Category: Climate Change Impacts

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.
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.
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).
Met Office finds climate concerns for the UK

Met Office finds climate concerns for the UK

The Met Office published its 4th annual State of the UK Climate report this week that gives a summary of the UK weather and climate through the calendar year 2017, alongside the historical context for a number of essential climate variables. It provides an accessible, authoritative and up-to-date assessment of UK climate trends, variations and extremes based on the previous year’s observational datasets. For the first time this report is being published as a special issue of the International Journal of Climatology, which is the Royal Meteorological Society journal of climate science.

Here are some key facts from the report:

  • 2017 was the 5th warmest year over land in a record dating back to 1910.
  • In contrast to summer 2018, UK summers have been notably wetter over the most recent decade, with a 20% increase in rainfall compared to 1961-1990.
  • Above average temperatures from February to June, and also in October, helped position 2017’s high temperature ranking, whilst the second half of the year saw temperatures nearer to average.
  • Nine of the ten warmest years for the UK have occurred since 2002, and the top ten have all occurred since 1990. The Central England Temperature series, which extends back to 1659, shows that the 21st century (since 2001) has so far been warmer than the previous three centuries.
  • For the UK as a whole, rainfall in 2017 was close to average, but with large regional differences. Much of Highland Scotland and lowland England were considerably dry, whilst west Wales, north-west England, and parts of south-west and north-east Scotland saw wetter condition.

Additional facts are available in the infographic published alongside the report:

Photo by Met Office, 2018

Download the full report here: https://rmets.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/joc.5798


Cover photo by giografiche/Pixabay.
In a warming world, access to cooling is an everyday essential

In a warming world, access to cooling is an everyday essential

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

A recently released report by Sustainable Energy for All finds that 1.1 billion people around the world face immediate risks from insufficient access to cooling. According to the report, access to cooling is an important emerging opportunity in climate adaptation innovation.

Rachel Kyte, CEO and Special Representative to the United Nations Secretary-General for Sustainable Energy for All, said “In a world facing continuously rising temperatures, access to cooling is not a luxury – it’s essential for everyday life. It guarantees safe cold supply chains for fresh produce, safe storage of life-saving vaccines, and safe work and housing conditions.”

The study shows that access to cooling is very much tied to wealth. Of the 1.1 billion people at immediate risk, 470 million are in poor rural areas and 630 are in hotter, poor urban slums. These people are also concentrated in nine countries across Asia, Africa and Latin America: India, Bangladesh, Brazil, Pakistan, Nigeria, Indonesia, China, Mozambique and Sudan.

Cities, communities, and country leaders are asked to consider cooling action plans in order to close the access to cooling gap. Additionally, the Kyte points out that for companies that produce HFC-free, affordable air conditioning devices there is an enormous market opportunity out there.

In addition to the 1.1 billion rural and urban poor at immediate risk, the report identifies 2.3 billion people from the increasingly affluent lower-middle class, on the brink of being able to afford air conditioning, and 1.1 billion belonging to the established middle class, many of whom own air conditioning units but may able to upgrade them to more efficient ones.

This also ties into findings recently presented in a report completed by Acclimatise with UNEP FI and sixteen leading international banks. The report focuses on climate-related physical risks and opportunities to the banking sector. One of the examples named is an increased demand for loans for home improvements in order to cool houses where it was previously unnecessary.

While cooling is increasingly becoming a necessity, it is also a very energy-intensive measure. Increased cooling from HFCs and using fossil fuel powered energy can lead to more warming. In Mumbai alone, 40% of power use comes from air conditioning. Thus, phasing out HFCs, for instance through the Kigali Amendment, and the continued investment in renewable energy sources should remain priorities.

At the same time, urban development and real estate have the opportunity to radically rethink how buildings and cities can be designed in order to optimize cooling. In India, for example, 75% of the buildings required by 2030 have yet to be built, offering a massive opportunity to be innovative and provide cooler cities and housing.

Download the report by clicking here.


Cover photo by  PDPics/Pixabay (public domain): Mumbai skyline.
What was hot before 1976? A trip down British weather’s memory lane

What was hot before 1976? A trip down British weather’s memory lane

By Thomas Webb, University of Liverpool

As clouds and the odd shower break the spell of the recent heat wave, it’s a good time to reflect on our fascination with hot and sunny weather in the UK. A lot of comparisons have been made between this year’s heat and 1976, when Abba were in the charts, flares were in fashion and Britain had its hottest summer for 350 years.

Alongside the winters of 1947 and 1962-3, the summer of 1976 is part of Britain’s cultural weather memory, when temperatures reached 32°C or higher for 15 consecutive days and triggered one of the most severe droughts for the past 150 years. The highest recorded June temperature in the UK was set on the 28th that year, when Southampton sweated in 35.6°C – a record which still stands.

The summer of 1976 has become part of a national narrative and a source of shared positive nostalgia, which has been used as a benchmark for comprehending extended periods of hot weather ever since. The retelling of this national weather story in popular culture is important. It shapes individual memories of the event and influences how individuals construct a personal understanding of their local climate (whether they have a personal memory of this event or not) during exceptional weather.

But what came before 1976? What heatwaves – now largely long forgotten – did people use as a benchmark for comparing hot weather conditions?

‘Day hot’ for Victorian farmers

These questions can be investigated through the use of the online and freely accessible TEMPEST database, the product of extensive archival research by scholars from the Universities of Liverpool, Nottingham, Glasgow, and Aberystwyth. TEMPEST contains more than 18,000 records relating to extreme weather events in Britain spanning the past 500 years. Its collection of diary entries, letters, parish registers and newspaper reports provides valuable insights into how people experienced and responded to unusual and extreme weather.

Searching for heatwaves on TEMPEST reveals that extended periods of hot weather weren’t frequent, but were not necessarily uncommon either. People often made comparisons to previous heatwaves in order to contextualise the hot weather conditions around them.

These comparisons were measured in a number of ways, ranging from contrasting record temperatures to anecdotes rooted in memories, interests, locations and occupations. Some of the comparisons were made in relation to agriculture and farming practices – for instance, during the dry and hot summer of 1826, William Herbert from Great Bowden, Leicestershire wrote in his diary:

21st Aug – The drought is so great that Mr Clarke’s beast were obliged to be brought yesterday from Greenholm to Gunsbrook to be watered, that Brook being dry for nearly a mile together, day hot.
22nd Aug – heard old Joseph Charlton say last night that he remembered the dry summer of 1762, he & his mother took 2 cows to Harboro’ Fair and were bid only 20s for the two, his father took a sow & pigs for which we not bid anything … day hot.

For this Leicestershire farming community, the hot and dry spell of 1826 was benchmarked against similar conditions in 1762. Their severity was remembered in personal terms through the impact the weather had on watering and selling livestock.

Britain’s deadly heat waves

The 1826 drought followed the similarly, and often overlooked, hot summer of 1825. According to Orion’s British Almanac, one of several 19th-century collections of extraordinary weather events and predictions, ten men and 16 horses died under the heat during a hot stretch in July.

In a letter from John Thomas Swanick in Derby to G. Symons of London, Swanick observed that temperatures in July 1825 were as high as “the three hot days which occurred on the 12th, 13th and 14th days of July 1808 when so many persons died by the effects of it and taking cold liquids.” The death toll from a heat wave in 1825 could be linked to a deadly hot weather event 17 years earlier, as a means of categorising the severity of weather over time.

Later in the 19th century and into the early 20th century, it becomes apparent that historical “benchmark” heatwaves replaced one another. This was especially the case when historical heatwaves went out of living memory.

In the Baptisms Register for Thorpe Malsor, Northamptonshire, the summer of 1868 was recorded as a “very dry summer – great drought and scarcity of water in many places round … Old people in this village report that 1818 & 1826 were similar years”.

Likewise, a journalist in 1911 reported, in regards to consistent days reaching 80 degrees Fahrenheit (26.67 °C):

So far, in 1911 there have been 35 such days as against 40 in the historic summer of 1868, the only one in the lifetime of people now living which can compare with the present season.

The summer of 1976 has not passed out of living memory, but in 50 years time it may be summer 2018 that we will be looking back on as our benchmark. As these historical examples suggest, these comparisons will not just be made in regards to temperature records, but will also be measured by other connected events that shape personal and collective weather memories of 2018 – such as the 30°C heat in the UK that accompanied England’s victory over Sweden in the World Cup quarter-finals.

Climate change means that we are likely to see more extreme weather of all kinds. As the signature of climate change manifests in our weather, its growing cultural and political importance will frame the ways in which we look back on the heatwave of 2018 and the weather events that follow.

The ConversationIn the effort to contextualise the weather extremes of the future, our best resources are the stories that make up our shared weather memory of the past.


Thomas Webb, Postdoctoral Research Associate, University of Liverpool. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cover photo: Molesey Lock on a busy Sunday.
Japan experiences worst floods in decades

Japan experiences worst floods in decades

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

At least 179 people have died and 70 are still missing in Japan after the country experienced the worst floods in decades. More than 8.63 million people across 23 prefectures have been ordered to evacuate their homes in central and western Japan as torrential rains have led to widespread floods and landslides. The prefectures of Okayama, Hiroshima, and Yamaguchi suffered the most severe impacts.

Water and power have been cut off in many areas leaving thousands of homes without supply. The limited access to water is proving especially difficult to cope with, as temperatures in some areas of the country are rising to scorching 35C. Chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government was spending two billion yen (£13 million) to speed up supply deliveries and other support for evacuation centres and residents.

According to remotely sensed data from NASA the areas with the most precipitation saw a rainfall accumulation of over 800mm from 3 a.m. (Japan Standard Time) on July 2 to 3 a.m. on July 9. However, local rainfall amounts can be significantly higher when measured from the ground.

The map above shows rainfall accumulation from 3 a.m. (Japan Standard Time) on July 2 to 3 a.m. on July 9, 2018. (Source: NASA Earth Observatory)

Teruo Sasai, resident of Kurashiki in Okayama, said “The floodwaters were up over my house, probably reaching 4 or 5 meters, up past the roof all the way to the TV antenna. Thankfully, I was OK and nobody in this neighborhood was severely injured.”

As rains started to dissipate on Sunday, search and rescue was rolled out on a massive scale with 70,000 workers deployed for relief efforts.

While it is too soon to attribute the event to climate change with certainty, it is worth noting that a 2012 study by the Japanese government found that the number of days with 100 millimetres or more of precipitation had been increasing since the 1970s. The study also found an “increasing risk of heavy-rain induced disasters” due to climate change.

 


Cover photo by Disaster Prevention Promotion Office, Planning Department, Geographical Survey Institute/Wikimedia (CC BY 4.0): Image from 2017 when Akatani River was overflowed by the Northern Kyūshū Heavy Rain in Asakura City, Fukuoka Prefecture on July 7.
How to fight desertification and drought at home and away

How to fight desertification and drought at home and away

By Andrew Slaughter, University of Saskatchewan

A growing human population and runaway consumption are putting unsustainable pressures on the natural resources we depend on for survival. Our misuse and abuse of land and water is changing fertile land into deserts.

The word “desertification” conjures up images of the spread of existing deserts, with tall dunes spilling into villages and farmer’s fields. But it is actually a term that describes the way land can be transformed by climate variation and human activities, including deforestation, overgrazing (which causes erosion), the cultivation of unsuitable land and other poor land-use management decisions. We see this now in southern Africa, which has already lost at least 25 per cent of its soil fertility.

But not only developing countries are at risk. Almost 1 billion tonnes of soil is lost every year because of erosion resulting from poor land management in Europe alone. Desertification is one of the biggest environmental problems facing humanity, and has already affected over 40 per cent of the world’s population — 3.2 billion people.

Given that climate change could cause more frequent droughts and that population growth puts more pressure on natural resources, land degradation is an increasing global threat to food security, a contributor to poverty and a barrier to achieving the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

It is clear that desertification is a problem of global proportions, requiring a unified strategy among all countries. If action is not taken now, desertification will accelerate, resulting in further migration and conflict.

Seeing the threat

Not all areas are equally at risk of desertification. Drylands, like those in the Karoo of South Africa and the prairies of Canada, are regions where evapotranspiration (the transfer of water from land and plants to the atmosphere) far exceeds precipitation.

Under natural conditions, drylands are characterised by slow cycles of changing climate and vegetation, moving from one stable state to another. More frequent and severe droughts and human disturbances, such as agriculture, grazing and fire, cause more abrupt shifts that can be irreversible.

The threat of land degradation is so widely recognized that the UN established the Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) nearly 25 years ago, in 1994. It is a legally binding agreement between the partner nations to work together to achieve sustainable land management.

All member countries of the UNCCD recently agreed to fight desertification and restore degraded land by 2030. On June 17, Ecuador hosted the World Day to Combat Desertification, under the slogan “Land has true value – Invest in it,” and used the occasion to showcase the use of sustainable land management in developing the country’s bio-economy.

A tentative pledge

Despite its initial commitment to combat desertification, Canada withdrew from the UNCCD in 2013. The reasons were unclear, but it may have been because membership was seen as too costly, without obvious benefits for the environment. The departure left Canada as the only country not party to the agreement.

However, Canada rejoined last year, acknowledging the link between desertification and many of Canada’s development priorities. The factors driving land degradation are interconnected and include population growth and migration, climate change and biodiversity loss.

Current rates of global land degradation are in the order of 12 million hectares per year. And yet food production must increase by up to 70 per cent by 2050 to feed the projected global population of 9.1 billion people. Current land-management practices are clearly unsustainable.

The threatened area is so large that halting land degradation and scaling up solutions — from farms and villages to watersheds and continents — requires globally coordinated solutions. By rejoining the UNCCD, Canada can take its rightful place within a coordinated global effort to combat desertification — and strengthen its own efforts nationally.

Why Canada should care

Canada has already cooperated on a regional level with other countries to combat drought and minimize the impacts of reduced agricultural productivity, wildfires and water shortages.

In 2016, for example, when droughts hounded North America, burning Fort McMurray, Alta. and adding to California’s long-running water shortage, Canada cooperated with the United States and Mexico to minimize their impacts. The resulting North American Climate Services Partnership (NACSP) facilitated an early drought forecasting system and drought impact assessments.

In addition, Canada faces its own land degradation challenges. Most people associate dryland regions with a hot and dry climate. However, large parts of the Canadian Prairie provinces — Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba — can be classified as drylands. They are also enormously important agricultural areas, accounting for 60 per cent of the cropland and 80 per cent of the rangeland in Canada.

The Prairies expect to see longer and more intense periods of drought interspersed with major flooding with future climate change. And although North America is one of five regions identified by the UN as facing relatively fewer challenges related to land compared to the countries most at risk, the region does face significant water stress challenges.

Way forward

The Paris Agreement recognized “safeguarding food security” as an important priority for climate change adaptation, which goes hand-in-hand with combating desertification.

The agricultural sector will play an important role in mitigating the impacts of climate change — and fighting land degradation. It can protect against drought, flooding, landslides and erosion, while maintaining natural vegetation, which helps store carbon in the soil. But agricultural production will also have to become more efficient. It will need to adapt to periods of lower water availability and take measures to preserve fertile soil. We must also look to how we manage our water resources to help agriculture adapt to climate change and stop desertification.

The University of Saskatchewan is currently developing tools that can be used by government and in research to predict and manage the water flow and water quality of Canada’s large river basins. This will allow water to be managed at the scale of entire river basins and help determine how industry, agriculture and mining can fairly share this limited resource.

The ConversationCanada has, for now, recognized the link between desertification and many of its development priorities, including agriculture, security, water and renewable energy. But we need to ensure the Canadian government remains committed to combating drought and desertification here — and in the rest of the world.


Andrew Slaughter is a visiting professor at the University of Saskatchewan. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cover photo by Brad Helmink on Unsplash.