves and fires, he added. Forests also act as a cooling factor on the local climate and support a range of biodiversity.

Charalambides also called for a greater focus on the prevention of fires in Greece in place of a traditional focus on boosting firefighting capacity. Alongside this, there should be more emphasis on drawing up plans for evacuation in the case of disaster, particularly in areas where pine forests are near to human habitation.

Rachel Kennerley, climate campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “The immediate priority must be to tackle the terrible fires, and to support the people whose homes, lives and livelihoods have been put at risk or devastated.”

But she said the longer-term impacts must also be taken into account when the immediate danger has passed: “Extreme heatwaves are predicted to become more frequent as climate change takes hold, meaning drier forests and countryside, and a greater risk of fire. Politicians must wake up to the extreme weather battering the planet and take tough and urgent steps to slash the climate-wrecking pollution being pumped into our atmosphere.”

Ray Rasker of Headwaters Economics, an expert on wildfires and the built environment in California, said buildings in high-risk areas could be made more resistant to fires in future, often through relatively simple measures. He cited nonflammable roofing material and siding for houses, not using wooden decks, installing fine mesh screens on roof vents, and planting fire-resistant vegetation close to houses.

He also warned that in the aftermath of large fires there is often a temptation to waive or loosen high building standards in order to rebuild as quickly as possible, which he said would be a mistake.

The short-term Met Office forecast for Greece is for temperatures from around 26C to around 30C, with some localised thunderstorms and a small amount of rainfall in a few areas.

After fires, floods hit Greek capital
AFP Yahoo News 26 Jul 18;

Athens (AFP) - Heavy rains led to flash flooding Thursday in the north of Athens, three days after devastating wildfires killed scores of people in the region around the Greek capital.

Fire services said they received at least 10 calls from motorists whose vehicles were stranded when roads became rivers after storms in the upscale districts of Maroussi and Ekali.

A civil defence spokesman said "dozens of cars were stuck on several main roads" after the early afternoon downpour, adding that traffic was gradually returning to normal.

Firefighters said around 160 residents were briefly trapped in their homes due to the flooding.

Some rain fell on the coastal region of Mati, 25 kilometres east of the capital, where more than 80 people lost their lives on Monday night when wildfires tore through homes and hotels.

The defence ministry said the army had been called in to remove debris and dig drainage channels to prevent flooding in the fire-ravaged area.

The region around Athens in November saw 16 people killed in flash floods.

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