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UN warns climate change could trigger 'mega-disasters'

Megacities in Berlin to discuss climate
Berlin (UPI) Jun 4, 2010 -Representatives of the world's biggest cities are flocking to Berlin to learn how to make urban energy supply more efficient and financing it in times of strained budgets. More than 3 billion people are living in cities, accounting for up to 80 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions. "The cities are the biggest causers of climate change but they also have the largest potential for mitigation," Katrin Lompscher, the environment secretary of Berlin, Thursday told the foreign press corps in the city. Lompscher next week will greet around 150 representatives from 40 of the world's largest cities -- among them New York, Toronto, Beijing, Moscow and Cairo -- for a workshop of the C40 Cities Climate Leadership network.

The meeting in Berlin's city hall will focus on combined heat and power generation as part of a modern energy supply system and public-private partnership financing models for improving the energy efficiency of buildings, topics that "are of high interest with cities right now," said Lompscher, of the far-left Left Party. Berlin, with 3.4 million citizens, is home to Western Europe's largest district heating grid. Several large power stations produce electricity as well as heat in the inner city ring. Swedish energy giant Vattenfall, for example, operates a highly efficient gas-fired co-generation power plant in the Mitte district, less than a mile from the Alexanderplatz. "We know how to heat and power our city efficiently and we are eager to share our knowledge with our partners from all over the world," Lompscher said. Another aspect Berlin knows well is dealing with money -- mainly because it has so little of it. The city's unemployment rate towers at 13.1 percent, nearly double the national average. A record 17 percent of Berliners get unemployment and welfare aid.

Branded as "poor but sexy," the city over the past years had to come up with creative financing methods to modernize its energy system, Lompscher said. Contracting partnership models have helped refurbish and increase the energy efficiency of 1,300 public buildings. Lompscher last month unveiled a 160-kilowatt solar power unit on the roof of a Berlin police station. The highly modern photovoltaic plant, which will save 107 tons of carbon dioxide per year, was realized thanks to a partnership between the city's property management agency BIM and a solar energy investment fund. Meanwhile, Lompscher will have to keep a close eye on Vattenfall, the main utility in Berlin. The company has announced that, starting in 2017, it would fuel its biomass plants in the city with wood imported from Liberia. Lompscher said Berlin and Vattenfall are in negotiations to make sure that the wood the company uses meets then highest possible sustainability criteria. If that's not the case, Lompscher will have a hard time convincing Berlin's citizens why it makes sense to haul in wood all the way from Africa and not from nearby Brandenburg.
by Staff Writers
Sydney (AFP) June 6, 2010
Weather-related catastrophes brought about by climate change are increasing, the top UN humanitarian official said Sunday as he warned of the possibility of "mega-disasters".

John Holmes, the UN Under-Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, said one of the biggest challenges facing the aid community was the problems stemming from changing weather patterns.

"When it comes meteorological disasters, weather-related disasters, then there is a trend upwards connected with climate change," Holmes, who is in Australia for high-level talks on humanitarian aid, told AFP.

"The trend is there is terms of floods, and cyclones, and droughts."

Holmes, who is the UN's emergency relief coordinator, said it had been a tough year due to January's devastating earthquake in Haiti, which killed more than 250,000 people.

He said while earthquakes, such as the 7.0-magnitude quake which levelled the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince, were random, weather-related natural disasters were increasing in number and scale.

"It's partly the very obvious things like the number of cyclones and the intensity of the cyclones, and the amount of flooding," he said.

"But is also in slightly more invisible ways -- in Africa with drought spreading, desertification spreading."

Holmes said officials were particularly concerned about places where a combination of factors -- such as large populations, or likelihood of earthquake, or susceptibility to rising sea levels -- made them more vulnerable.

"One of things we worry about is mega cities could produce, at some point, a mega disaster," he said.

"Cities like Kathmandu for example, which sits on two earthquake faults, where a large earthquake will come along... and the results could be catastrophic."

Holmes said while some countries were well-prepared for disaster -- such as Chile which was hit with a massive 8.8-magnitude earthquake in February which left 520 people dead -- others such as Haiti were less able to manage.

"That's one of the reasons we want to focus on not just how we respond to disaster, we need to do that, but how you reduce the impact of those disasters before they happen," Holmes siad.

In Haiti, the situation remained serious, he said, with some 1.5 million people living in makeshift shelters and little prospect of this changing soon.

"There are real concerns about how vulnerable people still are, despite all the efforts that have been made," he said.

Holmes said the need for humanitarian aid was rising faster than resources were available, particularly given the long-running conflicts in areas such as Sudan's Darfur and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

At the same time, climate change would likely set in chain migration due to drought or rising sea levels or conflicts due to a scarcity of water or arable land in coming years and these would place more pressure on funds.

"So all these things are going to create more problems for us, and we're really just coming to grips with what the consequences might be," Holmes said.

"And you can construct some extremely scary scenarios for yourself without too much trouble.

"For example, about what the effect might be of glaciers melting in the Himalayas. Now we don't quite know whether that's happening, or will happen, or not. But if it did, what would the effect be on the major river systems of southern Asia?"

Holmes said while a decade ago, climate change was not on officials' radars, "now it's on everybody's agenda."

"Climate change for us is not some future indeterminate threat, it's happening in front of our eyes," he said. "We can see it."

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Insuring the poor against climate change
Washington (UPI) Jun 4, 2010
With climate legislation stalled in the U.S. Senate and international climate control negotiations facing equally daunting obstacles, there is one thing that the key players largely agree on: Something must be done to help communities facing the worst impacts of climate change. At the U.N. climate talks last December, the United States pledged $10 billion to a fund that will help the ha ... read more

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