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Climate Change Left Its Fingerprint On The Most Extreme Disasters in 2017

The science is progressing to the point where ignoring it could cause legal problems

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Climate change
A Feb. 11, 2017, aerial photo released by the California Department of Water Resources shows a damaged spillway with an eroded hillside in Oroville, California. VOA

Drought in the United States and East Africa. Floods in Peru and Bangladesh. Heatwaves in Europe and China. Even unusual cloudiness in Japan. Climate change left its fingerprints on some of the biggest climate extremes of 2017, according to a new assessment.

The report highlights how a changing climate has real-life implications for the professionals who have to deal with the consequences. Case in point: water managers faced with record-breaking rainfall that overwhelmed a faltering dam in California.

“This is not a problem for the future. It’s a problem for today,” said Penn State University climate scientist David Titley, who was not involved with the research.

Seventeen studies from 10 countries make up the report, which the American Meteorological Society has been publishing annually since 2011.

They tease apart the factors that led to each extreme event and estimate the extent to which climate change contributed.

Drought, Climate Change
In this July 26, 2017, photo, soybeans grow in a farm field near Indianola, Iowa. Drought conditions are getting worse in several states, and extreme heat and weeks with little rain have begun to stress corn, soybeans, wheat and livestock. VOA

For example, drought parched the U.S. Northern Great Plains in the summer of 2017, drying up farms and ranches, sparking wildfires and racking up more than $2 billion in damage.

The study found that climate change did not affect the amount of rain that fell over the region.

However, higher temperatures brought on by global warming meant that soil dried out quicker. That means a drought of this severity is 1.5 times more likely than it would have been without climate change, the report said.

The report was released at the fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union in Washington, D.C. It comes as U.N. climate negotiators are meeting in Poland.

At that meeting, U.S., Russian and Saudi negotiators aimed to downplay a dire report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the impacts of global warming.

The new study’s findings confirm what the IPCC first predicted nearly 30 years ago, said study editor Martin Hoerling, a climate scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Climate Change, hurricane michael, Storms
In this photograph released by the Sri Lankan Air Force media division on May 29, 2017, flooding is seen in the country’s Matara district. VOA

According to the group’s first report, the impacts seen today are “the type of change in weather and climate that we would experience if we continued on a trajectory of increasing carbon dioxide,” Hoerling said. “We have certainly done so, and the consequences are unfolding.”

In Oroville, California, last February, the consequences of climate change provided a case study in the challenges of managing critical infrastructure in the face of a changing climate.

A series of torrential rains overfilled the lake behind the Oroville Dam. Because of a damaged spillway, overflowing water threatened to destroy the dam. Nearly 200,000 people downstream were evacuated.

The reservoir was already full when the storm that nearly broke the dam hit. One major reason, the report notes, was the unusual warmth at the end of the previous year. Storms that would normally have fallen as snow instead fell as rain.

Other California dams handled the deluge without incident, however, noted study co-author and hydrologist Julie Vano at the National Center for Atmospheric Research. It was the combination of climate change-driven extreme weather and the damaged spillway that made Oroville a near-disaster.

Fire, CLimate Change, California
Firefighters battle a wildfire as it threatens to jump a street near Oroville, California. VOA

“With aging infrastructure and more development happening in places where there’s risk exposure, we really need to think about how we manage our systems,” she said.

The science is progressing to the point where ignoring it could cause legal problems, according to attorney Lindene Patton with the Earth & Water Law Group.

Drought in the United States and East Africa. Floods in Peru and Bangladesh. Heatwaves in Europe and China. Even unusual cloudiness in Japan.

For example, she said, take the owner of a hypothetical chemical plant located near a river.

Engineers typically design safety features based on historical rainfall patterns. “If your calculations are done assuming 1970s rainfall events,” Patton said, “then your design would not be prepared for today’s climate.”

Also Read: As Climate Talks Come to a Halt, Africa Suffers From Global Warming

When climate science can show that rainfall patterns have changed, she added, “if you don’t use that different set of rainfall tables and a chemical release occurs, then you may find a claim is made against you.” (VOA)

Next Story

1,700 Child Soldiers Reunite With Their Parents In Myanmar

In September 2018, the Myanmar government released 75 children and young people who were recruited and used by the military in the only discharge to take place last year.

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Myanmar
Colonel Tun Tun Win of Myanmar's Ministry of Defense speaks at a workshop on the creation of a complaint mechanism to report instances of forced labor, in Naypyidaw, Jan. 17, 2019. (RFA)

More than 1,700 child soldiers in Myanmar have been reunited with their parents, and about 800 military officers and other army personnel who recruited and used them have been punished, a defense ministry official said Thursday during a workshop in Naypyidaw to discuss the creation of a complaint mechanism to report instances of forced labor.

Colonel Tun Tun Win of the Ministry of Defense said that the army has taken action against the use of child soldiers in Myanmar based on regulations of the International Labour Organization (ILO), a United Nations agency that sets global labor standards and promotes social protection for workers.

“In response to the ILO’s regulations, the Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] has taken action from 2007 to 2018 against a total of 379 military personnel, including 64 officers and 315 other ranks in accordance with military discipline,” he said.

Soldiers
Child Soldiers, Representational Iamge

At the same time, the U.N. Country Task Force on Monitoring and Reporting (CTFMR), co-chaired by June Kunugi, UNICEF’s representative to Myanmar, and Knut Ostby, the U.N.’s highest representative and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar, to report on grave violations committed against children during times of armed conflict, has taken action against 448 military personnel, including 96 officers and 352 other ranks, he said.

The punishments included sending military personnel to both civilian and army jails as well as demotions, Tun Tun Win said.

Besides sending nearly 1,730 child soldiers home, the army is addressing the issue in a transparent manner, he said.

Saw Tin Win, a lawmaker who is a member of the Farmers and Workers Affairs Committee in Myanmar’s lower house of parliament, said his committee receives about 40 complaints about the military’s use of child soldiers every month, though only two or three have been returned.

un human rights council
U.N.’s highest representative and humanitarian coordinator in Myanmar

“Some underage children were allowed to resign from the service, while other cases remain under investigation,” he said. “And some children were not allowed to resign during their recruitment period.”He also said that the committee had gathered evidence of underage children being used as child soldiers and then sent complaint letters to the defense ministry.

Thein Swe, Myanmar’s minister for labor, immigration, and population said that the Myanmar military is cooperating with both the CTFMR and the ILO on the child soldier issue.

“It also has taken action if complaints were submitted under the Supplementary Understanding agreement,” he said.

The February 2007 agreement between the Myanmar government and the ILO provides for a complaint mechanism under which individuals can submit cases of forced labor under the ILO Convention 29 concerning forced labor, and including underage recruitment, to the ILO liaison officer in Yangon.

“For instance, if the Tatmadaw cooperated on the issue of child soldier recruitment, then it took action against those who recruit underage children and notified us once the issue had been resolved,” Thein Swe said.

He also said that the ministry would address the issue of forced labor by ethnic armed groups in Myanmar, but did not elaborate.

Widespread use of child soldiers

troops
Besides sending nearly 1,730 child soldiers home, the army is addressing the issue in a transparent manner, he said.

The use of child soldiers in Myanmar has been widespread since the country’s independence from colonial ruler Britain in 1948. For decades, the national military has engaged in hostilities with several ethnic armies fighting for varying degrees of autonomy in their states.

Some of the ethnic armies that are fighting against Myanmar forces, and some of the forces allied with them, also have recruited and used child soldiers, though the numbers have been much lower than those recruited and used by the Myanmar military.

In 2007, Myanmar and the U.N. began negotiations on ending the use child soldiers that culminated in a joint action plan in June 2012 to stop the recruitment and use of children by the armed forces.

Three years later, Myanmar signed the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict (OPAC), also known as the international child soldier treaty, but has yet to ratify it to make it fully binding.

Also Read: Reuters Journalists’ Appeal Gets Rejected by Myanmar Court

In 2017, the country signed the Paris Principles and Commitments to protect children from unlawful recruitment or use by armed forces and groups and to reintegrate those who have been associated with armed forces into civilian life.

In September 2018, the Myanmar government released 75 children and young people who were recruited and used by the military in the only discharge to take place last year.

(Reported by Win Ko Ko Latt for RFA’s Myanmar Service.)