Caribbean Community to create world’s first climate resilient region

Caribbean Community to create world’s first climate resilient region

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Just before the end of 2017, chairman of the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), Haiti’s president Jovenel Moïse announced that in 2018 the group is moving towards the creation of the world’s first climate resilient region.

After hurricanes Irma and Maria left widespread devastation in the region, the Caribbean is now in the process of rebuilding and they want to do so in a resilient way. Moïse said “the absolute necessity to create a climate smart region is clear given the effects of climate change, which have brought us droughts, mega hurricanes, heavy floods and unusual weather patterns, all of which adversely affect our development.”

CARICOM’s resilience building efforts will be implemented against the backdrop of its Caribbean Community’s Strategic Plan for 2015-19 period, which also includes making the most out of the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). CSME, Moïse explained, remains the “best vehicle for creating the economic resilience [the region needs].”

The chairman emphasised “The solidity and efficiency of that partnership will be tested as never before given the magnitude of the rebuilding task ahead of us. We have to rebuild with resilience now to forestall damage in the future, in other words, to build back better.”

Watch Jovenel Moïse’s message below:

Cover photo by Augustin de Montesquiou on Unsplash: Streetscaep of Havana, Cuba.
2017: The United States’ Year of Billion Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters

2017: The United States’ Year of Billion Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters

By Georgina Wade

It turns out that 2017 was uniquely disastrous to the United States in more ways than one with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) attributing a cumulative damage amount of $306.2 billion to 16 separate disaster events, a record previously held in 2005.

Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria combined with 2017’s extreme wildfires make up four of the 16 weather and climate disasters with losses exceeding $1 billion each. Overall, these events resulted in the deaths of 362 people and had significant economic effects on the areas impacted.

Source: NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI)

Since 1980, the U.S. has sustained 219 billion-dollar climate-related disasters with cumulative costs exceeding $1.5 trillion dollars. From 1980-2016, the annual average number of billion-dollar events was 5.8 whereas the most recent five years (2013-2017) saw an annual average of 11.6 events.

With $135 billion expected in insured losses, 2017 is also a costly year for the insurance industry, giving reinsurance companies such as MunichRe a primary role in helping people and communities rebuild in the wake of natural catastrophes.

Source: Munich Re NatCatSERVICE

Acting as an insurer for insurance companies, MunichRe utilises NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI) to understand the probability of these natural disasters and sell premiums to insurance companies in exchange for coverage.

As insurance companies are often required by law to buy reinsurance because they lack the capital resources to pay out if there is a major disaster, companies like MunichRe have a unique incentive to understand and predict these trends.

Additionally, this understanding has resulted in reinsurers being at the forefront of warning businesses and the public about the rise in extreme weather events due to climate change.

A MunichRe release in September 2010 noted it had analysed its catastrophe database, “the most comprehensive of its kind in the world” and concluded, “the only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change.

NOAA researcher Adam B. Smith agrees, citing climate change as a primary culprit in the frequency of these severe weather and climate events.

“Climate change is playing an increasing role in the increasing frequency of some types of extreme weather that lead to billion-dollar disasters,” Smith wrote in a blog post. “Most notably the rise in vulnerability to drought, lengthening wildfire seasons and the potential for extremely heavy rainfall and inland flooding events are most acutely related to the influence of climate change.”

Cover photo by Marcus Kauffman on Unsplash: Big Fall Creek Road, Lowell, United States, during the Jones Fire in August 2017.

Learn more about the role of NOAA’s NCEI data by clicking here and watching our video below:

Snow on the Sahara

Snow on the Sahara

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

In 1997 Indonesian pop star Anggun sang that she’d “pray the skies above for snow to fall on the Sahara.” This week, 21 years after Anggun’s pop hit, the Algerian town of Ain Sefra experienced snowfall of up to 40cm deep. Rising temperatures on the following day meant the rare white sprinkle melted away quickly, but it left quite an impression.

However unlikely snow in a hot desert seems, it is not unheard of in Ain Sefra which lies between the Atlas Mountains and the Sahara’s northern edge. Snowfall in the Algerian town known as “The Gateway to the Desert” was also recorded in December 2016 and February 1979.

As Dr Mike Kaplan, professor in atmospheric science at the Desert Research Institute in Nevada, explains “during the winter, we usually see cold air very far north, and warm air very far south. But sometimes the buildup of warm air in the south and cold air in the north gets so extreme that the pattern will break down.” This leads to the strange weather we have been seeing lately which included for example Jacksonville, Florida, having colder temperatures than Anchorage, Alaska.

Cover photo by NASA Earth Observatory/Joshua Stevens produced using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey and topographic data from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission (SRTM).
2017: the year in extreme weather

2017: the year in extreme weather

By Andrew King, University of Melbourne

Overall 2017 will be the warmest non-El Niño year on record globally, and over the past 12 months we have seen plenty of extreme weather, both here in Australia and across the world. Here I’ll round up some of this year’s wild weather, and look forward to 2018 to see what’s around the corner.

Drought and flooding rains… again

It feels as if Australia has had all manner of extreme weather events in 2017. We had severe heat at both the start and end of the year. Casting our minds back to last summer, both Sydney and Brisbane experienced their hottest summers on record, while parts of inland New South Wales and Queensland endured extended periods of very high temperatures.

More recently Australia had an unusually dry June and its warmest winter daytime temperatures on record. The record winter warmth was made substantially more likely by human-caused climate change.

The end of the year brought more than its fair share of extreme weather, especially in the southeast. Tasmania had by far its warmest November on record, beating the previous statewide record by more than half a degree. Melbourne had a topsy-turvy November with temperatures not hitting the 20℃ mark until the 9th, but a record 12 days above 30℃ after that.

November was rounded off by warnings for very severe weather that was forecast to strike Victoria. Melbourne missed the worst of the rains, although it still had a very wet weekend on December 2-3. Meanwhile, northern parts of the state were deluged, with many places recording two or three times the December average rainfall in just a couple of days.

Hurricane after hurricane after hurricane…

Elsewhere in the world there was plenty more headline-worthy weather. The Atlantic Ocean had a particularly active hurricane season, with several intense systems. Hurricane Harvey struck Texas and its slow trajectory resulted in record-breaking rainfall over Houston and neighbouring areas.

Then Hurricanes Irma and Maria, both of which reached the strongest Category 5 status, brought severe weather to the Caribbean and southeastern United States just a couple of weeks apart. Island nations and territories in the region are still recovering from the devastation.

Around the same time, the Indian subcontinent experienced a particularly wet monsoon season. Flooding in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal killed more than 1,000 people and affected tens of millions more. Other parts of the world experienced their own severe weather events. Whether it was summer heat in Europe or wildfires in California, 2017 dished up plenty of extremes.

In many cases, especially for heat extremes, we can rapidly identify a human influence and show that climate change is increasing the frequency and intensity of such events. For other weather types, like the very active hurricane season and other extreme rain or drought events, it is harder (but not always impossible) to work out whether it bears the fingerprint of climate change.

What’s in store for 2018?

The main problem when trying to offer an outlook is that extreme weather is hard to predict, even on the scale of days or weeks in advance, let alone months.

For Australia, with a weak La Niña in the Pacific, there are few clear indications of what the rest of the summer’s weather will bring. There is a suggestion that we can expect a slightly wetter than average start to the year in parts of the southeast, along with warmer than average conditions for Victoria and Tasmania. Beyond that it is anyone’s guess.The La Niña is also likely to mean that 2018 won’t be a record hot year for the globe. But it’s a safe bet that despite the La Niña, 2018 will still end up among the warmest years on record, alongside every other year this century. Rising global average temperatures, along with our understanding of the effect of greenhouse gas emissions, are one of our clearest lines of evidence for human-caused climate change.

The ConversationSo it’s hard to say much about what extreme weather we’ll experience in 2018, other than to say that there’s likely to be plenty more weather news to wrap up in a year’s time.

Andrew King, Climate Extremes Research Fellow, University of Melbourne. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cover animation by NOAA (public domain): A Rainbow Infrared graphic of Hurricane Maria from 05:45 UTC to 12:45 UTC 20 September 2017 from sensors on the GOES Floater satellite.
Texas faces more Harvey-sized hurricanes

Texas faces more Harvey-sized hurricanes

By Tim Radford

Hurricane Harvey caused devastation when it hit Houston. The likelihood of further  Harvey-sized hurricanes hitting Texas is rising. The probability that some city in the US state of Texas will be hit again by Harvey-sized hurricanes, rainstorms that will dump half a metre of water in a short space of time, has increased sixfold in this century and will have increased 18-fold by 2100, thanks to climate change driven by global warming.

In the late summer of 2017, Hurricane Harvey dropped 65 cms of water on the city of Houston in Texas. It was the start of the largest natural disaster in the US since Hurricane Katrina pounded New Orleans in 2005. Harvey claimed an estimated 70 lives, and created more than $150 billion in damage.

Kerry Emanuel, a meteorologist and professor of atmospheric science at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, asked a simple question: how likely is it that hurricane-induced flooding of such magnitude could happen again?

He reports in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that he looked again at the probabilities. Since 1899, only 11 US hurricanes have brought with them rainfalls that measured more than 65 cms. Until Harvey, the most recent had been a hurricane called Patricia which dumped more than 50 cms in some parts of Texas.

For Texas alone, from 1981 to 2000, the chance of an event on the scale of Harvey or Patricia was 1%: that is, one chance in a hundred during any one year, with a high likelihood of such an event once every 100 years.

“We are seeing for Texas an event whose annual probability was 1% at the end of last century, and it might be 18% by the end of this century. That’s a huge increase”

Harvey would once have counted as the storm of the century, and the chance of it hitting Houston made it an even more improbable event. Statistically, such a thing should happen once in 2,000 years.

But the past, Professor Emanuel argues, is no longer a good guide to the future. “When you take a very, very rare, extreme rainfall event like Hurricane Harvey, and you shift the distribution of rain toward heavier amounts because of climate change, you get really big changes in the probability of those rare events,” he said. “People have to understand that damage is usually caused by extreme events.”

He is not the only researcher to have looked at the statistics with alarm. More than one study has found that the Atlantic coast of the US could face harder and more frequent battering as global temperatures creep up in response to ever-increasing use of fossil fuels that leave ever-growing ratios of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

One group has warned that coastal storms and floods could create new millions of US climate refugees. The problem is not uniquely an American one: by the century’s end, coastal flooding could be costing the nations of the world $100 trillion a year, as sea levels rise and extreme events such as tropical cyclones and storm surges become more intense, and more frequent.

Odds on calamity

Some studies have concentrated on conditions for particular coastal cities such as Charleston or Seattle, where the once-in-500-year floods could in the next century happen 273 times more often.

Studies like these may sound alarmist: in fact, they have a simple, practical purpose. City authorities need to know if the odds of calamity are on the increase.

“Suppose you’re the mayor of Houston, and you’ve just had a terrible disaster that cost you an unbelievable fortune, and you’re going to try over the next few years to put things back in order in your city. Should you be putting in a more advanced storm-sewer system that may cost billions of dollars, or not?

“The answer to that question depends upon whether you think Harvey was a one-off – very unlikely to happen any time in the next 100 years – or whether it may be more common than you thought,” Professor Emanuel said.

“We are seeing for Texas an event whose annual probability was 1% at the end of last century, and it might be 18% by the end of this century. That’s a huge increase in the probability of that event. So, people had better plan for that.”

This article was originally published on Climate News Network and is shared under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article by clicking here.

Cover photo by US Department of Defense (public domain): Army Sgt. Daniel Peters speaks with a family after assisting a local to safety in Orange, Texas, Sept. 3, 2017.
Acclimatise leads new NCEI study on the US Drought Monitor and its applications to the livestock sector

Acclimatise leads new NCEI study on the US Drought Monitor and its applications to the livestock sector

By India Young

The U.S. livestock industry generates more than $100 billion in annual revenues and is the world’s largest producer of beef for domestic consumption and export. Ranching depends on viable pasture and rangeland for grazing and as such, growers and ranchers must understand current drought conditions to make timely, critical decisions regarding land management. Cattle ranchers and industry stakeholders depend on the US Drought Monitor (USDM) maps and narratives to assess drought severity and make informed management decisions. The USDM is produced in consortium with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), the National Drought Mitigation Center and the US Department of Agriculture.

Having access to the USDM to monitor drought in near-real time is important to ranchers as well as a range of other industry stakeholders like livestock prospectors and traders, landowners, livestock associations, and federal and state agencies administering drought-relief. Drought poses serious concerns to livestock ranchers who depend on access to good quality pastures for livestock production. In recognition of this, several ranchers interviewed for this study highlight the importance of preserving the integrity of the land. “When we first started, our priorities were production of the livestock,” says Jim Faulstich, owner and operator of Daybreak Ranch in Highmore, South Dakota. “We soon learned that shouldn’t be where our top priority is. We switched to natural resources.”

Drought impacts the quality of pasture lands and the quality and quantity of forage availability for livestock. During drought ranchers must make management decisions such as whether to purchase additional feed, or sell of a part of their herd that they cannot afford to sustain. In order to avoid these outcomes ranchers create drought management plans, where certain actions are trigged by the persistence of drought. Rancher defer to the USDM’s drought severity rankings in order to make these time-sensitive decisions. For example, if drought conditions are persisting a rancher may decide to liquidate herds sooner than later. Further, ranchers also monitor the USDM’s drought designations to determine whether they will be eligible for relief under a federally sponsored disaster relief program.

NCEI, one of the USDM co-producing agencies, supports the USDM through the contribution of meteorological inputs and rotating authorship. The convergence of knowledge approach, whereby the USDM is produced through merging scientific inputs with on-the-ground observations, by rotating authors from participating agencies, makes this product robust and widely useful to livestock producers and federal agencies alike.

Acclimatise, in partnership with Global Science & Technology Inc., conducted dozens of interviews to identify how ranchers, and federal agencies that support drought relief efforts, use the USDM for decision-making. These findings have been compiled into a report, video and infographic:

Download the report by clicking here.

Watch the video:

Download the infographic by clicking on the image below:

Click here to visit NCEI’s website and learn more about the US Drought Monitor.

Cover photo by Skeeze/Pixabay (public domain).
2017 was warmest non-El Niño year in history

2017 was warmest non-El Niño year in history

By Georgina Wade

2017 was the year of individual extreme climate events with its raging wildfires, turbulent hurricane season and widespread monsoon flooding. And the closure of the year has brought yet another unprecedented climate record with 2017 being the second-hottest year on record and the hottest non-El Niño year in history according to NASA data.

In fact, 2017 holds this record by a significant margin by being .17 degrees hotter than the previous record set in 2014. Remarkably, 2017 was also hotter than 2015, which at the time was by far the hottest year on record thanks in part to a strong El Niño event that year.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), one of the services provided through the European Commission’s Earth observation programme Copernicus, reported that global temperatures averaged 14.7 degrees Celsius – 1.2 °C above pre-industrial times. Additionally, C3S found that 2017 was just 0.1 °C cooler than 2016, and 0.5 °C warmers than the 1981-2010 period.

This has climate scientists worried with many citing this phenomenon as anything but normal. Professor of thermal sciences John Abraham believes this outcome is a sign that the underlying global warming trend is stronger than ever.

“The fact is that without global warming, “all the natural influences should have made the year cooler than normal; not hotter than normal,” he said. “The fact we continue to see records break regardless of the natural conditions means that we humans have over-ridden the natural cycle.”

Cover photo by Manki Kim on Unsplash
Creating climate resilient landscapes in Guatemala

Creating climate resilient landscapes in Guatemala

By UNDP Adaptation

Guatemala faces many hazards related to climate variability and climate change. Projections and scenarios indicate increases in temperature, decreases in total mean precipitation, increases in the frequency of extreme precipitation events, as well as in the frequency and intensity of extreme climatic events.

The Productive Landscapes Resilient to Climate Change and Strengthened Socioeconomic Networks in Guatemala project aims to increase climate resilience in productive landscapes and socio-economic systems in pilot municipalities that are threatened by climate change and climatic variability impacts, in particular hydro-meteorological events that are increasing in frequency and intensity. It will achieve this through a suite of key outcomes that range from enhancing institutional capabilities, supporting more resilient local economies, and increasing communities’ adaptive capacity.

The initiative is supported through a grant from the Adaptation Fund (AF), and executed in Guatemala by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources (MARN) with the support of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) as the implementing agency.

Watch the video to learn more about the project:

Visit the project website by clicking here.

Cover photo by Albert Dezetter/Pixabay: San Antonio on the shores of lake Atitlán, Guatemala.
What is so explosive about the ‘bomb cyclone’ heading towards the US East Coast?

What is so explosive about the ‘bomb cyclone’ heading towards the US East Coast?

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

As it makes its way towards the US east coast, Winter storm Grayson, a ‘bomb cyclone’, is making eye-catching headlines these days. But, as WIRED says “bomb cyclone is just a name–and unlike sharknado, it’s not a literal one”.

It is, however, a term that describes a very real meteorological phenomenon. According to NOAA, “bombogenesis” is “a popular term used by meteorologists, [it] occurs when a midlatitude cyclone rapidly intensifies, dropping at least 24 millibars over 24 hours” and this creates the much-talked-about bomb cyclone which can lead to hazardous conditions.

While bomb cyclones aren’t a rare occurence, Grayson is quite exceptional. A huge subzero air mass dipped down from the Arctic just over a week ago leading to freezing temperatures in large parts of the US. On the other hand, there is a warm conveyor belt of tropical moisture travelling up the Atlantic coast. These extreme temperature differences lead to differences in pressure, as it drops air is sucked in. The faster the drop, the faster the air moves creating a very strong winter storm.

Models show Grayson’s pressure dropping below 960 millibars, which is exceptionally low and will make it very intense. Jeff Masters, Director of Meteorology at Weather Underground, states “this is going to be an unusually intense one, and it’s going to bring a lot of impacts along the coast. Particularly, I’m a little concerned about coastal flooding south of Boston, along some of the shores there. We’re expecting major coastal flooding with storm surge of two and a half to three feet [there].” The storm could lead to winds gusting up to 60 miles per hour (~95 km/h) along large parts of the US east coast, this could lead to widespread power outages. Disruptions to air travel hubs are also expected.

The storm has already hit Florida, Georgia, Virginia, and the Carolinas, states unaccustomed to severe winter conditions, with snow and rain. The National Weather Service has issued warnings for Thursday and Friday saying blizzard conditions, heavy snowfall, strong winds, and minor to major coastal flooding are likely to impact the Mid-Atlantic Coast northward through New England stating “hazardous conditions are imminent”


Developments in attribution science may lead to more climate change litigation

Developments in attribution science may lead to more climate change litigation

By Georgina Wade 

Scientific advancements in extreme weather event attribution could have legal implications for decision-makers with a duty to manage foreseeable harm and plan for the future.  

A report by ClientEarth warns that governments and business may be increasingly at risk of litigation for failing to prevent foreseeable climate-related harm to people and infrastructure. As cutting-edge climate science improves, event attribution studies are now able to quantify the link between human activity and extreme weather events.  

For many legal systems, having this ability to foresee damage is a key requirement in establishing a duty of care. And with shifts in climate politics and the absence of enforceable commitments from government, courts are playing an increasing role in apportioning responsibility for loss and damage resulting from climate change 

Lead authors of the report Sophie Marjanac, Lindene Patton, and James Thornton believe this breakthrough will only galvanise future climate change litigation 

“We expect that evidence from attribution science will catalyse future climate change litigation,” they said. “Claims are likely to arise when actors fail to share or disclose relevant knowledge or fail to take adaptation actions that would have protected those to who they owed a duty of care.   

2017 global trends point to over 1,200 climate change or climate change-relevant laws worldwide, a twentyfold increase over 20 years. Although a vast majority of these cases are within the United States, a United Nations report notes that legal action is starting to emanate from all corners of the world.  

And some of these cases have been pivotal in enacting climate change mitigation and adaptation efforts, such as a 2007 case where various states and cities demanded the US Environmental Protection Agency regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. In separate cases, the Urgenda Foundation joined with several hundred Dutch citizens to sue the government over its decision to lower its greenhouse gas reduction target while a court in Pakistan ruled in favour of a farmer who sued the national government for failure to carry out the 2012 National Climate Policy and Framework 

Executive Director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Michael Burger believes legal action will prove significant in pushing the countries closer to their agreed target of avoiding global warming of 2 degrees Celsius or more.  

“Legal action will be used to stave off the worst aspects of climate change,” he said. “Litigation will be absolutely essential in instigating action in the US and elsewhere, and it will continue to do so.”

Cover photo by Waugsberg/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0): Group of statues by Balthasar Schmitt (1858–1942) comprising Justitia flanked by Innocence (left) and Vice (right) on top of the southern gable of the Palace of Justice, Munich, Germany.