UK's spell of awful summers is set to continue
Forecast that Britain could be in middle of 10-20 year 'cycle' of wet summers delivered following gathering at Met Office
Don't worry, summer is on its way – but you might have to wait until 2023.
As the prospect of another gloomy Glastonbury and wet Wimbledon looms, leading climate scientists have warned that the UK could be set for a further five to 10 years of washout summers.
The grim conclusion was delivered after an unprecedented gathering of scientists and meteorologists at the Met Office in Exeter to debate the range of possible causes for Europe's "unusual seasonal weather" over recent years, a sequence that has lasted since 2007.
Many will have hoped for news of sunnier times ahead. But after experts brainstormed through the day they delivered the shock finding that the UK could be in the middle of a 10-20 year "cycle" of wet summers. The last six out of seven summers in the UK have seen below-average temperatures and sunshine, and above-average rainfall.
Stephen Belcher, head of the Met Office Hadley Centre and professor of meteorology at the University of Reading, stressed that the finding was not an official long-term forecast and does not automatically mean the UK will now have a further decade of wet summers. But, he said, the scientists' conclusion was that the chances of this occurring are now higher than they first thought.
"Predicting when this cycle will end is hard," said Belcher, who led the meeting of 25 scientists. "We have seen similar patterns before – in the 1950s and the 1880s – and we have hints that we are coming towards the end of this current cycle. However, it might continue for the next five to 10 years. There is a higher probability of wet summers continuing. But it's very early days in trying to understand why this is happening."
The scientists must now address what "dynamical drivers" are causing this cycle, Belcher said. The meeting debated a range of possible interconnected reasons for the unusual weather of recent years, including this year's cold spring and the freezing winter of 2010/11. The most likely cause for the wet summers, he said, was the Atlantic multi-decadal oscillation, or AMO, a natural pattern of long-term changes to ocean currents.
Other candidate causes that could be "loading the dice", as Belcher described it, include a shift in the jet stream, solar variability and fast-retreating Arctic sea ice. Aggravating all of these factors could be the influence of anthropogenic greenhouse gases entering the atmosphere.
Dr James Screen, who studies how melting sea ice impacts on the jet stream at the University of Exeter, said: "There has been a lot of talk about declining Arctic sea ice playing a role in our weather patterns, but really that's just one aspect of changes in the Arctic climate – which has seen rapid warming compared to other parts of the world. Those changes mean there is less of a difference in temperature between the Arctic and tropics, which could impact the position of the jet stream."
The scientists also debated how melting sea ice should be better incorporated into climate models, as well as how observational data – for example, deep-ocean temperatures – could be improved to help their understanding of the potential relationship between climate change and the recent run of inclement weather and record-breaking extremes.
Len Shaffrey, a climate modeller based at the University of Reading who is also currently investigating possible links between Arctic sea ice retreat and European weather, said: "There are some fascinating science questions emerging about the influences on our weather, for example, from natural variations in ocean temperature. There is also some evidence that the record low amounts of Arctic sea ice have influenced patterns of European and British weather, but this evidence is not yet conclusive either way."
The scientific debate about the role of the jet stream – the fast "river" of meandering, 10km-high air which greatly determines UK weather - is intensifying. This week researchers from the University of Sheffield published a study in the International Journal of Climatology showing how "unusual changes" to the jet stream caused the "exceptional" melting of the Greenland ice sheet during the summer of 2012. Scientists say they must now determine what is causing these "displacements", as they are known, in the jet stream.
Tourist bosses were trying to find silver linings. David Leslie, a spokesman for the tourism agency Visit Britain, said people did not come to the UK for the weather alone. "The weather here is as unpredictable as anywhere else," he added.
"The days of the UK being seen as a foggy, wet destination have passed. Hot, cold or mildly pleasant, the weather is not a deterrent for overseas visitors coming here to enjoy Britain's tourism offering, which remains the best in the world."
Can the flying bike rise above the daily grind?
The Paravelo combines the traditional folding bicycle with a trailer carrying a powerful fan and can reach 4,000ft altitude
For those of us whose ups and downs in the saddle depend only on potholes, the Paravelo might sound like an exciting way to rise above the daily grind. But is taking to the skies really the answer?
The British duo behind the "flying bike" promise an end to the daily drudgery of traffic jams, parking fines and road rage, as well as a taste of adventure. One half of that duo, Yanish Read, is no stranger to manufacturing weird and wonderful bikes, being the man behind the Hornster bicycle, which carries a horn louder than Concorde.
"If you have a thirst for adventure, but are without the storage space or bank balance large enough for a helicopter, then the Paravelo is for you," said Read. "It works by combining the traditional folding bicycle with a lightweight trailer carrying a powerful fan." The parts can be used together as they are in the video above or separately and Read said the entire assembly is small and light enough to carry into an office or flat and taken on public transport. It can take off from any open space, he said, reaches 4,000ft altitude and travels at 15mph on land and 25mph in the air.
"The Wright brothers were former bicycle mechanics so there's a real connection between cycling and the birth of powered flight that's recaptured in the spirit of the Paravelo" said John Foden, co-designer of the flying bike.
However, there are a number of restrictions on air travel in urban areas, which mean that your daily commute is unlikely to include flight for the foreseeable future. Although technically the Paravelo can be flown without any licence or training, Read suggests that taking to the skies with little or no experience would be "ill-advised".
Read said the way to get the most out of the Paravelo is to use the folding bike throughout the working week, then when Friday evening arrives, hitch the trailer to the back and cycle out of town, ready to take to the skies when enough open space presents itself. "Really what it is is an extension of how you can use a bike, in quite an adventurous way," he said.
The Paravelo's fabric wing helpfully doubles as a tent and the trailer can carry everything that you'd need for a weekend of "flamping", the term coined by the bike's designers to describe what they hope will be a new trend combining flying in the Paravelo and camping.
The Paravelo project is still in its early stages as far as manufacturing goes, they can be ordered and produced as bespoke items. But the long-term plan, if the project raises the £50,000 needed, is to produce a range of the flying bikes which will retail at £10,000.
If your pockets aren't deep enough for the Paravelo itself, there's always a mug which sports the slogan "My other bicycle is a flying bicycle", which is available as a reward when you donate to the Paravelo's Kickstarter funding page.
World's poorest will be hit worst, warns World Bank
Droughts, floods, sea-level rises and fiercer storms likely to undermine progress in developing world and hit food supply
Millions of people around the world are likely to be pushed back into poverty because climate change is undermining economic development in poor countries, the World Bank has warned.
Droughts, floods, heatwaves, sea-level rises and fiercer storms are likely to accompany increasing global warming and will cause severe hardship in areas that are already poor or were emerging from poverty, the bank said in a report.
Food shortages will be among the first consequences within just two decades, along with damage to cities from fiercer storms and migration as people try to escape the effects.
In sub-Saharan Africa, increasing droughts and excessive heat are likely to mean that within about 20 years the staple crop maize will no longer thrive in about 40% of current farmland. In other parts of the region rising temperatures will kill or degrade swaths of the savanna used to graze livestock, according to the report, Turn down the heat: climate extremes, regional impacts and the case for resilience.
In south-east Asia, events such as the devastating floods in Pakistan in 2010, which affected 20 million people, could become commonplace, while changes to the monsoon could bring severe hardship to Indian farmers.
Warming of at least 2C (36F) – regarded by scientists as the limit of safety beyond which changes to the climate are likely to become catastrophic and irreversible – is all but inevitable on current levels, and the efforts of governments are limited to trying to prevent temperature rises passing over this threshold. But many parts of the world are already experiencing severe challenges as a result of climate change, according to the World Bank, and this will intensify as temperatures rise.
Jim Yong Kim, the bank's president, warned that climate change should not be seen as a future problem that could be put off: "The scientists tell us that if the world warms by 2C – warming which may be reached in 20 to 30 years – that will cause widespread food shortages, unprecedented heatwaves, and more intense cyclones.
"In the near-term, climate change – which is already unfolding – could batter the slums even more and greatly harm the lives and hopes of individuals and families who have had little hand in raising the Earth's temperature."
The development bank is stepping up its funding for countries to adapt to the effects of climate change, and is calling for rich countries to make greater efforts at cutting greenhouse gas emissions.
Rachel Kyte, vice president of the World Bank, said it had doubled its aid for adaptation from $2.3bn (£1.47bn) in 2011 to $4.6bn last year, and called for a further doubling. She said the bank was working to tie its disaster aid and climate change adaptation funding closer together.
Aid from the bank to help poor countries cut their greenhouse gas emissions and pursue environmentally sustainable economic development stands at about $7bn a year, and is backed by about $20bn from regional development banks and other partners.
The report's authors used the latest climate science to examine the likely effects of global warming of 2C to 4C on agriculture, water resources, coastal ecosystems and fisheries, and cities, across sub-Saharan Africa, south and south-east Asia.
Kyte said the effects would be to magnify the problems that developing regions experience. More people would be pushed into slums, with an increased risk of disease. "We are looking at major new initiatives [in] cities; cities need billions of investment in infrastructure, but many developing cities are not really creditworthy," she said.
She pointed to Jakarta, where rising sea levels and decades of pumping freshwater from underground sources beneath and around the city were increasing its vulnerability to flooding. Choices would need to be made soon in many cities on how to stem the likely effects, but Kyte warned that the plans must be future-proof, citing Ho Chi Minh City in Vietnam, which has been forced to rethink its flood preparations despite spending $2bn on them.
Green campaigners emphasised the need to try to avoid 2C of warming, which scientists stay is possible if countries bolster their ambitions to cut greenhouse gas ambitions in the near future.
Stephanie Tunmore, climate campaigner at Greenpeace International, said: "Fossil fuels are being extracted in burned in the name of development and prosperity, but what they are delivering is the opposite.
"Some major impacts from climate change are already unavoidable and rich countries must urgently support the poor and vulnerable to adapt. But massive increases in the future costs of adaptation and damage can only be avoided by investing in a clean energy future now."
The World Bank has come under fire in the past for funding coal-fired power plants in some developing countries. However, it said the move was the result of old policies and was being phased out.
Iceland resumes fin whale hunting after two years
Undercover pictures taken by Greenpeace show a harpooned whale being cut up for meat likely to be exported to Japan
Iceland has resumed its commercial hunting of fin whales after a two-year suspension by landing the first of an expected 180 whales in Hvalfjördur. The first kill prompted protests from environment and animal welfare groups that the hunt is "cruel and unnecessary".
Undercover pictures taken aboard the Hvalur 8 by Greenpeace show the harpooned whale being cut up for meat that is likely to be exported to Japan. Fin whales are the second largest animal on earth after the blue whale and are listed on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) red list of threatened species.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) condemned the Icelandic whaler Kristján Loftsson who has resumed fin whaling after a two year break. "It is a very sad day seeing these images and knowing that this endangered animal has suffered a cruel death, only to be cut up for meat that nobody needs," said Robbie Marsland, UK director of IFAW.
"It is time that this dying industry was ended. We urge the Icelandic government to listen to its whale watching and tourism operators and many members of the public both within and outside Iceland and recognise that slaughtering whales is uneconomic as well as inhumane. Whale watching brings greater benefit to coastal communities."
Iceland cancelled fin whale hunts in 2011 and 2012 partly because Japan, the largest market, was suffering an economic downturn after of the devastating tsunami in March 2011. Seven fin whales were killed in Iceland's waters in 2006, 125 in 2009 and 148 in 2010.
Loftsson's company Hvalur plans to hunt up to 180 fin whales in the 2013 season. The International Whaling Commission has banned commercial whaling but its authority is not recognised by Iceland. More than 1 million people from around the world signed a recent online petition against the trading of Icelandic fin whale meat amid revelations that some of it has ended up in dog food products in Japan.
"Whaling is brutal and belongs to a bygone era not the 21st century," said John Sauven, director of Greenpeace UK. "It is deeply regrettable that a single Icelandic whaler backed by the government is undermining the global ban on commercial whaling which is there to secure the future of the world's whales."
Google X working on green energy project
Top executive Astro Teller calls innovation unit 'moonshot factory of Peter Pans with PhDs kind of running amok'
Google's innovation unit Google X is working on a green energy project which its top executive Astro Teller believes could "have an important part to play in the future of the world energy production".
The alternative wind turbine project, which Google executives are still fine tuning, is likely to be one of the next projects coming out of the Google X, which Teller described as a "moonshot factory" of "Peter Pans with PhDs all kind of running amok".
The latest "moonshot" innovation from Google X follows hot on the heels of Google's Project Loon, its experimentation with solar-panelled balloons to bring Wi-Fi to remote regions of Africa and the Asia Pacific. Google Glass also emanated from Google X.
Google is working with Makani Power, the Californian start-up wind-power company it recently acquired, on the project, which uses complicated robotics to generate electricity.
Speaking at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity on Tuesday, Teller said: "We recently announced that we have purchased a company called Makani Power. You get one of these 300 tonnes wind turbines, 300 tonnes of steel. You only get power through tips of blades, just circulating in space. What if the little tips circle in space without the 300 tonnes of steel – wouldn't that be awesome?
"If you had a long tether attached to blades, you can generate power by this specifically designed tether. This technology exists. We believe there is some possibility, because this is so much radically cheaper and easier to deploy than a normal wind turbine that it may have an important part to play in the future of world energy production. That's the technology story."
Of the Google X project, generally, Teller said: "I have this incredible collection of Peter Pans with PhDs all kind of running amok, who are very productive in a sort of loosely organised way. But if you hold on too tight and turn it into something organised the magic will leave the building.
"But if there is no oversight, then the magic will also leave the building. So I've come to this phrase for my story of what I am doing and what Google can become, which is a Moonshot factory, because of tension between Peter Pan and PhD."
Teller said he believed that a likely innovation within the next 20 to 30 years will be the creation of "factories for ideas", virtual factories which will produce "new ideas in every domain".