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Coastal flooding in Europe ‘could cost up to €1 trillion per year’ by 2100

Coastal flooding in Europe ‘could cost up to €1 trillion per year’ by 2100

By Jocelyn Timperley, Carbon Brief

The economic damage from coastal flooding in Europe could reach almost €1 trillion per year by 2100 without new investment in adaptation to climate change, a new study finds.

The research looks at how rising sea levels and continued socioeconomic development will affect future coastal flood risk in 24 European countries.

In contrast to the past century, the main reason behind rising loses from coastal flooding will be global warming, rather than socioeconomic changes, the lead author tells Carbon Brief. The acceleration of loss is also unprecedented, he adds.

The UK would be the worst hit by far, the study finds, seeing up to €236bn in annual damages and 1.1 million people exposed to coastal flooding by 2100, if no upgrades are made to coastal protection.

Coastal damage

Europe’s coastline stretches to more than 100,000km. Many of its coastal zones are highly populated and developed.

This leaves it vulnerable to increased coastal flooding due to extreme sea levels. These arise from a combination of sea level rise, tides, and storm surges and waves due to cyclones.

Future damages due to coastal flooding will also be highly dependent on socioeconomic changes, which will impact the number of people moving to the coast and the extent of development.

The new study, published in Nature Climate Change, aims to combine modelling of both extreme sea levels and socioeconomic development to show what damages could look like this century without further adaptation efforts.

It projects that the economic damages from these extreme events will increase from €1.25bn per year today to between €93bn and €961bn per year by 2100, depending on how socioeconomic trends play out over the rest of this century. This is a 75- to 770-fold increase on today’s levels.

Three socioeconomic scenarios are considered, as set out below. (Carbon Brief recently published an explainer about these new scenarios, which are known as “Shared Socioeconomic Pathways” or SSPs.)

  • “Sustainability” (SSP1), where the world shifts gradually towards sustainability, with emphasis on more inclusive development that respects environmental boundaries. This is combined with a future emissions scenario known as RCP4.5, whereby greenhouse gas emissions level off by 2050 and global temperatures rise by 2-3C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. Expected annual damages from coastal flooding hit €156bn by 2100, the study finds.
  • “Fragmented world” (SSP3), where countries focus on achieving energy and food security goals within their own regions at the expense of broader-based development. This is combined with RCP8.5, a high emission and low climate policy scenario where global temperatures reach around 4-6C above pre-industrial levels by 2100. Expected annual damages from coastal flooding reach €93bn by 2100, the study finds.
  • “Fossil fuel-based development” (SSP5), where a push for economic and social development is seen alongside the exploitation of abundant fossil fuel resources. This is again combined with the RCP8.5 high emissions scenario. Expected annual damages from coastal flooding reach €961bn by 2100, the study finds.

The graph below shows how these annual damages for the different scenarios pan out across different European countries by 2100.

The graph below shows how these annual damages for the different scenarios pan out across different European countries by 2100.

Expected median annual damage from coastal flooding for 24 European countries by 2100. The scenarios included are: RCP4.5-SSP1 (“Sustainability”), RCP8.5-SSP3 (“Fragmented world”), and RCP8.5-SSP5 (“Fossil fuel based development”). Source: Vousdoukas et al. (2018). Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

It is worth noting that while emissions are the same for the “fragmented world” and “fossil-based development” scenarios, lower development and urbanisation leads to less economic exposure to extreme sea levels.

In all scenarios, the UK is the worst hit in absolute economic terms, followed by France and Norway. The UK – which today accounts for around a third of damages from coastal flooding – accounts for 22-28% of damages in Europe by 2100.

Dr Michalis Vousdoukas, an oceanographer at the European Joint Research Centre in Ispra, Italy, and lead author of the paper, tells Carbon Brief the high expected damages in the UK are due to its exposure to the oceanic waves of the North Atlantic. This is one of the most energetic areas in the world, he says, leading to more intense weather conditions than in Mediterranean countries, for example.

Dr Andra Garner, a postdoctoral fellow in sea-level research at Rutgers University in New Jersey, who was not involved with the research, says the results of the paper are “very telling”, although emphasises that any modelling study comes with caveats. She tells Carbon Brief:

“The results here indicate that, although socioeconomic choices can be important, rising sea levels ultimately dominate future flood risk in many regions, suggesting the need for swift action towards increasing adaptation measures and resilience planning in coastal communities.”

This is especially important, adds Garner, since the ocean responds slowly to a warming climate, which means that sea level rise impacts are likely to become even more severe beyond the end of the century.

Nearer-term damage

The authors also looked at damages from coastal flooding in the shorter term. By mid-century, the study shows these would reach €21bn, €13bn and €39bn for, respectively, the “sustainability”, “fragmented world” and “fossil fuel-based development” scenarios. This is a 10- to 32-fold increase compared to the annual damage in 2000.

The breakdown of these costs among different countries by 2050 is shown in the chart below. In all scenarios, the UK is again the most affected in absolute terms, followed by France and Italy.

Expected median annual damage from coastal flooding for 24 European countries by 2050. The scenarios included are: RCP4.5-SSP1 (“Sustainability”), RCP8.5-SSP3 (“Fragmented world”), and RCP8.5-SSP5 (“Fossil fuel based development”). Source: Vousdoukas et al. (2018). Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

According to the study, flood defences will need to be installed or reinforced to withstand increases in extreme sea levels of around 0.5m by 2050, and 1-2.5m by 2100, depending on the country.

GDP ratio

The researchers also calculate the expected annual damages from European coastal flooding as a share of combined total gross domestic product (GDP).

Depending on the scenario, they find that coastal flooding damages will account for 0.06-0.09% of Europe’s GDP by 2050. This rises to 0.29-0.86% of GDP by 2100. This is up from current average damage from coastal flooding in Europe today of around 0.01% of GDP.

Some countries are particularly hard hit, when viewed in this way. The study finds Norway would see damages equal to between 1.7-5.9% of its GDP, depending on the scenario, by 2100. Damages in Cyprus would equal 1.7-8.3% of its GDP and in Ireland it would be 1.8-4.9% of GDP.

A key point here is that river flooding in Europe is currently much more damaging than coastal flooding in GDP terms, the study says, with an average €6bn in annual damages, equivalent to around 0.04% of GDP.  This will change, according to the study, with flood risk increasingly dominated by coastal flood risk from 2050 onwards, unless flood-protection standards are upgraded. Vousdoukas tells Carbon Brief:

“In the future, the coastal flooding becomes four times more important than river flooding, because of the accelerating factor which is sea level rise basically. Coastal flooding will change so much, there will be so higher damages, that it will become more important. Then there needs to be spending there for protection.”

People affected

As well as looking at economic damages, the new study projects the number of people who will be affected by coastal flooding. This depends not only on the extent of increase in extreme events, but also how many are living in coastal zones. Therefore, as for economic damages, socioeconomic development will have a large impact alongside climate change.

The study finds the annual number of people in Europe exposed to flooding will rise from 102,000 today to between 530,000 and 740,000 by 2050 (again, in the absence of further adaptation measures). By 2100, 1.5 million Europeans would be affected by coastal flooding in the “fragmented world” scenario, the study finds, and 3.7 million in the “fossil fuel-based development” scenario.

The three graphs below show the projected number of people affected in each country for the three scenarios in 2100. Again, the UK is by far the most impacted across all three scenarios.

Expected median number of people affected by coastal flooding per year in 24 European countries in 2100. The scenarios included are: RCP4.5-SSP1 (“Sustainability”), RCP8.5-SSP3 (“Fragmented world”), and RCP8.5-SSP5 (“Fossil fuel-based development”). Source: Vousdoukas et al. (2018). Chart by Carbon Brief using Highcharts.

High uncertainty

It is important to remember that the projections in the study come with a very high uncertainty, Vousdoukas stresses.

The chart below shows the projected change of coastal flood impacts up to 2100 for the three scenarios. The dotted line show the median projections, as described above, while the coloured areas show the large potential range in the results.

Evolution of coastal flood impacts aggregated at European level for 24 countries under three socioeconomic scenarios: (a) shows the projected changes in expected annual damages and (b) the expected annual number of people exposed due to coastal flooding. The lines are the ensemble median projections and the coloured areas show the 5-95% quantile range confidence interval. Source: Vousdoukas et al. (2018)

Commenting on the paper, Dr Diego Rybski, deputy head of climate change and development group at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research tells Carbon Brief the paper “significantly contributes” to the understanding of coastal flood risk and sea level rise in Europe. However, he adds that such assessments of coastal flood risk are affected by further large uncertainties.

For example, he says, it is hard to know when the inundations are going to take place because coastal flood are very rare. The impact of a once-in-100-year event in the first half of the century could be very different than if it occured in the second half of the century. It is also possible that there is no such event, or more than one, during a given 100 years.


Vousdoukas, M, I. et al. (2018) Climatic and socioeconomic controls of future coastal flood risk in Europe, Nature Climate Change, . doi:10.1038/s41558-018-0260-4

This article originally appeared on Carbon Brief and is shared under a Creative Commons license. Read the original by clicking here.

Cover photo by grumpylumixuser/Wikimedia (CC BY 3.0): Flooding on Piazza San Marco, Venice, Italy.
Spiraling wildfire fighting costs are largely beyond the Forest Service’s control

Spiraling wildfire fighting costs are largely beyond the Forest Service’s control

By Cassandra Moseley, University of Oregon

Just six months after the devastating Thomas Fire – the largest blaze in California’s history – was fully contained, the 2018 fire season is well under way. As of mid-July, large wildfires had already burned over 1 million acres in a dozen states. Through October, the National Interagency Fire Center predicts above-average wildfire activity in many regions, including the Northwest, Interior West and California.

Rising fire suppression costs over the past three decades have nearly destroyed the U.S. Forest Service’s budget. Overall funding for the agency, which does most federal firefighting, has been flat for decades, while fire suppression costs have grown dramatically.

Earlier this year Congress passed a “fire funding fix” that changes the way in which the federal government will pay for large fires during expensive fire seasons. This is vital for helping to restore the Forest Service budget. But the funding fix doesn’t affect the factors that drive costs, such as climate trends and more people living in fire prone landscapes.

The cost of managing wildfires began to rise in the late 1990s and increased significantly after fiscal year 2000. CRS

More burn days, more fuel

Why are costs increasing so dramatically? Many factors have come together to create a perfect storm. Climate change, past forest and fire management practices, housing development, increased focus on community protection and the professionalization of wildfire management are all driving up costs.

Fire seasons are growing longer in the United States and worldwide. According to the Forest Service, climate change has expanded the wildfire season by an average of 78 days per year since 1970. Agencies need to keep seasonal employees on their payrolls longer and have contractors standing by earlier and available to work later in the year. All of this adds to costs, even in low fire years.

In many parts of the wildfire-prone West, decades of fire suppression combined with historic logging patterns have created small, dense forest stands that are more vulnerable to large wildfires. In fact, many areas have fire deficits – significantly less fire than we would expect given current climatic and forest conditions. Fire suppression in these areas only delays the inevitable. When fires do get away from firefighters, they are more severe because of the accumulation of small trees and brush.

Blue areas on this map experienced fire deficits (less area burned than expected) between 1994 and 2012. Red areas had fire surpluses (more area burned than expected), while yellow areas were roughly normal. Parks et al., 2015, https://doi.org/10.1890/ES15-00294.1, CC BY

Protecting both communities and forests

In recent decades, development has pushed into areas with fire-prone ecosystems – the wildland-urban interface. In response, the Forest Service has shifted its priorities from protecting timber resources to trying to prevent fire from reaching houses and other physical infrastructure.

Fires near communities are fraught with political pressure and complex interactions with state and local fire and public safety agencies. They create enormous pressure on the Forest Service to do whatever is possible to suppress fires, which can drive up costs. There is considerable pressure to use air tankers and helicopters, although these resources are expensive and only effective in a limited number of circumstances.

As it started to prioritize protecting communities in the late 1980s, the Forest Service also ended its policy of fully suppressing all wildfires. Now fires are managed using a multiplicity of objectives and tactics, ranging from full suppression to allowing fires to grow larger so long as they stay within desired ranges.

This shift requires more and better-trained personnel and more interagency coordination. It also means letting some fires grow bigger, which requires personnel to monitor the blazes even when they stay within acceptable limits. Moving away from full suppression and increasing prescribed fire is controversial, but many scientists believe it will produce long-term ecological, public safety and financial benefits.

Suburban and exurban development has pushed into many fire-prone wild areas. USFS, CC BY-ND

Professionalizing wildfire response

As fire seasons lengthened and staffing for the national forest system declined, the Forest Service was less and less able to use national forest as a militia whose regular jobs could be set aside for brief periods for firefighting. Instead, it started to hire staff dedicated exclusively to wildfire management and use private-sector contractors for fire suppression.

There is little research on the costs of this transition, but hiring more dedicated professional fire staffers and a large contractor pool is probably more expensive than the Forest Service’s earlier model. However, as the agency’s workforce shrank by 20,000 between 1980 and the early 2010s and fire seasons expanded, it had little choice but to transform its fire organization.

In six of the past 10 years, wildfire activities have consumes at least half of the U.S. Forest Service’s annual budget. CRS

Few opportunities for cost control

Many of these cost drivers are out of the Forest Service’s hands. The agency may be able to have some impact on fire behavior in certain settings, with techniques such as hazardous fuels reduction and prescribed fire, but these strategies will further increase costs in the short and medium term.

Another option is rethinking the resources for wildfire response. While there are almost certainly savings to be had, capturing these savings will require changes in how society views wildfire, and political courage on the part of the Forest Service to not use expensive resources on high-profile wildfires when they may not be effective.

Even if these approaches work, they will likely only slow the rate of increase in costs. Climate change, the fire deficit on many western lands and development in the wildland-urban interface ensure that continued cost increases are baked into the system for decades to come.

The ConversationWildfire fighting costs now consume more than half of the agency’s budget, reducing funds for national forest management, research and development, and support for state and private forestry. Even if it doesn’t lower costs, the fire funding fix is vital because it will help create space in the Forest Service budget to fund the very activities that are needed to address the growing problem of wildfire.


Cassandra Moseley, Associate Vice President for Research and Research Professor , University of Oregon

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cover photo by USFS/Flickr (CC BY 2.0): Air tanker drops fire retardant on the Willow Fire near North Fork, CA that began on Jul. 25, 2015 and has consumed an estimated 5,702 acres.
UK heatwave: NHS records over 2 million people in emergency care in July 2018

UK heatwave: NHS records over 2 million people in emergency care in July 2018

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

The NHS England reported that during the July 2018 heatwave a total of 2.176 million people visited a hospital A&E unit, walk-in centre, or urgent treatment centre putting emergency departments under lots of pressure to cope with the influx of patients.

The latest NHS monthly performance figures show that July 2018 was exceptionally busy with 27.1% more patients admitted than in July 2017. It is believed that the heatwave led to an increase in admissions, mostly people with breathing conditions, like asthma, or people who had become dehydrated due to the heat.

The heatwave, however, is not solely to blame. Doctors spoke out to say that while the record temperatures were a key factor in the surge of attendances, missed waiting time targets showed the NHS is understaffed and underfunded. Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, said the figures showed the health service was “running at boiling point all year round.”

Speaking to The Guardian, Dr Taj Hassan, the president of the Royal College of Emergency Medicine, which represents A&E doctors, said “The recent heatwave will have had an impact, but this should not be used to excuse inappropriate resourcing. It should also not come as a surprise that whatever the weather conditions, working in a continually under-resourced and declining system has consequences – all of which are detrimental to our patients.”

He also pointed out that wards and waiting rooms had gotten unbearably hot during the heatwave making longer waiting times hard to cope with and adding to the pressure on staff to deliver safe and effective care.

NHS England made a statement saying that “thanks to hard work of staff 9 in 10 people were seen, treated and admitted or discharged within four hours.”

However, if this summer is a taste of what is to come, it is clear the UK health system will need take decisive measures to adapt to a changing climate. Excessive heat can be detrimental to human health and as temperatures start to rise, so will the number of people who require medical care.

The NHS will have to provide enough resources and staffing in order to cope with the increased demand, especially in summer. Additionally, NHS facilities will need upgrading so that people who come in with heat-related illnesses don’t have to wait in unbearable heat to be seen.


Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.
In-depth: How the UK plans to adapt to climate change

In-depth: How the UK plans to adapt to climate change

By Jocelyn Timperley, Carbon Brief

The UK government published its updated strategy for tackling the impacts of climate change, including higher temperatures, drought and flooding.

The 128-page plan is the second iteration of the UK’s National Adaptation Programme (NAP), which sets out the the government’s approach to dealing with current and future climate change. The first NAP was published in 2013; the new version covers 2018 to 2023.

Adaptation aims to reduce vulnerability to the impacts of climate change that are inevitable due to past and current greenhouse gas emissions. Adaptation policy in the UK is a devolved matter. Therefore, the adaptation plan mainly covers England, as well as some wider UK matters.

In a forward to the new plan, Lord Gardiner of Kimble, an environment minister, said it focuses on actions the government and others will undertake to “address the most urgent risks” and “make the country more resilient to climate change”.

But a second report, released today by MPs who sit on the Environmental Audit Committee (EAC), says the government is still not doing enough in one key area of adaptation: resilience to heatwaves. Released in a week where the UK is experiencing a severe heatwave, EAC’s report warns there will be 7,000 heat-related deaths every year in the UK by 2050 – triple the rate now – if the government does not take more action.

The EAC also published another report this week which is highly relevant to the new adaptation plan. On Tuesday, it delivered its verdict on the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, published in January 2018, which sets out policies to “help the natural world regain and retain good health”.

Tuesday’s EAC report expresses concerns the government is putting too much emphasis on “further consultations and long-term aspirational targets” for the environment, without supporting delivery plans. It recommends the government put the environment plan the plan into law.

In response to these three releases, Carbon Brief takes a look at the UK’s current plans to adapt to climate change – and examines where gaps may remain.

UK climate adaptation: the law

The UK’s legally binding 2008 Climate Change Act (CCA) obliges the government to set out policies to adapt to climate change, in addition to its more widely-known mitigation objectives, which aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Adaptation policies are largely covered by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which is tasked with managing increasing risks in areas such as flooding, drought, heat, sea level rise and extreme weather. Mitigation policy, meanwhile, falls under the responsibility of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), which last year released its “Clean Growth Strategy”, setting out policies aimed at cutting the UK’s emissions.

Under the adaptation section of the CCA, the government is required to publish a risk assessment of the current and predicted impact of climate change every five years. This is based in part on scientific advice given ahead of the risk assessment from the adaptation sub-committee of the Committee on Climate Change (CCC), the government’s official climate advisors.

The government is then required to lay out an adaptation plan “as soon as is reasonably practicable” setting out policies to address the identified risks. This is the 128-page plan that was published last Thursday.

‘Focused’ priorities?

The CCC’s risk assessment, published in July 2016, emphasised that “the impacts of climate change are already being felt in the UK” and highlighted the six current “most urgent” risks.

In short, they are: flooding, heat, drought, natural capital risks, food and pests.

These are highlighted in the CCC’s graphic below. The yellow-to -ed scale shows the relative urgency of each of these risks now and in the future.

Top six areas of inter-related climate change risks for the UK, as identified by the CCC. Source: CCC Risk Assessment 2016

The CCC also gave a series of recommendations to the government on adaptation.

It should set “clear priorities”, the CCC said, with a “core set of priorities and actions that would have the biggest impact”. It also needs to “ensure outcomes are “outcome-focussed, measurable, time-bound and have clear ownership”, as well as include “effective monitoring and evaluation”.

The government says it has sought to follow this advice. A full verdict on this will come from the CCC next year. However, initial responses from the CCC were not entirely positive.

Chris Stark, chief executive of the CCC, said the plan “looks to have made some headway” on some of the CCC’s six key concerns. However, “it appears that there are gaps”, he says, citing overheating, risks to the UK from climate change overseas and affordability of flood insurance as examples. He adds:

“Urgent risks we have previously highlighted are not addressed, so we will press the government to go further to ensure there is a comprehensive plan to improve the UK’s resilience to the effects of climate change.”

Likewise, Kathryn Brown, head of adaptation at the CCC, wrote in a blog post last week that the new plan does not appear to tackle the key climate-related risks facing the UK.

“[T]his looks like only a partial plan,” she wrote. “In my view…on its own, [it] isn’t meeting the goals the government has set itself.” She added:

“The latest programme includes a set of objectives, actions and owners, but it fails to go any further [than the first NAP] when it comes to setting priorities.

“Nor does it set measurable success criteria with timescales; and apart from a column on monitoring and metrics, there is an absence of discussion on monitoring and evaluation, which is even weaker than the first NAP.”

Brown also said that 27 of the 56 risks and opportunities identified by the CCC are missing from the list of actions given in the adaptation plan. Those missing include 16 “urgent risks”, she says.

Others also critiqued the lack of concrete targets. Heather Jones, policy adviser at Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM), tells Carbon Brief she considers the plan “another missed opportunity” to implement a strategic programme for adaptation.

She says:

“It’s another long list of disassociated actions, which are either already in train, or their outcome is not controlled by Defra, which has overall responsibility for production and delivery of the NAP. The targets are also mostly not measurable and, therefore, it will be very difficult to assess progress against them.”

However, some of the plan’s new initiatives were praised, such as a request for some financial regulators to report on climate adaptation. The plan “invites” the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), Financial Reporting Council (FRC) and The Pensions Regulator to produce reports on how they are incorporating climate impacts into their statutory duties and powers.

The adaptation fell short, though, of suggesting mandatory reporting of exposure to climate change risks for large companies and pension funds, as recommended by another recent EAC report and the CCC. The government considers a voluntary reporting process the “most constructive and collaborative approach” for engagement, the plan says.

Overheat

Considering the current heatwave – and increasing focus on its links to climate change – the first question people may ask about the new adaptation plan is how it plans to increase UK’s resilience to heatwaves.

In its 2016 risk assessment, the CCC identified exposure to high temperatures and heatwaves as one of the greatest climate change threats to the UK.

It said the average number of hot days per year has been increasing since the 1960s. Heatwaves like the one in 2003, which led to more than 2,000 excess deaths, are “expected to become the norm in summer by the 2040s”, the CCC added.

Meanwhile, the number of vulnerable people at risk is rising due to the UK’s growing and ageing population. “In combination this means the number of premature heat-related deaths is expected to more than triple by the 2050s,” the CCC said. It estimates that currently 2,000 people die prematurely each year in the UK from heat-related conditions.

The CCC also said that tackling the effects of overheating buildings is a particularly important part of policy to address heatwaves. Delayed policies to ensure buildings are operable in high temperatures will “increase risks and lead to longer-term well-being impacts”.

This is how the government introduces the topic in the new adaptation plan published last week:

“We want to ensure that homes and other buildings are well-insulated for winter, while not overheating in the summer. Achieving this aim is likely to require a number of actions, including changes in construction practices, in occupier behaviour and in greater use of green spaces, including historic parks and gardens, whose role in reducing overheating in urban environments is well documented.”

In the adaptation plan, the government points to the recently updated Heatwave Plan for England, published by Public Health England, which sets out guidance for how the NHS, local authorities and other professionals can reduce the health risks from exposure to heat.

It also highlights strategies already underway in public services. The NHS, for example, already plans to embed adaptation into daily practice by 2023 and has included adaptation as a core part of its mandatory sustainable development management plans (SDMPs) for clinics.

But speaking to BBC Newsnight this week, the CCC’s Kathryn Brown said better adaptation of the UK’s buildings for these hotter temperatures – particularly in homes, schools, hospitals and care homes – is “not happening”.

According to the adaptation plan, the housing ministry has commissioned research to better understand the risk of overheating in new homes. This is due to be completed in the summer of 2018 and “will help to inform any future policy on including climate adaptation in new homes to reduce overheating”, the plan says.

But the EAC report on heatwaves published today says that government ministers who were interviewed by the committee of MPs appeared unclear about whether building regulations should address the health aspects of overheating. This is despite a fifth of the UK’s homes already overheating at current temperatures, the EAC says.

(Incidentally, “chronic overheating” during the summer was one of the reasons why the ill-fated combustible cladding was added to Grenfell Tower before the fatal fire last year.)

The EAC report says the government is also failing to communicate how the risks from heat are increasing. This is especially concerning since the public’s opinion, in general, is that heatwaves have not increased over their lifetimes, the report says. Mary Creagh, chair of the EAC, says in a statement released today:

“The government needs to do more to warn the public of the health risks of heatwaves, particularly when they fall outside of the summer period, and should appoint a minister to lead work across government.”

She argues that the new adaptation plan promises “no effective action” to prevent overheating in buildings.

The Brown is also critical of the plan for failing to present actions to reduce the risks to people from overheating in homes. “[This] was one of the highest priority risks identified in the CCRA,” she wrote on her blog.

Brown told Climate Home News that “there needs to be an industry standard, regulation on new builds”. The government argument that it is waiting for the completion of the housing ministry report is “not a commitment,” she added. In a further statement on heatwaves, released yesterday in response to this week’s extreme temperatures, she outlined further action needed to cool homes:

“[N]ew build properties need shading and improved ventilation, as do hospitals. And we need to reverse the decline in urban green spaces that occurred between 2001 and 2016. We will be monitoring progress and reporting our findings to parliament over the coming year.”

Drought

Water shortage was another key climate change threat identified by the CCC in 2016. Its risk assessment noted that:

“Climate change is projected to reduce the amount of water in the environment that can be sustainably withdrawn whilst increasing the demand for irrigation during the driest months. At the same time the growing population will create additional demands on already stretched resources in some parts of the country.”

There is still high uncertainty over how climate change will affect seasonal rainfall projections in the UK, as well as the impact on the frequency and intensity of water shortages and drought, the CCC said in its risk assessment. However, it added that there was still an “urgent need” for longer-term water resource planning and further steps to achieve the ambitious reductions in water demand and leakage that are “likely to be required”.

In her statement on heatwaves yesterday, the CCC’s Kathryn Brown also highlighted her concern over water shortages. She said:

“[W]e can expect greater water deficits across the country, including in cooler wetter areas like the north-west of England. The area of land well suited to the production of water-intensive crops, such as rain-fed potatoes, could decline by over 80% by the 2050s.”

The government’s new adaptation plan recognises the risks of shortages in water supply for agriculture, energy generation and industry. It promises to increase water supply, incentivise greater water efficiency and “maintain a plentiful supply”, as demand increases and climate change impacts availability.

The plan also says government will work to “restore natural processes” in rivers to buffer against drought and help wildlife, and work towards setting “challenging and ambitious goals” to reduce water leakage.

The plan lays out a goal to increase the proportion of water bodies with enough water to “support environmental standards” to 90% for surface water and 77% for groundwater by 2021. But, beyond this, there is little in the way of specifics regarding monitoring and metrics.

The government’s Environment Agency says it will also track a suite of metrics in England via a sustainable abstraction “dashboard”.

However, the EAC heatwaves report released today criticises progress so far on water shortages. The government has “weakened its water efficiency ambitions”, it says, as well as overlooked industry requests to make per capita consumption limits more efficient for new builds. The report adds:

“A water-saving culture needs to be embedded to ensure that people understand the strain heatwaves place on the water supply and to make more water is available during a heatwave.”

Floods

In the middle of a summer heatwave, the problem of flooding may seem distant.

However, tackling flooding has still been in the news, after Michael Gove, the environment secretary, released a pair of Eurasian beavers into Gloucestershire’s Forest of Dean as part of a reintroduction scheme which Defra hopes could also reduce local flood risk.

(Carbon Brief last year mapped the government’s current distribution of funding for flood protection in England).

Flooding and coastal change risks were another key climate risk outlined in the CCC’s 2016 risk assessment. Flood damages are already high in the UK, averaging an estimated £1bn per year, the CCC said, and are expected to increase due to climate change. Current levels of adaptation are projected to be “insufficient” to avoid the increased damages from further warming, the report said.

Additional adaptation may be able to counter the increase in flood damages anticipated with 2C of global warming, the report added, at least in some parts of the UK. But, in other parts, it added that increasing flood risks appear inevitable, especially with 4C or more of global warming.

The government’s new adaptation plan acknowledges that climate change is likely to increase flood risk in England, with the resulting impacts this could have on infrastructure such as transport, telecommunications, businesses and public services.

However, its “actions log” is, again, relatively short of clear monitoring targets. The plan says the government will update its flood and coastal erosion risk management strategy by 2019 and also publish a statement setting out its “future expectations for managing flood risk and coastal erosion” in the winter of 2018.

The CCC’s Kathryn Brown noted in her blog that actions to manage the transition period ahead of the withdrawal of the Flood Re scheme is a key gap in the adaptation plan. The scheme, which helps people living in flood risk areas to get affordable home insurance, will end in 2039. The scheme has warned that action is needed beyond this to ensure premiums and excesses remain affordable for the majority of households.

Wildfire

During the recent bought of wildfires in the UK, including a three-week long blaze in Saddleworth Moor, the government faced calls to need to re-examine its capacity to deal with similar fires in future. Scientists have warned that Northern Europe should expect more such fires as extreme weather events become more common due to climate change.

It’s worth noting that it is only relatively recently that wildfire has even been recognised as a significant hazard in the UK: it was only included in the UK’s National Risk Register in 2013. The most recent version of this register says:

“Climate change is likely to lead to changes in the rainfall patterns that affect the UK. If we experience longer drier summers, this will increase the risk of drought and could lead to more frequent, larger wildfires.”

The CCC’s 2016 risk assessment also said climate change is projected to increase the risks of wildfires. However, it only advised the government to “continue current efforts” to manage and respond to wildfires.

The adaptation plan does just this. It promises to provide wildfire prevention training to fire services and land managers, to develop a “forestland wildfire risk and fuel map”, and to improve wildfire prediction systems.

Food and soil

Soil aridity was one of several areas of the UK’s “natural capital” highlighted by the CCC in its risk assessment as needing more “action”. The CCC warned that the proportion of agricultural land in England and Wales classed as “best and most versatile” is projected to decline from 38% to 9% by the 2050s under a high climate change scenario.

The CCC said more action was needed to “reduce existing pressures on soils, increase uptake of soil conservation measures and restore degraded soils”.

The 25-year environment plan said that the government wants “all of England’s soils to be managed sustainably” by 2030 and outlined plans to developing a “soil health index”. It also said Defra would “invest at least £200,000 to help create meaningful metrics that will allow us to assess soil improvements”.

The adaptation plan appears to contain little in addition to these previous announcements and no clearer targets. It also reiterates an environment-plan promise to publish an “England peat strategy” in late 2018.

Food security was another key area highlighted by the CCC risk assessment – although the government disagreed with the CCC’s severity of risk in some areas of food. The adaptation plan promises to “ensure a food supply chain which is resilient to the effects of a changing climate”.

It also pledges to publish an updated UK food security assessment by the end of 2019. The last of these assessments, which cover the UK’s food supply (domestic and imported), was published in 2009.

Kathryn Brown says in her blog that, despite the CCC highlighting the risks to the UK from climate change impacts abroad, this update is the only action in the adaptation plan directed at managing these risks.

Environment plan

The new adaptation plan includes 13 of the goals set out in the 25-year environment plan, also published by Defra.

For example, in its section on how to build ecological resilience and protect wildlife at particular risk from climate change, it refers to environment-plan goals to create or restore 500,000 extra hectares of wildlife-rich habitat by 2042.

The environment plan was welcomed at the time of its release for setting out a long-term environmental strategy, but was also criticised for being too vague on objectives and lacking direction on enforcement of environmental policy.

The EAC report on the 25-year plan released on Tuesday also welcomes its ambition for the restoration and recovery of the natural environment. However, it echoes concerns that the plan lacks details of how it will achieve its objectives.

It calls for the UK to implement a body of new legislation on the environment, via a new Environmental Governance and Principles Act.

This EAC says this should include a replacement of the third of EU environmental legislation that cannot be copied and pasted into UK law post-Brexit, as well as establish the principle in UK law that environmental protection will be ensured. A new “Environmental Enforcement and Audit Office” should also be created to measure progress and enforce the new law, it adds.

The government has already announced plans for a new statutory environmental watchdog to be established after Brexit, although this will lack power to prosecute the government. The exclusion of climate change from the proposed watchdog has also caused concern.

The CCC has backed this decision, arguing that including climate change would duplicate their statutory role in scrutinising climate policy. However, Baroness Brown (not Kathryn Brown), who is chair of the CCC’s sub-committee on adaptation, also told the EAC that the new body should have the ability to consider climate change as part of an assessment of the environment plan.

Looking ahead

The CCC will assess the government’s new adaptation plan fully in its next progress report, due to be released in June 2019. The CCC evaluates UK adaptation policy every two years, with the 2017 progress report the last to cover adaptation.

Scotland’s second five-year adaptation programme is due to be published in 2019, following its first in 2014.

Wales’s new adaptation plan is due later this year. (The Welsh government also recently announced a £56m programme to improve flood and coastal defences over the next year.)

Northern Ireland also has an adaptation programme, published in 2014, but it still needs to respond to the relevant parts of the UK’s 2017 risk assessment.

Also due later in 2018 is a major upgrade to the UK’s official climate projections (known as “UKCP18”). These will be based on “improved climate models and up-to-date observational records”. The projections were last updated in 2009, so there could be significant changes.

This could have knock on effects on future adaptation policy, as they will inform the government’s third and fourth climate change risk assessments, due in 2022 and 2027, and subsequent adaptation plans.


This article was originally published on Carbon Brief and is shared under a Creative Commons license. Access the original article by clicking here.

Cover image contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2018), processed by ESA (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO): As this year’s heatwave continues, the Copernicus Sentinel-3 mission reveals once again how the colour of our vegetation has changed in just one month. These two images cover the same area: part of Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands, Belgium, part of Germany and part of France, but the difference between them couldn’t be more striking. The first, captured on 28 June 2018, is predominantly green, depicting healthy vegetation. The second, captured on 25 July 2018, however, is mainly brown, showing just how much the vegetation has changed owing to the long hot dry spell Europe has been enduring over the last weeks. Source: http://www.esa.int/spaceinvideos/Videos/2018/07/From_green_to_brown_in_a_month
What do California’s wildfires say about climate change?

What do California’s wildfires say about climate change?

On a recent episode of On Point, produced by Boston’s NPR News Station WBUR, journalist Eric Westervelt talks to

  • Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director of Cal Fire, the state’s fire agency;
  • Ryan Lillis, reporter for the Sacramento Bee who has covered most of Northern California’s fires for the last 12 years;
  • Lenya Quinn-Davidson, area fire adviser with the University of California’s Cooperative Extension, which works with counties and communities in the state on managing the threat of wildfires. She is also the Northern California coordinator of the California Fire Science Consortium; and
  • Michael Mann, professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University and co-author of “The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy.”

Together they discuss wildfires in the American West, which are getting bigger, lasting longer, and becoming more damaging (the active Mendocino Complex fire is already the largest in California’s history). How can people and nature be protected better, and what is climate change’s role in this trend?

Listen to the broadcast by clicking the play button below:


Cover photo contains modified Copernicus Sentinel data (2017), processed by ESA (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO): The Copernicus Sentinel-3A satellite captured this image of smoke from wildfires in the US state of California on 9 October 2017. Wildfires broke out in parts of the state on 8 October 2017 around Napa Valley, and the smoke was spread by strong northeasterly winds.
‘Hothouse Earth’: New study finds Earth could enter an even hotter new normal

‘Hothouse Earth’: New study finds Earth could enter an even hotter new normal

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

A new study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) shows that Earth could enter what the authors call ‘Hothouse Earth’ conditions where the average global climate could stabilise at 4-5°C above pre-industrial temperatures and sea levels could rise 10-60 m higher than today.

Mitigation alone won’t be enough for ‘Stabilized Earth’

The study, which has received wide-spread attention, also shows that keeping global warming within 1.5-2°C – a state the authors call ‘Stabilized Earth’ – may be a more daunting task than previously thought. It would not only require a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions but also enhancing or creating new carbon sinks, efforts to actively remove CO2 from the atmosphere, possibly solar radiation management, and adaptation to climate change impacts that are already happening and unavoidable.

“Human emissions of greenhouse gas are not the sole determinant of temperature on Earth. Our study suggests that human-induced global warming of 2°C may trigger other Earth system processes, often called ‘feedbacks’, that can drive further warming – even if we stop emitting greenhouse gases,” says lead author Will Steffen from the Australian National University and Stockholm Resilience Centre.

Health, economies, and political stability at risk

‘Hothouse Earth’ could potentially be uncontrollable and dangerous to most of Earth’s population, especially if the transition happens within only a century or two, which, following current pathways, wouldn’t be unlikely according to the scientists. This in turn would have fatal effects on health, economy, and political stability, but could also make portions of the planet uninhabitable for humans.

The study shows that agricultural production and water supplies are especially vulnerable to severe climate changes, leading to hot/dry or cool/wet extremes. These, obviously, would have severe impacts on society. The authors say “societal declines, collapses, migrations/resettlements, reorganizations, and cultural changes were often associated with severe regional droughts and with the global megadrought at 4.2–3.9 thousand years before present, all occurring within the relative stability of the narrow global Holocene temperature range of approximately ±1 °C.”

A growing need for building climate resilience

As highlighted in the study, even if a ‘Stabilized Earth’ state is achieved, Earth will be warmer than “at any other time in which fully modern humans have existed.” It would also still lead to the activation of some tipping elements and radical shifts in the ecosystems that support human life. The researchers state that current development strategies focused on economy efficiency will not be able to cope with these trends.

Global map of potential tipping cascades. The individual tipping elements are color- coded according to estimated thresholds in global average surface temperature (tipping points). Arrows show the potential interactions among the tipping elements based on expert elicitation that could generate cascades. Note that, although the risk for tipping (loss of) the East Antarctic Ice Sheet is proposed at >5 °C, some marine-based sectors in East Antarctica may be vulnerable at lower temperatures.

The emphasis now should clearly be on strategies that have the potential to transform human systems and make them climate resilient. Speaking in broad terms, the authors point out five characteristics climate resilience strategies should have:

  1. Maintenance of diversity, modularity, and redundancy;
  2. management of connectivity, openness, slow variables, and feedbacks;
  3. understanding social–ecological systems as complex adaptive systems, especially at the level of the Earth System as a whole;
  4. encouraging learning and experimentation; and
  5. broadening of participation and building of trust to promote polycentric governance systems.

Additionally, the authors of the study emphasise that their initial analysis would need to be underpinned by further research and Earth System analysis and modeling studies to address three critical questions:

  1. Is humanity at risk for pushing the system across a planetary threshold and irreversibly down a Hothouse Earth pathway?
  2. What other pathways might be possible in the complex stability landscape of the Earth System, and what risks might they entail?
  3. What planetary stewardship strategies are required to maintain the Earth System in a manageable Stabilized Earth state?

Steffen, W., Rockström, J., Richardson, K., Lenton, T.M., Folke, C., Liverman, D., Summerhayes, C.P., Barnosky, A.D, Cornell, S.E., Crucifix, M., Donges, J.F., Fetzer, I., Lade, S.J., Scheffer, M., Winkelmann, R., and Schellnhuber, H.J. (2018) Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (USA), DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1810141115

Cover photo by Siddharth Kothari on Unsplash

 

Mumbai: the ‘rain ready’ city that floods every year

Mumbai: the ‘rain ready’ city that floods every year

By Devika Singh

This year, as in the years prior, the city of Mumbai was inundated by floodwater. Mumbai International, the country’s busiest airport was water logged and over a quarter of all flights were affected. The National Disaster Response Force and Indian Army were called upon to evacuate 2000 passengers stranded on the Mumbai-Vadodara train at Nalasopara and a further 400 salt pan workers and their families, stranded on a passenger train at Palghar. The severity of the impacts of flooding in the city demands an equivalent response, but this has not been forthcoming. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) is responsible for health, sanitation and water infrastructure spending in the city. Three years ago, after having spent INR 200 crore (USD 29.148 million) to build a new pumping station, the BMC proclaimed that Mumbai was now ‘rain ready’. To the contrary, Mumbai’s floods now reliably occur each year.

The BMC is India’s wealthiest civic body, with an annual budget often exceeding that of some states in the country. Its budget for 2017 was INR 25,141 crore (USD 3.664 billion). However, less than 18% of that budget was allocated to civic infrastructure (including upgradation of sewage and storm water drainage systems), in spite of the city’s much-publicised annual deluge.

However, investment in flood resilience is badly needed. On 24 June 2018, the city received over 150 mm of rainfall over a 24 hour period, 438% over Mumbai’s normal daily average. By July, the city received over half of the season’s rainfall quota, in just under 20 days. The severity of rainfall events is only one factor governing the impact of the floods. Poor urban planning, a lack of infrastructure investment, poor governance by the BMC, and unregulated development, all play their part.

Floods as a window into Mumbai’s past

In order to understand Mumbai’s current flood problems, it is helpful to look to the past. The city was originally composed of seven islands that were converted into the metropolis through extensive construction on reclaimed lands. Portions of the city are 6-8 metres below sea level, with large infrastructure developments dotting the coastline. Several buildings on reclaimed land are just above sea level, some way below high tide levels. Rampant development has taken place along the length of the Mithi river, its surrounding mangroves, wetlands, salt pan lands and flood plains. The wetlands served as a buffer zone, providing protection from flooding and rising tide levels.

Poorly planned construction in these areas has not only made the city more prone to flooding, but has also compromised the safety of the city and its people in the face of extreme events. What was originally Mumbai’s natural river drainage system has now been reduced to less than 50% of its original flow. It has, in effect, become a massive open sewer, carrying silt, waste and plastic through the heart of the city. Mumbai’s man-made drainage system does not fare much better. Built in 1860, during the British colonial era, the underground drainage system was constructed to support the 19th century population of the city and drain 25 mm of rainfall per hour, at low tide. Rainfall exceeding that limit, combined with high tide, results in the familiar picture of a flooded Mumbai.

Flooding’s deadly impact

In August 2005, Mumbai witnessed one of its most devastating floods. Around 500 people died over a matter of days. Some estimates of total economic losses reach up to INR 28 billion (407.9 million USD), INR 10 billion (145.6 million USD) was just infrastructure damage. Railway services, local trains, roads, and the airport were all inundated, and the city was brought to a standstill. The Mumbai airport, built on reclaimed land from the Mithi river, was inundated for three days.

Jump to August 2017: the city continues to struggle with flooding. Once again, the city’s critical infrastructure services such as transport and telecoms were disrupted. Floodwaters caused a Spice Jet flight to over shoot the runway and get stuck in the mud. The airport was closed for almost a day due to water logging. These scenes were repeated earlier this year, when an Air India flight overshot the runway, and flooding saw 89 arrivals and 319 departures from the Mumbai airport delayed.

In the wake of a flood disaster, it is the poor and slum dwellers who are worst affected. In 2005, the poor residents of Mumbai faced 60% more loss than their richer counterparts. Losing the little they have can cause irreversible damage to health, livelihood and life for these communities. In 2017, and now in 2018, the slum areas of the city remain the most affected.

The northern suburbs of Mumbai have faced a power cut for 37 hours, streets and railway lines have been water logged and cracks have been spotted on the Saket bridge. The city’s restricted drainage capacity is illustrated by Thane, a neighbouring district and part of the Mumbai Metropolitan Region. Thane flooded in spite of experiencing a 27% rainfall deficit this season (the only area in Mumbai to receive a deficit). This is indicative of the extent of under-capacity of the drainage systems, where even a lower than average rainfall incident can cause flooding. While overall rainfall amounts may have dropped, increased intensity of rainfall events in a short span can overwhelm the current drainage capacity of the metropolitan area.

The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC)

Every year before the rains hit, the BMC makes a last-minute attempt to de-silt and clean up the city’s natural and man-made drainage systems. And every year, the BMC fails. After the devastating floods of 2005, the BMC allocated INR 2500 crore for BRIMSTOWAD (USD 364.2 million) the Brihanmumbai Storm Water Disposal System. By 2017, the cost of the project had increased to INR 4500 crore (USD 655.74 million). Thirteen years after the drainage system was first approved, a majority of the city’s low-lying areas and slum settlements are yet to receive any respite from the annual deluge.

During the 2011 floods, the BMC commissioned 8 pumping stations along with 58 other projects. Today, in 2018, only 5 pumping stations are operational, and less than 30 of the planned flood protection projects are complete. In 2013, the BMC committed to spending INR 1400 crore (around USD 204.01 million) on setting up sewage treatment plants along the Mithi river. While the money has been spent, the Mithi remains an open sewer coursing through Mumbai. In 2015, having spent INR 200 crore (USD 29.148 million) to build a new pumping station, the BMC claimed that the city was now ‘rain ready’. And yet again, Mumbai flooded.

Climate change: What future for Mumbai?

One study of the Konkan coast from Dahanu to Vengurla (just north of Mumbai) over the past 20 years has shown a sea level rise of 5-6 cm. This has led to sea water intruding up to 1 km inland, causing damage to farm land and mangroves. Studies indicate tidal patterns are becoming more erratic, while precedent shows us that civic bodies and infrastructure are not prepared for these changes. The standard response has been the construction of bunds. These prove expensive and inefficient, costing around INR 60,000 per metre (USD 874.32) of bund construction. Further, they are built only in sections, thus providing limited protection against extreme events.

Some climate change projections indicate that around 40% of Greater Mumbai could be underwater by the end-century due to continuing sea level rise. Sea level rise is projected to increase by between 24 and 66 cm for Mumbai. Monsoon rainfall for the Konkan administrative division of Maharashtra (includes the Mumbai Metropolitan Region) is projected to increase by between 10% and 30% by mid-century (2021-2040). Annual mean temperatures for the same time period are projected to increase by 1.1°C-1.28°C. Warmer air can hold more water, increasing the likelihood of more intense rainfall events and longer dry spells between intense rainfall events.

In 2014, the Maharashtra State Action Plan on Climate Change identified that a repeat occurrence of the 2005-like rainfall event would flood a number of areas (especially the low-lying areas) in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region, even after the drainage capacity is expanded. This goes to show that the steps taken by the BMC towards flood resilience are not sufficient to prepare the city for future climate-related extreme events. The BMC needs to integrate climate change adaptation strategies into its policy decisions, if it wants to avoid a repetition of the 2005 flood impacts. The State Action Plan has a number of recommendations to improve Mumbai’s adaptive capacity to floods and extreme rainfall. Foremost amongst these are strengthening of the storm water drainage network and improving ground water percolation. Improving coordination between identified implementation agencies such as the Disaster Management Department, Storm Water Drainage Department and the BMC would go some way towards making Mumbai ‘rain ready’.

Rising sea levels will result in increasing salinity of coastal groundwater, endanger wetlands and inundate valuable land, directly affecting the lives and livelihood of coastal communities. Projections made by an ADB study indicates that total losses in Mumbai could as much as triple by 2080 as compared to the present. Another study estimates that the probability of a flood event (similar to the 2005 incident) is likely double, with a tripling of losses (direct and indirect), amounting to $690-1890 million by 2080. And these estimates do not consider potential loss of life.

The historical trends and future projections all point to increasing intensity of rainfall, rising sea levels and an increase in extreme weather events. The high population density of Mumbai, growing development on reclaimed lands, under-capacitated drainage systems overburdened with garbage and plastics, combine to exacerbate the effects of rainfall events and climate change. These factors suggest that a recurrence of the 2005 floods is a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’. The city has some tough decisions to take, but to begin with, improving the drainage system alone can reduce losses by as much as 70%. In addition, extending insurance coverage could halve the indirect losses that emanate from Mumbai’s annual floods.


Cover photo by Paasikivi/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0): Flooding in Mumbai, India in 2017.
New report: practical guidance for using climate information for climate resilient water management

New report: practical guidance for using climate information for climate resilient water management

A new paper released by the Action on Climate Today (ACT) programme, shows how climate information can be used effectively to inform decisions related to climate resilient water management (CRWM). The paper provides practical recommendations on how best to use and integrate climate information into decision-making processes, coupled with case studies showing what this looks like in a variety of different contexts. The paper argues that while using the best available climate information can help decision-makers to go beyond business-as-usual practices in water management, good decisions can be made even in the absence of good climate information and data.

Since 2014 the ACT programme has been actively working in five South Asian countries to help national and sub-national governments mainstream adaptation to climate change into development planning and delivery systems. As part of that work, the programme is introducing CRWM into the water resources management and agriculture sectors. As presented in an earlier learning paper “Climate-Resilient Water Management: An operational framework from South Asia”, one major factor to take CRWM beyond business-as-usual approaches is using the best available climate information and data.

CRWM needs to be informed by reliable information about physical exposure and social vulnerability to climate shocks and stresses in order to create a comprehensive narrative of the impact that climate extremes, uncertainty, and variability can have on water resources management. This requires combining different types of climate information. ACT’s new paper seeks to inform government agencies and individual officials, practitioners and donors, researchers and wider civil society on:

  • How to understand the role of climate information in producing analysis including a typology of different types of climate information; and
  • How to best use climate information to inform and guide the policy-making processes.

Based on experience and learning from ACT projects, the paper presents 10 key recommendations for integrating climate information into water resources management. This is targeted at those seeking to design and implement CRWM programmes and initiatives, to help overcome some of the critical challenges to accessing and using climate information.

Climate change is already impacting the water cycle. In particular, climate change is thought to be making the monsoon more erratic and unpredictable, and decreasing the number of rainfall days while, at the same time, increasing their intensity.[1] Additionally, climate change is projected to increase the frequency and severity of both floods and droughts.[2] At same time, in South Asia, as in much of the world, water demand is increasing and accelerating in response to population growth, urbanisation, increased industrial demand, and the relatively high dependence on agriculture for livelihoods. The latter is especially problematic as rising temperatures and less rainfall decrease soil moisture, forcing farmers to water their crops more. Changes in the hydrologic cycle coupled with increased water demand will have manifold impacts on food and livelihood security, agriculture and urbanisation, industrialisation and, hence, the economy at large. As a result, there is a need for the South Asian water resources sector to plan for climate change.

Click here to access the full ACT learning paper “Using climate information for Climate-Resilient Water Management: Moving from science to action” and a learning brief.


[1] Loo, Y., Billa, L., and Singh, A. (2015). Effect of climate change on seasonal monsoon in Asia and its impact on the variability of monsoon rainfall in Southeast Asia. Geoscience Frontiers, Volume 6, Issue 6, 817-823.  https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S167498711400036X

[2] Kundzewicz, Z.W., L.J. Mata, N.W. Arnell, P. Döll, P. Kabat, B. Jiménez, K.A. Miller, T. Oki, Z. Sen and I.A. Shiklomanov, 2007: Freshwater resources and their management. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, Eds., Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, UK, 173-210. https://www.ipcc.ch/pdf/assessment-report/ar4/wg2/ar4-wg2-chapter3.pdf

Cover photo my Dr Michel Royon/Wikimedia (public domain).
Scientists link summer of extreme weather to climate change

Scientists link summer of extreme weather to climate change

By Georgina Wade    

This summer’s severe weather has been one for the record books, with countries across the world facing extremely high temperatures. The heatwave across the northern hemisphere, has seen wildfires in the Arctic Circle and prolonged heat across the UK and Europe. In London, rising temperatures have forced Mayor Sadiq Khan to trigger a high pollution warning as forecasters predict the mercury could reach 37˚C by the end of the month.

In southern Europe, fierce blazes have devastated parts of Greece, resulting in a multitude of deaths. Japan has also declared a natural disaster, as high temperatures have lead to thousands being admitted to hospital with heat stroke. Africa recently recorded its highest reliably measured temperature in modern history: 124.3 degrees (51.3 Celsius) in Algeria.

A map from Copernicus Climate Change Services revealed just how bad the situation is with every continent shown to be experiencing above average temperatures for July.

Scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) and Columbia University recently revealed that the average surface temperature on Earth between January and June this year was the third hottest half-year on record since 1880 with the last four years – 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 – taking the top four spots for the hottest-recorded half-year periods ever documented.

“When a record is broken once, it’s a fluke. When it happens again, it’s a coincidence. When it happens three times, it’s a trend, but when it happens every single year, it’s a movement,” environmental chemist Sarah Green said over an email.

The reason for all of this is uncomplicated. Greenhouse gases accumulating in the atmosphere, largely from the burning of fossil fuels, continue to rise. Carbon dioxide levels reached 400 parts per million in 2016 and topped 411 parts per million in May of this year, the highest level in 800,000 years.

This ongoing bout of extreme weather is a direct result of this concentration increase and is set to continue. And with the World Meteorological Association calling 2018 the hottest La Niña year on record, things may well get hotter still in the years to come.


Cover photo by Skeeze/Pixabay/(public domain).
Can the Green Climate Fund help Guyana respond to climate change?

Can the Green Climate Fund help Guyana respond to climate change?

By Will Bugler

The Government of Guyana is urging local organisations, like businesses, NGOs, and others, to join the fight against climate change. Climate change will have serious consequences for the people of Guyana, but cutting carbon emissions and protecting the country from extreme weather events is costly. Finance made available through the Green Climate Fund can help Guyana to prepare for climate change. A new programme[1] being implemented by the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre is raising awareness among Guyanese organisations about how to apply to the fund and respond to climate-related threats.

In Guyana, preparing for the impacts of climate change is paramount. The low-lying coastal zone is home to 90% of the country’s population and particularly at risk. Climate change is causing sea levels to rise, and increasing the frequency of powerful storms and extreme rainfall. These can lead to destructive flooding; in 2005 alone, catastrophic floods cost the country 60% of its GDP or US$494.9 million.[2] It has been estimated that in order to implement climate change adaptation measures, including infrastructural development works, Guyana will require an additional US$ 1.6 billion in the period to 2025.

While the costs of taking action on climate change are high, the costs of doing nothing will be far higher.[3] For example, with large coastal areas sitting between 0.5 and 1 meters below sea level, including Georgetown, sea level rise poses a serious threat to coastal populations, increasing the likelihood of coastal flooding. Substantial financial and human resources are necessary to build the resilience needed in Guyana. However, it is also imperative that an enabling environment is created to encourage adaptation and a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.

It is an established fact that every dollar spent on building resilience saves four dollars on avoided losses[4]. Resilience building measures might include improved sea defences, reinforced mangrove forests, and improved agricultural practices. Emission reductions and resilience building provide returns on investments that any entrepreneur would want to pursue.

Funding from the Green Climate Fund will support initiatives aimed at preparing Guyana for an uncertain climatic future. The Government of Guyana has already started to engage with the Green Climate Fund. Minister of State, Joseph Harmon has been appointed as the National Designated Authority (NDA) and the Office of Climate Change, Ministry of the Presidency serves as the Secretariat.

Currently, Guyana is benefitting from a grant from the Fund to strengthen institutional capacity and prepare a country programme to guide future engagement with the Green Climate Fund according to clearly defined development goals. The Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre is implementing this new programme – ‘Capacity Building of the National Designated Authority (NDA) and Preparation of the Country Strategic Framework of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana (CRG)’ – which will help businesses, NGOs and government agencies access funding from the Fund.

In addition, more funding proposals are being prepared for the agriculture, forestry and energy sectors to help strengthen these sectors’ response to climate change. Access to the funding requires organisations to go through a challenging accreditation process. This new programme provides guidance to help organisations decide if accreditation is right for them.

In 2018, the Government plans to work closely with the private sector to enhance their capacity to access resources from the Fund. These resources will be instrumental in preparing the country’s long-term response to climate change, helping Guyana to prosper socially and economically.

For more information about Guyana’s engagement with the Green Climate Fund please contact the Office of Climate Change, Ministry of the Presidency: info.occ@motp.gov.gy


[1] The programme is known as “Capacity Building of National Designated Authority (NDA) and Preparation of the Country Strategic Framework of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana (CRG)”

[2] Government of Guyana (2009) Via http://reliefweb.int/report/guyana/us125m-idb-project-upgrade-guyanas-disaster-risk-management-capabilities

[3] https://www.sei-international.org/mediamanager/documents/Publications/Climate/inaction-caribbean-es-eng.pdf

[4] (CDB, 2017)

Cover photo by amanderson2/Flickr (CC BY 2.0).