Paris COP21, a unique social & economic opportunity

UN Climate Change Conference

United Nations Climate Conference

Climate Change effects such as increased temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, rising sea levels, and more frequent weather-related disasters are already being experienced around the world.

In 2014, near the end of the warmest year on record, leaders representing over 190 countries set in Lima a plan to reach a global deal within the next year addressing climate change. This unique opportunity, being formed over the past two decades, is culminating in December 2015 at the United Nations Climate Conference (COP21) in Paris, where each nation will cement its commitment to reducing emissions.

If successful, the agreement will be a breakthrough in curbing the sources and effects of climate change and leading us to a prosperous low-carbon future. The momentum surrounding Paris provides a clear window for change for our future generations !

Largest-ever Study on Autism & Air Pollution Shows Strong Link During Pregnancy

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A US study found a doubled autism risk among children of women exposed to high levels of particulate air pollution during pregnancy. The association was strongest when the exposure occurred during the third trimester. The study, led by researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health, was funded in part by Autism Speaks.

Source: autismspeaks.org

2014 Warmest year on record

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Credits: ALAMY

According the global data from NOAA, 2014 will be the hottest year ever recorded. 2014 was the warmest year across global land and ocean surfaces since records began in 1880. The annually-averaged temperature was 0.69°C (1.24°F) above the 20th century average of 13.9°C (57.0°F). It is the 38th consecutive year that the yearly global temperature was above average.

The 2014 Global Significant Weather and Climate Events were compiled from NOAA’s NCDC State of the Climate reports and WMO Provisional Status of the Climate in 2014 :

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Source: NOAA, National Climatic Data Center, 2014

Half of Americans live with unhealthy air

147.6 million Americans (47%) live in areas with unhealthy levels of air pollution, according to an American Lung Association (ALA) report released in April 2014.

The two air pollutants cited in the report were ozone and particle pollution. Particle pollution is believed to be more harmful than ozone because its microscopic particles can pass through the body’s defense systems, and even get into the bloodstream, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

The report found the impact of climate change is threatening to undo advances in cutting down harmful emissions. The report warns that much needs to be done to improve air quality.  Most scientists agree that a 2-degree Celsius global temperature rise above preindustrial temperatures would be safe for humanity. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said keeping the temperature rise to 2 degrees would require lowering greenhouse gas emissions by as much as 70 percent compared with 2010 numbers by midcentury. At current emissions levels, the world will be almost 5 degrees hotter by the end of the century

“We are happy to report continued reduction of year-round particle pollution across the nation, thanks to cleaner diesel fleets and cleaner power plants,” said Harold Wimmer, National President and CEO of the American Lung Association.  “However, this improvement represents only a partial victory. We know that warmer temperatures increase risk for ozone pollution, so climate change sets the stage for tougher challenges to protect human health. We must meet these challenges head on to protect the health of millions of Americans living with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. All of us –everyone in every family—have the right to healthy air.”

Nelson Mandela legacy to the Environment

Nelson Mandela

‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language, that goes to his heart.’
Nelson Mandela

The South African Visionary Leader and Nobel Prize winner, left with a life fulfilled with outstanding contributions to humanity and inspirations for the environment.

Mandela brought the spirit of Ubuntu to every corner of the world. This profound African principle states that “we are human only through the humanity of other human beings”, emphasizing the interdependence of all human-kind.

Environment degradation and Climate Change are clear illustrations of it, which will benefit from his work. Mandela’s brought together in that philosophy a group of renowned statesmen, human rights advocates and others to form an organization known as “The Elders”, which are today actively working on tackling global crisis such as environmental degradation and Climate Justice.

By leading by example and with such achievements, Nelson Mandela will inspire generations to come to follow his path and build a better future.

WHO finds outdoor air pollution leading cause of cancer

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The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), an arm of the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared on Thursday, October 17th 2013 that outdoor air pollution is a leading cause of cancer in humans, alongside asbestos, tobacco and UV radiation.

The IARC said a panel of top experts had found “sufficient evidence” that exposure to outdoor air pollution caused lung cancer and raised the risk of bladder cancer.
Although the composition of air pollution and levels of exposure can vary dramatically between locations, the agency said its conclusions applied to all regions of the globe. The IARC said pollution exposure levels increased significantly in rapidly industrialising nations [EPA] . The predominant sources of outdoor air pollution were transport, power generation, emissions from factories and farms, and residential heating and cooking.

The decision came after a consultation by an expert panel organised by IARC. “The air we breathe has become polluted with a mixture of cancer-causing substances,” said Kurt Straif of IARC. “We now know that outdoor air pollution is not only a major risk to health in general, but also a leading environmental cause of cancer deaths.” The most recent data, from 2010, showed that 223,000 lung cancer deaths worldwide were the result of air pollution, the report said.

Air pollution was already known to increase the risk of respiratory and heart diseases. “Classifying outdoor air pollution as carcinogenic to humans is an important step,” said the IARC’s director Christopher Wild.

“There are effective ways to reduce air pollution and, given the scale of the exposure affecting people worldwide, this report should send a strong signal to the international community to take action without further delay.” The IARC said that it was set to publish its in-depth conclusions on October 24 on the specialised website The Lancet Oncology.

Cutting Short-Lived Air Pollutants: A Win-Win for Development and Climate

green_leaf_logo_06070800 (Reuters) – The World Bank said on Tuesday, September 3rd 2013, it was planning “aggressive action” to help developing nations cut emissions of soot and other air pollutants blamed for causing climate change, in a shift also meant to protect human health and aid crop growth.

Of its funding to poor nations, almost 8% – $18 billion from 2007-12 – goes to sectors such as energy, farming, waste and transport that have a potential to cut emissions, the “Integration of Short-Lived Climate Pollutants in World Bank Activities, WorldBank 2013″ report said.

The bank said it would shift policy to insist that such projects in future included a component to curb air pollution. The bank would look for new ways to help, for instance, reduce pollution from public transport, curb methane emissions from rice irrigation, and improve the efficiency of high-polluting cooking stoves and brick kilns.

The focus on short-lived air pollutants is meant to complement efforts to cut carbon dioxide. Cutting short-lived pollutants would also protect human health – six million people worldwide die early every year from air pollution. “First aid for the climate can also be first aid for people’s health,” Norwegian Environment Minister Baard Vegar Soljhell said. Reducing pollutants “can also help rural economies, with current estimates showing the potential to save about 50 million tonnes of crops each year”, the statement said.

Is Sandy related to Climate Change ?

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Credits: Hurricane Sandy tracking courtesy of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and NOAA.

Munich Re, one of the world’s largest reinsurance firms, recently issued the 2012 Severe Weather in North America study aimed at insurance companies.

According to Munich Re, nowhere in the world is the rising number of natural catastrophes more evident than in North America. For the period concerned – 1980 to 2011 – the overall loss burden from weather catastrophes was US$ 1,060bn (in 2011 values).

While several factors contributed to the trend, the report claims “Climate change particularly affects formation of heat-waves, droughts, intense precipitation events, and in the long run most probably also tropical cyclone intensity.”

The United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has been warning of an increase in heat waves, torrential rains and floods. In most cases, it has not been proven that climate change has made the weather more extreme.  As with any particular “weather-related loss event,” it’s difficult to associate Sandy to Climate Change. However, the storm may fit the general extreme weather pattern in North America and around the world, which is increasingly perceived as associated with Climate Change.

NASA scientists from the Goddard Institute for Space Studies also recently published a study (Perception of climate change, 2012) on the apparent increase in extreme heat waves. Extreme summertime heat, which a few decades ago affected below 1% of the earth’s surface, now typically covers about 10% of the land area. Scientists state, with a high degree of confidence, that extreme anomalies such as heat waves were a consequence of global warming since their likelihood in the absence of global warming was exceedingly small.

Credits: Pollution over Beijing image courtesy the NASA MODIS Rapid Response Team.

Particle pollution or particulate matter (PM) are mixtures of solid particles or liquid droplets in the air. Some, such as dust, dirt, soot, or smoke, are large or dark enough to be seen with the naked eye. These tiny particles come in many sizes and shapes and can be made up of hundreds of different chemicals. In general, they consist of a mixture of larger materials, “coarse particles”, with diameters between 2.5μm and 40 μm and smaller particles, “fine particles.” with diameters below 2.5 μm.

They come from natural sources e.g. dust or sea salt from wind erosion or wave breaking, human-made processes mainly in urban or industrial areas (agriculture, construction, industrial and energy processes, motor vehicles) and chemical reactions in the atmosphere. Particle pollution and their chemical composition vary by time of year, location and are affected by the weather (temperature, humidity, and wind).

They are an environmental concern as they lower visibility, contribute to acid rain, and adversely affect human health. Largest particles do not get very far into the lungs and tend to cause fewer harmful effects. Coarse and fine particles however pose the greatest problems by getting deep into the lungs, and some may even get into the bloodstream. Long-term exposures of people living for many years in areas with high PM levels are associated with decreased lung function, chronic bronchitis development and premature death. Short-term exposures of hours or days are associated with decreased lung function, increased respiratory symptoms, cardiac arrhythmias, heart attacks, hospital admissions, emergency room visits and premature death. Sensitive groups at greatest risk include people with heart or lung disease, older adults, and children.

Fortunately, many countries have instituted control programs to reduce particulate levels and strategies in place to combat smog, acidic deposition, and smoke releases are also effective in reducing particle levels and thus the risks of health effects.

Tanguy Griffon

Antioxidants may reduce harm from air pollution

Orange vitamin CA study of adults with asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) found that individuals with lower levels of some antioxidants in their blood were more vulnerable to the harmful effects of air pollution.  Particulate matter (PM) – the main pollutant measured in this study – is produced by traffic and combustion of fossil fuels. PM less than 10 micrometers in diameter, or PM10, is known to exacerbate respiratory illness and increase the risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular disease. One way air pollutants can harm health is through oxidative stress. Harmful oxidant molecules can form when air pollutants are absorbed through the lungs. These oxidants also called free radicals damage cells. The body constantly tries to counteract oxidant molecules with protective ones (antioxidant). If not enough anti-oxidant molecules are available to cancel them out, oxidative stress  may occur.

In this study, researchers wanted to see if individual levels of antioxidants and related genetic markers would protect against harm from oxidative stress imposed by particulate air pollution. Results showed participants with low levels of vitamin C in their blood were more vulnerable to PM10. The study is important as it indicates that a healthy diet including fruits and vegetables may protect against the common health threat of air pollution.

Canova C et al. 2012. PM10-induced hospital admissions for asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease: The modifying effect of individual characteristics.