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Major environmental stories of the year 2013

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2013 was the hottest year on record in Australia -- and said records cover over a century. A summer heatwave and a spring hot spell were contributing factors. Australia's mean temperatures were 1.2° C (2.2° F) above the 1961-1990 average, breaking the record set in 2005, where mean temperatures were 1.03° C (1.8° F) above average. Previous hot spells have often coincided with an El Niño event-- but there wasn't one this year. Dr. David Karoly, a climate scientist at the University of Melbourne, said "These record high temperatures for Australia in 2013 cannot be explained by natural variability alone. This event could not have happened without increasing greenhouse gases, without climate change."

Dr. James Overland of NOAA’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory and Dr. Muyin Wang of the NOAA Joint Institute for the Study of Atmosphere and Ocean at the University of Washington published a report in Geophysical Research Letters saying the Arctic will probably have nearly ice-free summers before 2050 -- and possibly by 2020. The researchers examined three methods of predicting when the Arctic will be nearly ice-free in the summer. (They expect some ice to linger in the extreme north.) “There is no one perfect way to predict summer sea ice loss in the Arctic,” said Wang. “So we looked at three approaches that result in widely different dates, but all three suggest nearly sea ice-free summers in the Arctic before the middle of this century.” Rapid Arctic sea ice loss could affect weather in the northern hemisphere.

China implemented Operation Green Fence in February in order to regulate scrap imported into their country. The operation ended in December and was used by China's national customs agency to monitor imported waste, including metal, plastic, textiles, rubber, and paper. The primary purpose of Operation Green Fence was to prevent the dumping of contaminated waste within the country. It also forced the local industry to use cleaner, more environmentally responsible methods of recycling. Although Operation Green Fence technically ended in December 2013, the Chinese government plans to continue to keep solid waste out of the country.

The IPCC released its fifth report assessing the current science of climate change. The report was based on 9,200 peer-reviewed articles about climate change and such related phenomena as sea level rise and melting ice sheets. The report's authors expressed 95% confidence ("extremely likely") that humans were responsible for climate change. According to the report, the oceans are absorbing about 93% of global warming. The IPCC is also very certain that climate change is causing melting Arctic ice, rising sea levels, and extreme weather.

Typhoon Haiyan, which struck Southeast Asia, particularly the Philippines, in early November, was the deadliest Philippine typhoon on record. It killed over 6200 people in that country alone. Even now, in Jan, 2014, bodies are still being found. The typhoon also caused an oil spill, when it knocked down Power Barge 103 of Napocor in Estancia, Iloilo, a province of the Philippines.

The World Bank announced a new policy of not funding new coal plants in developing countries, except in cases where there are no viable alternatives. The Bank will, instead, fund natural gas projects and hydroelectric dams, both of which are cleaner than coal.

Several European countries have gotten at least 40% of their energy from renewable sources. Portugal achieved an impressive 70% this year, including 37% from hydroelectric and 27% from wind power. Portugal had upgraded its electricity grid about ten years ago to use computers to combine energy sources. Spain got nearly 50% of its electricity from renewables, including 21% from wind -- matching the 21% it got from nuclear power. Spain also got significant amounts of power from solar and hydroelectric power. Denmark and Scotland got 40% of their energy from renewable sources. Scotland hopes to get 100% of its power from renewable sources by 2020.

Three U.S. governors and a Canadian premier signed the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy. The leaders of British Columbia, California, Oregon, and Washington vowed to support green energy, cultivate environmentally friendly transportation like high-speed rails and electric vehicles, adopt low-carbon fuel standards, and take other steps to combat climate change. The regions involved have a population totaling 53 million people and a combined GDP of $2.8 million; if they were a country, they'd have the world's fifth largest economy.

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