Category:

Arctic warming: are record temperatures and fires arriving earlier than scientists predicted?

Arctic warming: are record temperatures and fires arriving earlier than scientists predicted?

By Christopher J White

It was a grim record. On June 20 2020, the mercury reached 38°C in Verkhoyansk, Siberia – the hottest it’s ever been in the Arctic in recorded history. With the heatwaves came fire, and by the start of August around 600 individual fires were being detected every day. By early September, parts of the Siberian Arctic had been burning since the second week of June.

CO₂ emissions from these fires increased by more than a third compared to 2019, according to scientists at the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service. The wildfires produced an estimated 244 megatons of CO₂ between January and August, releasing thousands of years’ worth of stored carbon.

The summer of 2019 was already a record breaker for temperatures and fires across the Arctic. Seeing these events unfold again in 2020 – on an even larger scale – has the scientific community worried. What does it all mean for the Arctic, climate change and the rest of the world?

A satellite image shows smoke and clouds swirling over Russia.
A blanket of smoke stretches more than 4.5 million square kilometres across central and northern Asia. July 24 2019. EPA-EFE/NASA EARTH OBSERVATORY

Sooner than predicted?

Even with climate change, the severe summer heatwave of 2020 was expected to occur, on average, less than once every 130 years. Wildfire observations in the Arctic are fairly limited prior to the mid-1990s, but there is no evidence of similarly extreme fires in the years before routine monitoring started.

Higher temperatures globally are likely to be driving the increase in wildfire frequency and duration. But modelling wildfires is difficult. Climate models don’t predict wildfires, and they cannot indicate when future extreme events will occur year-on-year. Instead, climate modellers focus on whether they are able to predict the right conditions for events like wildfires, such as high temperatures and strong winds.

And these climate model projections show that the kind of extreme summer temperatures we’ve seen in the Arctic in 2020 weren’t likely to occur until the mid-21st century, exceeding predictions by decades.

So even though an increasing trend of high temperatures and conditions suitable for wildfires are predicted in climate models, it’s alarming that these fires are so severe, have occurred in the same region two years in a row, and were caused by conditions which weren’t expected until further in the future.

Fire burns the understory of a boreal woodland.
The Arctic is warming at a faster rate than the global average. Yelantsevv/Shutterstock

Climate feedback loops

So what is causing this rapid change? Over recent decades, temperatures in the most northerly reaches of Earth have been increasing at a faster rate than the rest of the world, with the polar region heating at more than twice the rate of the global average.

The fires caused by these hot, dry conditions are occurring in remote and sparsely populated forests, tundra and peat bogs, where there is ample fuel.

But these extreme events are also providing worrying evidence of climate “feedback loops”, which were predicted to happen as the climate warms. This is where increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere contribute to further warming by promoting events – like wildfires – which release even more greenhouse gas, creating a self-perpetuating process that accelerates climate change.

Record CO₂ emissions released from burning Arctic forests during the summer of 2020 will make future conditions even warmer. But ash and other particulates from the wildfires will eventually settle on the ice and snow, making them darker and accelerating their melting by reducing how easily their surface reflects sunlight.

Climate change is not the direct cause of this summer’s fires, but it is helping to create the right conditions for them. The extreme temperatures and wildfires seen throughout the Arctic in 2020 would have been almost impossible without the influence of human-induced climate change – and they are feeding themselves.

Ice surface with black stain from soot.
Soot-stained ice absorbs more of the sun’s heat and melts more quickly. Trifonov Aleksey/Shutterstock

What about the rest of the world?

When we think of the Arctic, we don’t tend to picture wildfires and heatwaves – we think of snow and ice and long, brutal winters. Yet the region is changing before our eyes. It’s too early to say whether the last two summers represent a permanent step-change, or new “fire regime”, for the Arctic. Only observations over a much longer timescale could confirm this.

But these record-breaking events in the Arctic are being fuelled by human influences that are changing our world’s climate sooner than many expected. With climate models predicting a future where already hot and fire-prone areas are likely to become more so, 2020’s record temperatures paint a worrying trend towards more of the same.

The Arctic is at the frontline of climate change. What we are witnessing here first are some of the most rapid and intense effects of climate change. While the impact is devastating – record CO₂ emissions, damaged forests and soils, melting permafrost – these events may prove to be a portent of things to come for the rest of the world.


This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Cover photo by Roxanne Desgagnés on Wikimedia Commons.
Acclimatise to speak at Climate Week Colombia 2020

Acclimatise to speak at Climate Week Colombia 2020

Acclimatise is excited to announce its presence at Climate Week Columbia 2020, an official event of The Climate Group in partnership with the Green Chamber of Commerce, KIMSA and Brigard Urrutia, with the support of the U.S. Green Chamber of Commerce, Grupo Doble Ele, LIM (Leadership in Motion), Peace Startup Foundation, Sostenerte, Agenda Ambiental and Conscious Global Market. Acclimatise Business Development Associate, Dr Laura Canevari, will be speaking at the event, at 11:40 AM (COT) on the opening day, September 21st.

During this event attendees will learn about innovative climate solutions from scientific research and ancestral knowledge, sustainable companies and enterprises and cultural and artistic manifestations promoted by NGOs and social and environmental movements of civil society. The purpose of this event is to motivate participants to generate new ideas, change their lifestyles and, through new sustainable consumption habits, influence production and marketing patterns in the Columbian economy that affect the climate.

Around 60 representatives of pioneering organisations who seek to scale their impact on the economy and society will take part in the conferences, panels and cultural and artistic activities to contribute effective solutions to the climate emergency.

Dr Canevari will reflect on the global experience of Acclimatise supporting businesses and financial institutions integrating climate change considerations into their governance and risk management practices, and introduce her own venture ITACA aimed at accelerating climate adaptation in the Caribbean.

Register for the event here.

Mass migration set to increase as world warms

Mass migration set to increase as world warms

By Paul Brown

Climate change is now driving mass migration, which will only worsen unless governments take global heating seriously.

There is strong evidence that deteriorating environments caused by climate change are driving millions of people to resort to mass migration in their search for a better life, both within countries and across borders.

As temperatures rise these migrations will only increase, particularly in Latin America and India, which is predicted to overtake China as the country with the largest population by 2025.

An analysis of environment and migration, published in Nature Climate Change, of 30 studies of individual countries across the world shows that there is no one single factor that drives migration.

But most research has found that environmental hazards have a major influence. Rising temperature levels, changes in rainfall and single sudden events like hurricanes are all triggers.

Policies for improvement

The analysis, by the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria and research partners across Europe, was undertaken to try to inform policy makers about how to avert mass human migration.

It points out that two of the most high-profile mass migration episodes in recent times – the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015 and the “migrant caravan” from Central America to the United States in 2018 – have been partly attributed to severe droughts in the countries concerned.

While some studies conclude that environmental factors were not the main driver of migration, most thought it was one of the primary causes. The analysis says governments should expect significantly higher migration flows in the future.

Perhaps surprisingly, given the publicity surrounding the issue, migrations were not centred on poor people trying to enter rich nations in Europe or North America. Instead, most movements were from the countryside to urban areas in the same country, particularly in agriculturally dependent countries, or from one middle-income country to another.

“The best way to protect those affected is to stabilise the global climate by rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels”

People with particularly low incomes normally stayed where they were,  despite environmental pressures, because they had no way of financing a move, while richer people had the means to adapt to new circumstances and so they also stayed put.

“Environmental factors can drive migration, but the size of the effects depends on the particular economic and socio-political conditions in the countries,” explains the lead author Roman Hoffmann, from Germany’s Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

“In both low and high income countries, environmental impacts on migration are weaker – presumably because either people are too poor to leave and therefore essentially become trapped or, in wealthy countries, they have enough financial means to absorb the consequences. It is mainly in middle-income regions and those with a dependency on agriculture that we see strong effects.”

IIASA predicts future higher levels of environmental migration for countries in Central America, the Caribbean, Brazil and Argentina. In Africa it is the Sahel region south of the Sahara that is already drying out, and East Africa that has the highest potential for people migrating because of climate change.

Eyes on India

Perhaps the most disturbing prediction is that India, with 1.3 billion people and soon to be the most populous country in the world, is likely to see large migrations. The heat and floods in the country are already killing hundreds of people a year, and many millions who are still dependent on subsistence agriculture are struggling with changing climate conditions.

“Our research suggests that populations in Latin America and the Caribbean, several countries in sub-Saharan Africa – especially in the Sahel region and East Africa – as well as western, southern and south-east Asia, are particularly at risk,” says co-author Anna Dimitrova from the Vienna Institute of Demography of the Austrian Academy of Sciences.

While the report is aimed at preparing governments for migrations that will inevitably happen in the future, with difficult consequences for both the migrants and the host country, the research suggests the best way of averting the coming crisis is to tackle climate change and reduce further rises in temperatures.

“The best way to protect those affected is to stabilise the global climate by rapidly reducing greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels as well as simultaneously to enhance adaptive capacity, such as through improving human capital,” says Jesus Crespo Cuaresma, a researcher with the IIASA World Population Program and professor of economics at the Vienna University of Economics and Business. − Climate News Network


This article was originally posted on the Climate News Network.
Cover photo from Pikist.
New Documentary explores the COVD-19 and climate change nexus

New Documentary explores the COVD-19 and climate change nexus

On Thursday, 10th of September, a new documentary was issued on S4C looking at the effects of the current COVID-19 pandemic on the environment. Hosted by Daf Wyn and Steffan Griffiths, the documentary interviewed experts in their field to gain insights into the nexus, including Professor Emeritus Huw Cathan Davies, an Atmospheric Physicist at the Institute for Atmosphere and Climate Science at ETH University, Zurich. Also interviewed was our very own Climate Risk Analyst, Erin Owain, who spoke about various green recovery packages presented by Governments in response to COVID-19. Additionally, Erin spoke about supply chain disruptions and the need to build resilient business models, in conjunction with tackling social and economic inequality in the context of climate justice.

The documentary is available with English subtitles until the 9th of October.

View it here.

Understanding the economic costs and benefits of urban resilience in UCCRTF cities in Bangladesh

Understanding the economic costs and benefits of urban resilience in UCCRTF cities in Bangladesh

By Matthew Savage

ADB’s Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF) has begun working on a number of case studies looking at the economic benefits of investment in urban resilience. These studies examine the historical socio-economic vulnerability and exposure of selected cities to a range of climate impacts and stresses such as flooding and cyclone damage. The purpose of the studies is to assess the potential economic benefits of investing in resilient infrastructure and better city-level planning and capacity. It is hoped that a more comprehensive appreciation of the economic value of avoided damages will bolster the case for climate-resilient investment. 

The first case study examines the secondary cities of Bagerhat and Patuakhali in Bangladesh, both of which are located in the low-lying coastal flood plain. These cities have been regularly impacted by large-scale cyclone events, such as Cyclone Sidr in 2007, which affected more than 200,000 people within the city boundaries. The cyclone destroyed roads, buildings, schools, colleges and other infrastructure, and killed more than 4,000 people across the coastal region. [1]

In support of the project preparation work for ADB investments in Bangladesh, UCCRTF financed the formulation of climate resilient integrated urban plans for seven towns, including Bagerhat and Patuakhali. Among the coastal towns, the two were determined to be the most vulnerable to impacts of climate change so the trust fund allocated an additional $6 million to the ADB Coastal Towns Environmental Infrastructure Project (CTEIP) (44212-013) to finance the construction of cyclone shelters, emergency access roads and drains, as well as the preparation of integrated drainage plans (IDP) and fecal sludge management (FSM) and solid waste management (SWM) plans in Bagerhat and Patuakhali.

In May 2020, these investments were put to the test when Cyclone Amphan, the most serious Category IV cyclone since Sidr, hit the Delta. In Bangladesh, the storm impacted more than 2.6 million people. More than 200,000 houses were fully or partially damaged, along with more than 44% of educational facilities. Bagerhat and Patuakhali were among the five worst impacted districts of Bangladesh. [2]

While full assessment work on damage and recovery costs is currently ongoing, what is becoming clear is that many of the most significant impacts of the cyclone in the two cities were able to be reduced, in part thanks to investments in resilient infrastructure and planning by ADB and UCCRTF.

Better early warning systems, comprehensive evacuation plans, and more robust cyclone shelters led to significantly lower levels of deaths and injury, with a total of 26 deaths across the whole of Bangladesh, of which only two were from Bagerhat and Patuakhali districts. This was of a magnitude lower than in previous similar scale events. [3]

Furthermore, an initial review indicates that UCCRTF infrastructure investments remained operational when the cyclone hit.[4] More robust and resilient roads supported the movement of people across the municipal region as part of the evacuation. Investments in higher capacity drainage systems also helped the cities cope better with intense rainfall and coastal or river flooding.

The UCCRTF team is currently engaging with the local authorities in both cities to obtain more detailed insights into the damage incurred as well as the potential avoided damage costs resulting from recent investments in improved resilience. As a result of COVID-19, the economics team have been undertaking remote videoconferences with the mayors and senior engineers in the cities, supported by the project’s Country Resilience Officers on the ground.

The case study, due later this year, will provide more detailed evidence on the socio-economic benefits of investing in resilience in terms of avoided costs and other livelihood and productivity benefits. Wider assessments of the economics of resilience suggest that the benefits of such investments in vulnerable urban environments are at least double the cost, and that improvements in city-level planning and preparedness have the potential to drastically reduce the human cost of climate disasters.

​This will be the first in a series of economics of resilience case studies, with others tentatively planned for Hue in Viet Nam and La Trinidad in the Philippines over the coming months. ​


This article was originally published on ADB’s Livable Cities Blog.
Cover photo from Pikist.
Risk Management in Brazilian Agriculture: Instruments, Public Policy, and Perspectives

Risk Management in Brazilian Agriculture: Instruments, Public Policy, and Perspectives

By Priscila Z. Souza and Juliano J. Assunção

Rural producers face a wide range of adverse events that expose them to potentially heavy losses. In agriculture, both natural risks – such as droughts, floods, pests, diseases, and fires – and market risks – such as price variation – are frequent. While the modernization of the agricultural sector leads to commodity specialization and the adoption of technologies with higher expected returns, it may also result in a larger production variance, creating more uncertainty and increasing producers’ exposure to risk (See Dercon and Christiaensen, 2011). Modernization has accelerated in Brazil in recent years, raising the importance of risk management instruments. 

Brazil has a large potential for improving risk mitigation opportunities for its producers, which will be even more essential in the face of climate change. Improving risk management practices and public policies could accelerate the process of modernization and sustainability in Brazilian agricultural production. Government incentives require a design crafted to meet producers’ needs. In this report, Climate Policy Initiative/Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (CPI/PUC-Rio) researchers analyze the current risk management instruments and public policies and discuss pathways for improving their impact on Brazilian agriculture.

This report discusses the strengths and shortcomings of the main public policies regarding agricultural risk management, highlights the potential for rural insurance growth, and outlines steps for the future. It brings together data from SUSEP, the Ministry of Agriculture (Ministério da Agricultura, Pecuária e Abastecimento – MAPA), the Central Bank of Brazil, and other relevant sources. The empirical analysis aims to provide a better understanding of the current state and recent trends of agricultural risk management in Brazil and to identify how to better tailor public policies.

In Brazil, the modernization of agriculture in the past decades has led to the conversion of pasture to cropland, reducing deforestation pressure associated with the expansion of agricultural land. The continuation of this process requires additional investments in intensification and productivity, particularly in pastureland, so that increases in livestock production do not require area expansion. Simultaneously, the conversion of pastures to cropland significantly alters a business’ risk profile, since crops are more susceptible to climate variations. Livestock farming is generally more resilient in the face of the unforeseen events that often impact rural activities. Specialization of cultures, adoption of new technologies, and sustainable production methods lead to higher expected returns but may cause greater uncertainty in results. Thus, to encourage producers to adopt such practices, their exposure to risk needs to be addressed. That is why the modernization of the agricultural sector enhances the importance of better opportunities for producers to manage their risks.

Market failures in rural insurance have broad consequences leading to underinvestment, less efficient agricultural production, and adverse land use impacts. Producers with inadequate risk management tools often make poor production decisions, such as avoiding crop specialization or the adoption of new technologies that can subsequently increase their exposure to risk. That is, producers will often avoid engaging in activities that have higher expected profits but more uncertainty in returns as a way to self-insure against both natural and price risks. This behavior has negative effects on agricultural productivity and land use, with important consequences for forests and the environment. 

In Brazil, rural insurance and other tools for agriculture risk management is scarce and difficult to access in many regions (see Box 1 for an overview of Brazil’s risk management instruments). In 2018, almost 60% of the country’s municipalities had no rural insurance contracts (for crop, livestock, or forest), according to the Superintendence for Private Insurance (Superintendência de Seguros Privados – SUSEP). Moreover, few crops in Brazil are insured, and soy is most frequently covered (32% of crop insurance contracts in SUSEP). Nevertheless, the Brazilian rural insurance market recently experienced significant growth. The rural insurance premium increased from R$88.2 million in 2006 to R$2 billion in 2018, corresponding (adjusted for inflation) to a twelve-fold increase (SUSEP). Life insurance for rural producers makes up 20% percent of all rural insurance premiums, though this type of insurance does not have a direct impact on production choices.

Only a few companies dominate Brazil’ rural insurance market. In the 2019/20 agricultural year, one company represented 52.3% percent of the market and only 14 insurers total were present during that year, according to data from SUSEP. Public policy should provide incentives to reduce market concentration, increase competition among firms, and, consequently, increase the variety of risk management instruments available to rural producers.

The remainder of this report proceeds as follows. Following this Executive Summary, Box 1 gives a brief description of Brazil’s risk management instruments. The main recommendations for improving Brazil,s agricultural risk management policies are highlighted next. Section 1 starts the analysis of risk management instruments in Brazil, exploring the data from SUSEP. Section 2 discusses the four main public policies for Brazilian producers: PSR, PROAGRO, Garantia-Safra, and PGPM. Section 3 describes the Agricultural Climate Risk Zoning (Zoneamento Agrícola de Risco Climático – ZARC). Section 4 presents the Brazilian reinsurance market and the Rural Insurance Stability Fund (FESR). Section 5 reviews the economic literature on how risk management instruments impact agricultural activity and land use in Brazil and other developing countries. Section 6 makes an international comparison of insurance coverage and policies. Finally, Section 7 discusses the pathways ahead and suggestions to improve Brazil’s risk management instruments and public policies.


This article was posted on Climate Policy Initiative.
Cover photo from Pikist.
COVID-19 highlights three pathways to achieve urban health and environmental justice

COVID-19 highlights three pathways to achieve urban health and environmental justice

By Isabelle Anguelovski

The pandemic is an opportunity for cities to dramatically rethink use of housing, transport and public spaces in ways that would serve all citizens, especially the socially vulnerable.

Rows of plants on a rooftop make up an urban garden.
Barcelona has increased its green public spaces. The move towards healthier cities should be accompanied by serious efforts to make cities greener (Photo: copyright BCNUEJ)

Environmental justice has many health implications, and COVID-19 is no exception.

As research has shown time and again, low income and minority communities are consistently exposed to greater environmental hazards and have less access to environmental amenities than their more affluent and white counterparts. As such, their health is often compromised and life expectancy is lower.

Cumulative social and environmental vulnerabilities combined with COVID-19 have dramatically increased the risk of infection and mortality.

While much is being said about increasing cities’ resilience to future outbreaks through measures including density reduction, pedestrianisation and urban greening, we need to analyse how inequalities shape the exposure, vulnerability, and eventually the risk and outcome of infectious diseases.

Drawing on our work at the Barcelona Lab for Urban Environmental Justice and Sustainability on European cities, we look at how three domains of urban infrastructure – housing, transport, and public space – can build greater urban health and environmental justice.

Housing

Despite lingering narratives that urban density aggravates outbreaks like COVID-19, home overcrowding and unsafe housing conditions are emerging as the real problem, coupled with socio-spatial inequalities.

In the UK this spring, the country’s five most crowded areas saw 70% more coronavirus cases than the five least crowded, where richer homeowners live in larger houses with extra bedrooms and bathrooms, reducing the risk of family infection. To prevent the spread of pandemics, cities need affordable, adequate, secure and accessible housing.

In view of the current health and economic crisis, cities and states should declare a moratorium and/or a relief on rents, mortgages, and evictions for vulnerable groups.

Housing should be greatly decommodified, as in Vienna, where it is considered a basic human right. A minimal guaranteed income should be put in place, as in Spain or The Netherlands. National governments should also reverse decade-long cuts to housing infrastructure, especially public housing, as seen in the UK.

Cities with high levels of tourism-and expat-induced gentrification, like Barcelona, should use the crisis as an opportunity to increase housing justice. In July 2020, Mayor Ada Colau announced payments of up to 1,200 euros per month to landlords who agree to house vulnerable families.

The city also plans to expropriate up to 426 flats owned by 14 corporate landlords (including BBVA bank; the UN-denounced private equity Blackstone-subsidiary Budmac; and Sareb, the government-owned ‘bad bank’ and asset manager) unless they are designated low-income housing units within the next months.

Transport

Public transport systems are widely regarded as transmission hotspots. Many professional workers can work remotely to avoid travelling on these systems, and the wealthiest of those who cannot are likely to turn to private modes of transport. So it is the low-income workers who have no option but to use public transport who will be most at risk of new infections.

As those travelling on public transport drops significantly (by 88% in Paris between January and April 2020), who will pay for the greater number of subway, tramway, and bus carriages and lines needed? Many mass transport systems already have crumbling infrastructure – investment is needed to achieve social equality and transport justice.

To avoid public transport, more workers are expected to commute by foot or bike. But this invites another equity question: who will be making the short commute (up to 10km)? It is those living close to their workplace who can afford city living; it is the well-off who will likely enjoy new bike and other active transport lanes that cities such as Barcelona or Milan are already building in their centres.

Those living on the peripheries do not have the luxury to commute by bike or on foot. Other affordable and low-risk solutions need to be put in place.

Public space

COVID-19 presents the chance for cities to take back public space from cars – with broader sidewalks, cycle lanes and less-congested roads. But the car lobby and industry is a powerful force in setting political agendas.

In addition, public decision-makers are aware that in the European Union alone, for instance, COVID-19 has put 1.1m automobile manufacturing jobs at risk. Cities need to move fast if they are to reconfigure the use of streets as public spaces before the car lobby strikes back.

Now is the time to act – to decongest streets (air pollution causes chronic heart and respiratory disease that can exacerbate COVID-19 cases), regain pedestrian rights, and push for safer post-COVID cities in terms of both infection and accidents.

The move toward healthy cities is likely to be accompanied by a more serious effort to make cities greener – and equitably green. In Valencia, Spain and Nantes, France, decentralised networks of small green spaces are providing residents with easy access to nature for all residents without compromising access to larger parks.

Many cities should also consider extended use of vacant spaces such as flat rooftops that can be converted into community gardens and provide more access to green space.

Shifting priorities

These are just three domains of urban infrastructure where changes to the urban environment could slow widening inequalities.

Decades of social injustices have placed low-income and minority communities at greater health risk and economic disadvantage – they now face the further burden of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic consequences.

The urgency for change in these three domains is even greater in the global South; the environmental justice principles are valid here too, although responses must be rooted in local context and priorities.

We need to avoid the emergence and spread of pandemics as much as we need to transform our societies and cities and their underpinning unequal economic structures.

Are our cities of the future landscapes of grandiose LEED-certified buildings and privatised parks serving the elite’s interests? Or are we ensuring that the existing infrastructure is repaired, strengthened and improved to serve all residents, especially the socially vulnerable?


This article was originally posted on the IIED blogsite.
Cover photo by Shai Pal on Unsplash
Rivers flood, seas rise – and land faces erosion

Rivers flood, seas rise – and land faces erosion

By Tim Radford

Polar melting cannot be separated from farmland soil erosion and estuarine flooding. All are part of climate change.

Climate heating often ensures that calamities don’t come singly: so don’t forget what erosion can do.

In a warmer world the glaciers will melt ever faster to raise global sea levels ever higher. In a wetter world, more and more topsoil will be swept off the farmlands and downriver into the ever-rising seas.

And the pay-off of silt-laden rivers and rising sea levels could be catastrophic floods, as swollen rivers suddenly change course. Since many of the world’s greatest cities are built on river estuaries, lives and economies will be at risk.

Three new studies in two journals deliver a sharp reminder that the consequences of global heating are not straightforward: the world responds to change in unpredictable ways.

First: the melting of the ice sheets and the mountain glaciers. Researchers warn in the journal Nature Climate Change that if the loss of ice from Antarctica, Greenland and the frozen rivers continues, then climate forecasters and government agencies will have to think again: sea levels could rise to at least 17cms higher than the worst predictions so far.

“Avulsions are the earthquakes of rivers. They are sudden and sometimes catastrophic. We are trying to understand where and when the next avulsions will occur”

That means an additional 16 million people at hazard from estuarine floods and storm surges.

In the last 30 years, the flow from the Antarctic ice cap has raised sea levels by 7.2mm, and from Greenland by 10.6mm. Every year, the world’s oceans are 4mm higher than they were the year before.

“Although we anticipated the ice sheets would lose increasing amounts of ice in response to the warming of the oceans and the atmosphere, the rate at which they are melting has accelerated faster than we could have imagined,” said Tom Slater of the University of Leeds, in the UK, who led the research.

“The melting is overtaking the climate models we use to guide us, and we are in danger of being unprepared for the risks posed by sea level rise.”

Dr Slater and his colleagues are the third team to warn in the last month that observations of climate already match the worst-case scenarios dreamed up by forecasters preparing for a range of possible climate outcomes.

Erosion risk rises

The latest reading of glacial melt rates suggests that the risk of storm surges for many of the world’s greatest cities will double by the close of the century. But coastal cities – and the farmers who already work 38% of the terrestrial surface to feed almost 8bn people – have another more immediate problem.

In a warmer world, more water evaporates. In a warmer atmosphere, the capacity of the air to hold moisture also increases, so along with more intense droughts, heavier rainfall is on the way for much of the world. And the heavier the rain, or the more prolonged the drought, the higher the risk of soil erosion.

In 2015 the world’s farmers and foresters watched 43 billion tonnes of topsoil wash away from hillsides or blow away from tilled land and into the sea. By 2070, this burden of silt swept away by water or blown by wind will have risen by between 30% and 66%: probably more than 28 bn tons of additional loss.

This could only impoverish the farmland, according to a study by Swiss scientists in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. It could also impoverish people, communities and countries. The worst hit could be in the less developed nations of the tropics and subtropics.

But the flow of ever-higher silt levels into ever-rising seas also raises a new hazard: hydrologists call it river avulsion. It’s a simple and natural process. As conditions change, so rivers will naturally change their flow to spill over new floodplains and extend coastal lands.

Survival in question

But river avulsions can also be helped along by rising sea levels. Since 10% of humanity is crowded into rich, fertile delta lands, and since some of the deadliest floods in human history – two in China in 1887 and 1931 claimed six million lives – have been caused by river avulsions, the question becomes a matter of life and death.

US scientists report, also in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that rising sea levels alone could make abrupt river avulsion more probable, especially as delta lands could be subsiding, because of groundwater and other extraction.

The dangers of avulsion are affected by the rate of sediment deposit in the river channels, and this is likely to rise with sea levels. This in turn raises the level of the river and eventually a breach of a levee or other flood defence will force the river to find a swifter, steeper path to the sea.

Cities such as New Orleans and the coastal communities of the Mississippi delta are already vulnerable. “Avulsions are the earthquakes of rivers,” said Michael Lamb, of California Institute of Technology, one of the authors.

“They are sudden and sometimes catastrophic natural events that occur with statistical regularity, shifting the direction of major rivers. We are trying to understand where and when the next avulsions will occur.” – Climate News Network


This article was originally posted on The Climate News Network.
How National Development Banks can drive climate-smart solutions in cities during COVID-19 and beyond

How National Development Banks can drive climate-smart solutions in cities during COVID-19 and beyond

By Priscilla Negreiros

No economy can achieve resilient and climate-smart economic growth without empowered cities. With the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of cities is greater than ever. Urban areas will be severely impacted by the current crisis, with drastic economic consequences in the medium to long term in addition to the significant human and social losses. Cities have a higher risk of spreading diseases due to high-density population. They also serve as travel hubs, increasing transmission rates and are home for many vulnerable populations, which – particularly in developing countries – often live in informal settlements with little or no access to sanitation and hygiene facilities.

Despite this, cities cannot lose momentum in addressing the global threat of climate change, which could have an even greater impact on the economy in the long term. Before COVID-19, cities were already in need of more investment to face the climate emergency, and now they are losing substantial revenues from locally generated sources and are needing to divert funds elsewhere. Cities need urgent access to credit, and National Development Banks (NDBs) can help.

NDBs are an important development tool during economic crises. Historically, NDBs were created to fund post-war reconstruction in Europe (e.g. KfW in Germany) or to boost industrialization in developing economies (e.g. BNDES in Brazil). They all share the same principle of supporting national governments to counteract the pro-cyclical nature of the private financial system. Throughout the 2007/08 economic crisis, NDBs played a vital role when commercial bankers rationed credit and reduced global investments.

Although NDBs vary in size, performance, and objectives, they often have a unique capacity to reach sectors not sufficiently funded by private financial institutions, such as green infrastructure, renewable energy, and energy efficiency. This makes them a relevant actor in the global development agenda. Taking into account the increasingly central role of cities as drivers of economic growth and as part of the global response to climate change, NDBs should substantially increase their investment in projects led by cities.

According to the recent think piece published by the Cities Climate Finance Leadership Alliance about the role of NDBs in city-level climate finance, NDBs have potential to unlock needed investment into cities as they: (1) have a generally singular domestic focus with a deep understanding of national and regional investment challenges and opportunities; (2) can utilize public and private funding sources, providing state guarantees to cheaper access to markets; (3) have the advantage of financing in local currency; (4) can pool different types of funding in blended finance structures and catalyze private sector investment.

So, why are NDBs not doing more to address cities’ needs?

NDBs are not a viable option for every city. Even estimating the number of NDBs is a difficult endeavour. Yet, most of the approximately 250 existing NDBs worldwide are found in middle-income countries (60%), while only 8% are located in low-income countries, and around 30% in high-income countries. Likewise, most NDBs are small, except for the ones in China, Germany, Brazil, India, and South Africa, which hold approximately three-fifths of the USD 5 trillion in assets estimated as being held by NDBs (considerably more than the just under USD 1 trillion held by Multilateral Development Banks [MDBs).

The structure of an NDB can also vary greatly. Some are fully owned by national governments, while others are semi-private; some have wide mandates, while some are specialized in one sector; and some NDBs are more or less independent from government-controlled boards. All of these factors influence how NDBs establish their mandates, most not having clear programs to promote and identify climate-resilient infrastructure projects, let alone urban-related ones. Also, legal constraints and political disputes might disengage municipal governments from using these funding sources.

Yet, there are good reasons to think that NDBs should provide critical support to cities. For that to happen, some actions must be taken to increase the role of NDBs in urban-resilient and climate-smart investment.

NDBs can start by addressing climate-related investments in their mandates and/or strategies, including for climate-smart urban infrastructure. Reviewing mandates and setting climate and resilient urban targets will not necessarily generate an instantaneous change, but it will certainly support the translation of plans into concrete project pipelines. National governments must make sure the regulatory framework conditions are in place to allow subnational entities to access NDBs. The collaboration between NDBs and their relevant national and local governments is the key to success.

Also, NDBs must strengthen their technical capacity to assist cities in structuring projects by developing and deploying product offerings that suit cities’ needs, such as project preparation facilities and risk mitigation mechanisms. Most cities lack the required capacity to manage projects, lead infrastructure procurement, and identify climate finance instruments. Although there are many urgent projects in the pipeline, particularly in adaptation measures, city-level projects are commonly identified as “non-bankable” by investors.

Cities must have access to project preparation facilities that can assist in building feasibility studies and scaling the needed finance. By investing in project preparation assistance and risk mitigation instruments, NDBs can be an important partner for increasing the number of bankable projects, which would help to respond to the COVID-19 economic crisis.

Another solution: NDBs should increase their access to concessional development finance by seeking accreditation and support from Multilateral Development Banks. This would allow NDBs to provide cities with the needed grants for technical assistance in project preparation and guarantees, and to lend at concessional rates and for longer durations.

Cities will face one of the biggest challenges of the century in the coming months and years: they will have to repair their economies while fighting for the health of their people and climate. While all actors in this equation will be essential, NDBs will have a large role to play as key city-level support.

The think piece on “Enhancing the Role of National Development Banks in Supporting Climate-Smart Urban Infrastructure” released by the Cities Climate Finance Leadership Alliance can be read here.


Cover photo by Barbara Buchner
Launch of “Charting a New Climate: State-of-the-art tools and data for banks to assess credit risks and opportunities from physical climate change impacts”

Launch of “Charting a New Climate: State-of-the-art tools and data for banks to assess credit risks and opportunities from physical climate change impacts”

8 September 2020 – UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI) has released a report on physical climate risks and opportunities from Phase II of its Task Force for Climate-related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) Banking Program with climate risk advisory and analytics firm, Acclimatise. The report, “Charting a New Climate”, provides a state-of-the-art blueprint to support financial institutions to navigate the changing physical climate risk landscape.

For banks, investors and financial institutions the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated the widespread consequences of systemic, global risks. As such, the financial sector has continued to recognize the importance of responding effectively to climate risks and seizing opportunities. More firms than ever before are disclosing their climate risks and opportunities under the TCFD framework. At the same time, regulators and investors are demanding greater transparency on the way climate change will impact future business operations.

The TCFD Phase II banking pilot engaged thirty-nine global financial institutions on six continents. The program empowered participants to identify, assess, and manage their climate risks and opportunities. Participating banks were led through a series of modules designed to expand their physical risk and opportunities toolkits. Other climate experts were consulted throughout the program including analytics providers and leading climate scientists.

Phase II of UNEP FI’s Banking Pilot began in 2019 and builds upon the outcomes and findings of Phase I. The Phase I Pilot involved 16 commercial banks and developed initial methodologies for undertaking forward-looking scenario-based assessments of climate risks and opportunities in loan portfolios, in line with the TCFD recommendations. For physical risks and opportunities, it culminated in the publication of “Navigating a New Climate” in 2018.

The new report, “Charting a New Climate”, provides financial institutions with a state-of-the-art blueprint for evaluating physical risks and opportunities. Complete with case studies from participating banks, the report investigates leading practices for five critical topics related to physical risks and opportunities:

  1. Extreme events data and data portals – reviewed examples of climate and climate-related extreme events data and portals from both public (free to use) and commercial data providers[1].
  2. Portfolio physical risk heatmapping – recognized the benefits of examining total portfolio exposure and identifying where higher physical risks may lie before moving on to ‘deep-dive’ assessments of at-risk portfolio segments.
  3. Tools for physical risk assessment of financial risk – aimed to improve banks’ understanding of commercially-available tools and analytics, as well as training the Phase II banks to use the Phase I Excel-based methodologies.
  4. Physical risk correlation analysis of finance institution portfolios – was developed as banks recognized the value of having a deeper understanding of observed relationships between loan performance metrics and climate-related events.
  5. Analysis of opportunities driven by physical climate risk – aimed to provide insights into the climatic, business, policy and market-led drivers of physical risk-related opportunities.

The TCFD provides a useful framework for assessing and reporting on physical risks and opportunities; “Charting a New Climate” gives firms an expanded toolbox with which to approach this important work. Despite the tangible benefits to participating institutions, the insights contained within the report are also relevant for organisations across the finance sector. The toolkit developed in Phase II provides a comprehensive way for organisations to consider their physical risks and opportunities and move from assessment to action.

Charting a New Climate” marks the beginning, not the end, of the journey for financial institutions looking to holistically consider physical impacts. Banks need to continue to improve the external and internal streams they rely on for climate data about their borrowers. Tool providers will increasingly need to consider the interaction effects of simultaneous hazards in a warming world and the complex cause-effect chains linking those hazards to investment performance. Governance and risk management functions will need to integrate climate into their existing policies. The banking sector has a major role to play in implementation of the Paris Agreement by mobilizing financial flows to deliver adaptation and climate resilience.

For media enquiries and a copy of the embargoed report, please contact Mustafa Chaudhry on Mustafa.chaudhry@un.org

Download “Charting a New Climate” here.

Excerpts from Charting a New Climate

  • The Phase II pilot aimed to provide active guidance to banks on some of the pressing challenges in assessing physical risks and opportunities, focused on key methodological issues highlighted in Phase I. It took as its starting point the ‘future directions’ identified in the final chapter of the Phase I report, which identified key challenges and proposed ways forward to begin to address them. It aimed to deepen and improve upon the Phase I methodologies. This Phase II report therefore provides richer technical guidance, and more information on resources available to assess physical risks and opportunities than its Phase I forerunner.
  • Case Study from [Redacted]: Physical risk analytics are not homogenous between vendors even for listed companies, while there are particular challenges in assessing physical risks for SMEs due to a lack of data on those companies. Scenarios are not granular enough and not all the hazards are integrated. Overall, there is still a lot of room for improvement in the information area. Key areas of improvement we would wish to see from physical risk analytical tools include greater flexibility, accuracy and easy management of massive volumes of information (e.g. retail mortgages).
  • Previous correlation studies show that storm surges, wildfires, sea level rise, inland flooding, drought, and other hazards are already impacting financial portfolios. This is because globally significant climate models such as El Niño and the Pacific Decadal Oscillation drive extreme weather, physical risks, and related socio-economic impacts. By discovering opposing associations (such as floods in one region coinciding with droughts in another) it may eventually be possible for portfolio managers to hedge against such physical risks.
  • Physical climate change impacts are often considered as a risk management challenge. What is missing is a recognition of the banking sector’s critical role in the implementation of the Paris Agreement by mobilizing financial flows to deliver adaptation and resilience. It is essential that banks assess and explore the opportunities to provide finance within their markets and to their counterparties. The opportunities framework has been designed to enable banks to explore how they can align their strategic and operational activities with the Paris Agreement and play a major role in the mobilization of private sector finance towards adaptation. This chapter explores several key drivers which will influence the demand for finance from counterparties as they respond the impacts of a changing climate.
  • Physical risk correlation analysis of FI portfolios – was developed as banks recognized the value of having a deeper understanding of observed relationships between loan performance metrics and climate-related events. Some banks have reported that borrowers are already being affected by climate and weather events, and these effects provide early signals of a changing climate, and empirical evidence which may help to calibrate forward-looking physical climate risk assessments. The module provided a step-by-step process for banks to undertake correlation analysis with a worked example using actual property values for an anonymized coastal city and its neighborhoods in the US. The results revealed neighborhoods and types of house experiencing ‘climate gentrification’ – a term used to describe increases in real estate values in neighborhoods that are more resilient to climate-related threats. The module also summarized recent developments in scientific research on correlation analysis and more sophisticated statistical techniques, based on a review of more than 50 studies investigating flood, drought and wildfire risks within the real estate and agriculture sectors.

Quotes

The Working Group

The Working Group includes the following thirty-nine banks: ABN-AMRO, ABSA, Access Bank, Bank of Ireland, Barclays, BMO, Bradesco, Caixa Bank, CIBC, CIMB, Citibanamex, Credit Suisse, Danske Bank, Deutsche Bank, DNB, EBRD, FirstRand, ING, Intesa Sanpaolo, Itau, KBC, Lloyds, Mizuho, MUFG, NAB, Nat West, Nedbank, NIB, Nomura, Nordea, Rabobank, Santander, Scotia Bank, Shinhan, Standard Bank, Standard Chartered, TD Bank, TSKB and UBS to develop a blueprint for assessing the climate-related physical risks and opportunities for banks’ corporate credit portfolios.

___________________________________________________________________________

About

Acclimatise

Acclimatise is a specialist advisory and analytics company providing world-class expertise in climate change adaptation and risk management. Founded in 2004, their mission is to help clients understand and adapt to climate risk and take advantage of the emerging opportunities that climate change will bring. With offices in the UK, US, India and mainland Europe, Acclimatise has worked in over 60 countries worldwide. Working with financial institutions, national and local governments, multilateral organisations, and major corporations, Acclimatise has been at the forefront of climate change adaptation for over a decade.

UN Environment Programme Finance Initiative (UNEP FI)

UNEP FI is a partnership between UNEP and the global financial sector to mobilize private sector finance for sustainable development. UNEP FI works with more than 300 members – banks, insurers, and investors – and over 100 supporting institutions – to help create a financial sector that serves people and planet while delivering positive impacts. UNEP FI aims to inspire, inform and enable financial institutions to improve people’s quality of life without compromising that of future generations. By leveraging the UN’s role, UNEP FI accelerates sustainable finance.


[1] While there are many portals providing data on projected future incremental changes in temperature and precipitation, the Phase I pilot identified a lack of data on future changes in extreme events.