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Major environmental stories of November 2013

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Typhoon Haiyan, known as Typhoon Yolanda in the Philippines, struck that country on Nov 7, leaving at least 5600 people dead and millions of others homeless. There were also fatalities in Vietnam and Taiwan, and the storm caused damage in China, Micronesia, and Palau. Haiyan was classed as a supertyphoon, which is equivalent to a Category 5 hurricane. It had winds that went up to 195 miles per hour and was the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record. Haiyan was the thirtieth named storm of the 2013 Pacific typhoon season.

The Warsaw Climate Change Conference, also known as the COP19 of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, began on Nov 11 and ended on Nov 23. The UN climate talks began in 1992, but have yet to produce a comprehensive, legally binding document. This year, the plan was to put together an agreement that would be signed in Paris in 2015 and put into action in 2020. Said agreement would involve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. There were setbacks, like Japan's announcing they were going to increase emissions by 3%, rather than reduce them. The main sign of progress was the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, which will commit rich countries to helping poor countries cope with disasters caused by climate change.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reported that 2013 is on track to be the seventh warmest year worldwide since modern temperature records began in 1850. It is also likely to be the hottest year ever in Australia. Global land and sea surface temperatures were about 0.86 degrees Fahrenheit above the 1961-1990 average for the first nine months, which means 2013 could tie with 2003, the current seventh warmest year on record. The rising temperatures are due to the buildup of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which reached record highs in 2012 and are expected to do the same thing this year.

Google announced plans to invest $80 million in six new solar facilities currently being built in California and Arizona. The plants are expected to begin operating in January. Recurrent Energy is building the plants, which together will produce 106 MW of energy-- enough to power 17,000 homes. It has so far spent over $1 billion on 14 renewable energy projects around the world. Once the new plants are operational, Google's investments will be responsible for 2 GW (gigawatts) of energy, which is enough to power 500,000 homes or all of the public elementary schools in New York, Oregon, and Wyoming for a year.

The Japanese electronics company Kyocera launched the country's biggest solar plant, which can power 22,000 homes. Called the Kagoshima Nanatsujima Mega Solar Power Plant, it is located in an inlet at the southernmost tip of Japan, a location that should keep it safe from storms or tsunamis. In 2012, the Japanese government had established a policy encouraging the development of solar power, that includes subsidies.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has approved a new rule that is expected to encourage the development of solar power throughout the nation. It's an amendment to a 2005 rule concerning procedures for connecting a solar plant to the electric grid. The new rule would allow solar projects that met certain technical requirements to qualify for a "fast track" interconnection process, without undergoing the usual studies. That would save the project's builders time and money, while insuring the continued safety and reliability of the electric grid.

Electric helicopters may be a coming thing. Last year, the Japanese company Hirobo unveiled a one-man helicopter. This year, they created an unmanned electric rescue helicopter designed to withstand severe weather and deliver medical supplies to remote areas. The German company e-Volo tested a two-seat helicopter called the Volocopter. It can hover, glide, and produces no emissions. More tests involving the aircraft's steering and safety systems are planned.

Belgium has installed the world's largest off-shore wind turbine. It is 78 meters ( 256 feet) tall and has 73 meter (240 feet) blades. Its pillars are sunk over 60 meters (197 feet) into the seabed to keep the massive turbine upright. It was built by the French company Alstom and is expected to produce wind power with 15% greater efficiency than other offshore wind turbines in the area.

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