Global News Roundup: Drought, Famine Devastate Horn of Africa; S. Africa Ill-Prepared for Durban Climate Talks

The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, now home to more than 400,000 Somalians. AP photo.

Famine in the Horn of Africa: So why, when aid agencies saw the drought coming, couldn’t they help the starving sooner?

Kenya is not a lush country. Rains falls steadily and often heavily in Mombasa, Nairobi and Kisumu, the three main cities and the best known to tourists. But 80% of the country is made up of semi-arid or arid land. In these parts of Kenya, life is hard.

Few places are less hospitable than Dadaab, a once tiny town in the far north-east. The sun is fierce, and swirling winds whip up the fine sand underfoot. The vegetation consists mainly of thorn trees. The town began to grow in the early 90s when Somalia descended into chaos and refugees starting pouring across the border, about 50 miles to the north. A refugee settlement designed for 90,000 people soon held more than 100,000, then 200,000, then 300,000. By late last year, Dadaab was close to overtaking Kisumu as Kenya’s third largest “city”. Then the steady stream of refugees crossing the border became a river, and then a flood. By early July this year, more than 1,500 Somalis were arriving at Dadaab’s three camps daily, swelling the population towards 400,000.

Map showing the Horn of Africa.

In previous years, people were fleeing conflict. Now the main driver is hunger. A savage drought gripped large swaths of the Horn of Africa this year, as it has virtually every other year for the past decade. The drylands of Ethiopia and Kenya sit in the heart of the drought zone, along with southern Somalia. But only in Somalia were huge numbers of people on the move. And unlike in neighbouring countries, where nomads were the hardest hit, many of those fleeing Somalia were farmers from the grain basket region, who had enjoyed a bumper harvest last year and for whom Dadaab’s desert-like scenery would have been totally alien….

Indeed, the severe droughts that used to hit the Horn of Africa every decade or so are now far more common, and since 2000 they have struck virtually every other year, greatly affecting food security and forcing international aid agencies to launch a seemingly endless cycle of emergency appeals. There is no denying that the rainfall patterns are changing. In Kenya, for example, the area of the country that receives between 500mm and 600mm of rain a year, the amount considered sufficient for sustainable production, is shrinking.

“We can’t say for sure that this is global warming, or part of a historical cycle, but there is definitely a change occurring,” says Daniele de Bernardi, coordinator of the UN’s food security and nutrition working group in Nairobi.

Kenyan Drought Kills Livestock Worth $690 Million, Daily Nation Reports

A drought in Kenya killed livestock worth 64.2 billion shillings ($690 million), including 3.5 million head of Zebu cattle, the Daily Nation reported, citing Livestock Development Permanent Secretary Kenneth Lusaka.

A further 2.7 million goats and 2.5 million sheep have died as a result of the lack of rain, the Nairobi-based newspaper said. The Livestock Development Ministry needs 2 billion shillings to avert a “catastrophe” in the agriculture industry, it said.

Concerns ahead of S. Africa climate talks

South Africa’s preparations to host the next major round of climate talks have met with scepticism from activists critical of what they say is the country’s lack of leadership on environmental issues.

The high-level meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, scheduled for November 28 to December 9 in the eastern port city of Durban, is seen as the last chance to renew the Kyoto Protocol, the only international agreement with binding targets for cutting greenhouse gases.

But environmentalists have voiced concern that South African organisers are not doing enough to lay the groundwork for an ambitious conference that will make hard commitments on climate change and raise the cash to achieve them.

“In terms of preparation, in terms of setting the agenda and setting the level of ambition and so on, we still do not have as much clarity as there should be,” the international head of Greenpeace, South African activist Kumi Naidoo, told AFP.

Value on ecosystem services needed to curb Asian deforestation — IPCC chief

Deforestation is still occurring at an alarming rate in Asia Pacific countries despite a slight increase in overall forest cover, a leading climate scientist said Friday, and a better system to put a value on the ecosystem and the services it provides is needed to stop the losses.

Nobel laureate and head of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) R. K. Pachauri said to curb deforestation there is a need “to identify and evaluate the value of ecosystem services, because forests are not merely a source of timber… but a wider part of human and animal systems.”

“The issue at stake is that when you affect forest cover, in a sense there is an entire chain of ecosystems that gets affected,” he said via weblink on the eve of the Second Regional Forum for People and Forests, to be held August 8 and 9 in Thailand’s capital.

RECOFTC — The Centre for People and Forests and one of the organisers of the forum, said with the exception of a few countries, notably the Philippines, Vietnam and China, Asia Pacific loses nearly four million hectares of natural forests each year. That is an area the size of Switzerland.

At last, PM gets break on climate plan

The [Australian] government’s carbon price plans could deliver more than double the cut in domestic greenhouse gas emissions that Treasury predicted, a new analysis by the research group ClimateWorks has found.

In a report to be released today, ClimateWorks says ‘’complementary measures’’ included in the plans — such as a $10 billion clean energy financing corporation, carbon farming programs and payments to close high-emitting power plants — working alongside a carbon price will boost the scheme’s overall effectiveness.

The report finds all up the climate change deal negotiated between Labor, the Greens and independent MPs could ‘’unlock’’ 133 million tonnes of emissions savings across Australia by 2020.

ClimateWorks’s findings are more than double those predicted by Treasury, which suggested a carbon price would reduce domestic emissions by 58 million tonnes by the end of the decade. But Treasury’s modelling did not include the complementary measures and was based on a $20 a tonne starting carbon price, less than the government’s proposed $23 starting price.

Australia has to reduce its emissions by 159 million tonnes by 2020 if it wants to meet the bipartisan 5 per cent reduction on 2000 levels.

Panel price drop hits JA Solar’s profits

Steep declines in solar equipment prices and an inventory writedown charge will push JA Solar Holdings Co Ltd to a quarterly loss, the company said on Monday, sending its share price down 8 percent.

The weak average selling prices and inventory provisions will cause its gross margins to fall to a “negative low single digit range,” the company said in a statement.

JA Solar is the latest solar company to warn that lower prices for the equipment that turns sunlight into electricity hurt profits in the first half of the year.

Last week, First Solar reported lower-than-expected quarterly profit as prices for its thin-film panels fell 13 percent.

China Shuts Down 583 Lead-acid Battery Plants

A total of 583 lead-acid battery manufacturing plants have been shut down over recent months as part of a campaign to strictly enforce environmental standards on the booming sector.

The factories were forced to close for a variety of reasons ranging from improper disposal of hazardous waste through to their small production scale and poor technical standard, according to a statement issued on Aug 2 by the Ministry of Environmental Protection (MEP).

A total of 1,930 lead-acid battery production, assembly and recycling plants had been inspected as of the end of July, as part of the nationwide investigation into the lead-acid battery industry, which was jointly initiated by nine government departments, including the National Development and Reform Commission and the MEP, in March this year.

Of the 1,930 plants inspected, 252 were given permission to continue operating and 80 others are still under construction. Operations for 1,015 of the plants were suspended, the statement said.

Oil sands expected to undo carbon cuts

The development of Canada’s oil sands will single-handedly undo greenhouse gas gains made by weaning the country’s electrical supply off coal, a government study predicts.

The Environment Canada forecast of Canada’s carbon output over the next decade casts in stark terms the challenge facing the country as it pursues major energy development at a time of continued global efforts to bat down emissions.

The report, called Canada’s Emissions Trends, was released quietly in July. It tracks changes in greenhouse gas output for a number of sectors between 2005 and 2020.

Over that period, it projects that electricity generators will see their emissions fall by 31 megatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, largely as a result of coal-fired plants giving way to natural gas-fired power.

But that figure is far eclipsed by the oil sands, which will see carbon output rise by 62 megatonnes, tripling its 2005 levels. Of that, 25 megatonnes will come from new so-called “in situ” extraction methods that inject steam into underground wells to extract oil sands crude. A further 11 megatonnes will come from expansion of oil sands mining. The rest is expected from additional upgrading, a process used to transform the thick, heavy oil sands bitumen into a lighter crude that can then be refined into end products like diesel and gasoline.

Over all, the oil and gas sector will see its emissions rise by 46 megatonnes, after taking into account expected reductions from pipelines, refining and the production of non-oil-sands crudes.

In total, Environment Canada expects the country’s greenhouse gas emissions to rise by 54 megatonnes, as other sectors, including transportation, buildings and agriculture, also see increases.