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Antarctic continent posts record temperature reading of 18.3°C

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Fresh fears of accelerating damage to the planet’s ice sheets and sea level rise have been fuelled by confirmation from the UN’s weather agency that the Antarctic likely saw a new temperature record of more than 18°C on Thursday. 

Speaking to journalists in Geneva, spokesperson Clare Nullis from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), said that the record reading taken in the north of the continent, would be considered unusual, even during the current warmer summer months. 

“The Argentine research base, which is called Esperanza, it’s on the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula; it set a new record temperature yesterday: 18.3°C, which is not a figure you would normally associate with Antarctica even in summertime. This beat the former record of 17.5°C, which was set back in 2015.” 

Experts at WMO will now verify whether the temperature extreme is a new record for the Antarctic continent, which is defined as the main continental landmass. 

It should not be confused with the Antarctic region, which is everywhere south of 60 degrees latitude, and where a record temperature of 19.8C was recorded on Signy Island in January 1982. 

‘Foehn’ phenomenon 

The WMO experts are expected to examine the meteorological conditions surrounding the event, particularly whether it is associated with a weather phenomenon known as “foehn”. 

A common feature of life in Alpine regions, episodes of foehn often involve high winds at altitude and the rapid warming of air as it heads down slopes or peaks, driven by significant air pressure differences. 

“It’s among the fastest-warming regions of the planet”, Ms. Nullis said of the Antarctic. “We hear a lot about the Arctic, but this particular part of the Antarctic peninsula is warming very quickly.  Over the past 50 years it’s warmed almost 3°C.” 

Amid steadily warming temperatures, Ms. Nullis also noted that the amount of ice lost annually from the Antarctic ice sheet “increased at least six-fold between 1979 and 2017”. 

Most of this ice loss happens when ice shelves melt from below, as they come into contact with relatively warm ocean water, she explained. 

Melting is especially marked in west Antarctica, according to WMO, and to a lesser extent along the peninsula and in east Antarctica. 

Accelerated glacier retreat 

Turning to glacier melt, Ms. Nullis warned that around “87 per cent of glaciers along the west coast of the Antarctic Peninsula have retreated in the last 50 years, with most of these showing an accelerated retreat in the last 12 years”. 

Concern is particularly high over the main glacier tributaries to the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, in particular the Pine Island glacier, where two large rifts that were first spotted in early 2019 have each grown to some 20 kilometres long. 

“There’s quite a lot of conversation on Twitter at the moment; the satellite image showing cracks in the Pine Island glacier in Antarctica”, said Ms. Nullis. “They’ve been growing rapidly over the past few days. The European Union has a satellite called Sentinel that’s been measuring and monitoring these, and there are pretty dramatic images.” 

Roughly twice the size of Australia, the Antarctic is cold, windy and dry. The average annual temperature ranges from about minus 10C on the Antarctic coast to minus 60C at the highest points of the interior.  

Its immense ice sheet is up to 4.8 kilometres thick and contains 90 per cent of the world’s fresh water, enough to raise sea level by around 60 metres, were it all to melt. 

Millions at risk from ice melt

In a key report last September from the highly respected UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), researchers warned that hundreds of millions of people are at risk from melting ice in the planet’s polar regions, linked to sea level rise. 

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Celebrate your love for the ocean, virtually

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Remote diving is the new remote working.

Schools, events and activities in so much of the world have come to a standstill in the wake of COVID-19, with little or no movement recommended. But that does not mean we cannot still enjoy the world and mysteries that abound below and above its surface.

The Ocean Agency, a partner of the United Nations Environment Programme, is inviting parents and their little ones to experience the ocean and its astounding life forms from the comfort of their homes through a little armchair travel.

Get inspired and engaged with virtual dives, expeditions and ocean quizzes about the fascinating underwater world in a click on your phone or laptop.

Discover coral reefs—some of the Earth’s most diverse ecosystems, full of color, life and mystery—and why they are vanishing at an unprecedented rate due to climate change, pollution and other destructive human activities. Find out why corals are glowing and what this means, not only for marine life, but also for our planet through the “Adventure behind Chasing Coral”, the Voyager story that features the glowing corals phenomenon.

Who is your kindred reef species? Discover and make your own photo morph to share on social media here.

Get more details about coral reefs, which a quarter of all marine life calls home, and meet some of the ocean’s most captivating creatures through the Google Earth Voyager. It is available on desktop, laptop, iPhone and iPad. Download the Google Earth App to dive in to explore the fascinating underwater world, including remnants of World War II as they stand today.

Take an excursion and encounter marine animals, manmade coral reefs and explore shipwrecks using Google Expeditions, available on iPhone and iPad only.

Explore much more here: https://theoceanagency.org/oceanedu

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China: Developing Green Finance in Agriculture

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The World Bank’s Board of Executive Directors today approved a loan of Euro 267.2 million (US$300 million equivalent) for China to foster green agriculture investments, development of standards, and technological innovation in Henan Province.

“This project will support the development of a green agriculture financing mechanism that can leverage commercial investments and boost the adoption of innovative technologies. It will help China fill the gap in green financing standards and generate useful lessons for other parts of China and increase the quality and safety of agricultural food products,” said Martin Raiser, World Bank Country Director for China. “This project has a strong focus on promoting global public goods. Through this project, both China and the world will benefit from reduced agricultural pollution and emissions.”

China’s agricultural sector accounts for about 14 percent of global agriculture-related greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and is a major source of two highly potent GHGs: methane and nitrous oxide. The level of green financing in China is low due to a general reluctance of financial sector institutions to finance agriculture investments, which are perceived to be of high risk and relatively low return. Lack of clear green finance standards has also been an obstacle to developing the market and attracting investments.  

The Henan Green Agriculture Fund (GAF) Project will support the establishment of a dedicated investment facility to demonstrate the viability of financing green agriculture investments by providing financing for equity investments and on-lending to eligible firms. Henan is a major agricultural province with some of the highest output of livestock and grains in China. At the same time, agriculture has a significant environmental footprint. For example, Henan is the largest consumer of chemical fertilizers and the second largest consumer of pesticides in the country.

The GAF will finance green agriculture projects, which are defined as those that achieve more resource-efficiency and environmental sustainability, are climate-smart, and increase the quality and safety of agri-food produce. Financing could go towards green inputs and equipment production, reduction and elimination of chemical fertilizer, pesticide and plastic use through good agriculture practices; investments in technologies and practices that reduce GHG emissions and nutrients run-off; investments in improving energy and water resource use; and investments in reducing food loss and waste. Seventy-five percent of the project’s activities are expected to provide direct climate co-benefits.

The project will foster the development of green agriculture financing standards based on globally accepted green investment principles, good practices and performance benchmarks, as applicable to China’s agriculture sector. These would cover such areas as identification of green agriculture investments, improved processes for project evaluation and selection, management of social and environment risks, and measurement and reporting of environmental benefits based on scientific evidence, transparency and accountability.

The project will be implemented by the Henan Agriculture Development Fund Investment Corporation, which will serve as the fund manager and investor. About 60 small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the agriculture sector are expected to receive financing through the GAF. The project should also have a catalyzing impact by directly and indirectly mobilizing public and private funds to support green agriculture investments by these SMEs.

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Coronavirus and Climate Change: Observing World Water Day

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A message from Dr. Jennifer Blanke Vice-President, Agriculture, Human and Social Development African Development Bank

The theme of this year’s World Water Day, observed on 22 March, is water and climate change. The issue has taken on greater urgency, given the global spread of coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, responsible for over 13,000 deaths worldwide to date.

Hand washing with soap and water is the first line of protection against coronavirus. Scientists say soap renders coronavirus cells inactive and weakens the virus’ bonds to the skin.

As we commemorate World Water Day today, an estimated 400 million people in Africa still lack access to safe water, while 700 million lack access to proper sanitation.

Another factor compounding these dire statistics is extreme weather events associated with the impact of climate change. Africa bears the brunt of increased frequency and severity of drought, floods and cyclones – perhaps more than other regions of the world – due to the continent’s low capacity to adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change.

For example, in the Horn of Africa, drought is exacerbating water scarcity and negatively impacting human health and productivity. According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Human Affairs, drought in the Horn of Africa in 2019 left an estimated 11.7 million people severely food insecure and over 785,000 children severely malnourished. The Office notes that escalating food insecurity further heightens risks, especially for women and girls, who must travel longer distances to fetch clean water for household cleaning, washing, drinking and food preparation.

After two major cyclones tore through Mozambique last year, government officials said the extreme weather events and subsequent flooding had caused $2.8 billion in damages and losses. This included an estimated 190,000 damaged sanitation units and more than 211,000 people left with restricted water access.

World Water Day is an opportunity to look at Bank investments that support Sustainable Development Goal 6, which calls for the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all, and Sustainable Development Goal 13 on climate action.

Over the last decade, the Bank invested an estimated $6.2 billion in water supply and sanitation services. The Bank has also mobilized an estimated $150 million in climate finance from the Global Environmental Facility and the Green Climate Fund to co-finance water sector projects. The outcome: an estimated 52 million people getting access to improved water supply and sanitation services. Over the next 12 years, Bank water sector investments aim to provide an additional 154 million people with the same, across Africa.

The Bank also supports the development of climate-resilient, multipurpose water programs for storage and sectoral use – like hydropower, irrigation and river regulation – as well as investments that mitigate water-related disaster risk such as drought, flooding, cyclones and storm surges. For example, the Bank and development partners financed $210 million for the Program for Integrated Development and Adaptation to Climate Change in the Niger Basin. Covering nine countries, the project promotes investment in climate-resilient, hydro-agricultural infrastructure, sustainable land and water management as well as strengthened climate risk management.

We are committed to supporting climate action in the water sector and to scaling up climate finance to achieve water security, while pursuing an Africa with more sustainable and inclusive economic development.

Washing hands with soap is a major defense against COVID-19. It reminds us that water can be a matter of life or death. As we observe World Water Day, the coronavirus pandemic is a call upon all of us – member states, development partners and allies in Africa and beyond – to prioritize and invest in water supply, sanitation and hygiene.

Happy World Water Day!

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