Category: Climate Change Impacts

Climate change adding to pressure on land threatening global food security finds landmark IPCC report

Climate change adding to pressure on land threatening global food security finds landmark IPCC report

By Will Bugler

Climate change is undermining human’s ability to provide enough food as pressures on soils mount. At the same time, poor land use practices are increasing global greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change and making adaptation and resilience efforts more difficult. This stark warning comes from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Special Report on Climate Change and Land, released yesterday.

The report, which is the most comprehensive study ever undertaken into the land-climate system, shows that better land management has the potential to save huge amounts of greenhouse-gas emissions. However, the growing demand for food will mean that most land must remain productive, and therefore it will not be possible to limit global warming to 2˚C, let alone 1.5˚C through land management alone.

The report found that climate change is contributing to land degradation through increased rates of erosion and desertification. “In a future with more intensive rainfall the risk of soil erosion on croplands increases,” said Kiyoto Tanabe, Co-Chair of the Task Force on National Greenhouse Gas Inventories, “sustainable land management is a way to protect communities from the detrimental impacts of this soil erosion and landslides. However, there are limits to what can be done, so in other cases degradation might be irreversible,” he said.

The report provides some indications of the risks to land productivity from different levels of climate change. It finds that even at 1.5˚C of warming, there will be serious impacts on food and water security, making adaptation efforts essential. “New knowledge shows an increase in risks from dryland water scarcity, fire damage, permafrost degradation and food system instability, even for global warming of around 1.5°C,” said Valérie Masson-Delmotte, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I. “Very high risks related to permafrost degradation and food system instability are identified at 2°C of global warming,” she said.

The fact that many scientists believe 2˚C of warming is likely to be a best-case scenario, clearly indicates that adaptation efforts should consider the implications of climate change at 3˚C and 4˚C of warming.

The report indicates that climate change poses a direct threat to global efforts to improve nutrition and end hunger. It shows how climate change is affecting all four pillars of food security: availability (yield and production), access (prices and ability to obtain food), utilization (nutrition and cooking), and stability (disruptions to availability).

“Food security will be increasingly affected by future climate change through yield declines – especially in the tropics – increased prices, reduced nutrient quality, and supply chain disruptions,” said Priyadarshi Shukla, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group III. “We will see different effects in different countries, but there will be more drastic impacts on low-income countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean,” he said.

The report finds that to successfully feed the world population in the future, it is likely that dietary habits will need to change, shifting towards plan-based diets, and away from consumption of meats, especially beef, lamb and other ruminants.

The report also shows that there are ways to manage risks and reduce vulnerabilities in land and the food system, with positive results for communities’ resilience to extreme events. This can be the result of dietary changes or ensuring a variety of crops to prevent further land degradation and increase resilience to extreme or varying weather.

Download a copy of the report here.

Cover photo by James Baltz on Unsplash.
Ocean heat waves damage reefs and kill coral

Ocean heat waves damage reefs and kill coral

By Tim Radford

Heat extremes on the high seas are on the increase, with ocean heat waves disturbing ecosystems in two hemispheres and two great oceans, US scientists report.

And these same sudden rises in sea temperatures don’t just damage coral reefs, they kill the corals and start the process of reef decay, according to a separate study by Australian researchers.

Andrew Pershing of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute and colleagues report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that they examined data from 65 marine ecosystems over the years 1854 to 2018 to work out how frequently ocean temperatures suddenly rose to unexpected levels.

They found such deviations from the average in the Arctic, North Atlantic, eastern Pacific and off the Australian coasts. They expected to find evidence of occasional hot flushes. But they did not expect to find quite so many.

“Severe marine heatwave events can have a far more severe impact than coral bleaching – the animal dies and its underlying skeleton is all that remains”

“Across the 65 ecosystems we examined, we expected about six or seven of them would experience these ‘surprises’ each year,” Dr Pershing said. “Instead, we’ve seen an average of 12 ecosystems experiencing these warming events each year over the past seven years, including a high of 23 ‘surprises’ in 2016.”

Intense and sudden changes in sea temperatures affect crustaceans, algae, corals, molluscs and many millions of humans who depend on the oceans for income. And a new study by researchers from Australian universities reports that even a rise of 0.5°C is reflected in deaths during an outbreak of coral bleaching.

Corals live in symbiosis with algae: ocean warming periodically disturbs this normally beneficial relationship. The coral animals evert (turn out) the algae and once-lurid reefs will bleach, and become more vulnerable to disease.

Corals support the world’s richest ocean ecosystems so such changes are a challenge, both to the survival of biodiversity and to local incomes from the tourism linked to the beauty of the reefs.

Very warm water

“What we are seeing is that severe marine heatwave events can have a far more severe impact than coral bleaching: the water temperatures are so warm that that the coral animal doesn’t bleach – in terms of a loss of its symbiosis – the animal dies and its underlying skeleton is all that remains,” said Tracy Ainsworth of the University of New South Wales.

The researchers report in the journal Current Biology that they used computer tomography scanning techniques to explore the marine destruction. In 2016, more than 30% of the northern part of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef experienced temperatures higher than those in which corals can survive.

“We find that the skeleton is immediately overgrown by rapid growth of algae and bacteria,” said Bill Leggat of the University of Newcastle, a co-author.

“We show that this process is devastating not just for the animal tissue but also for the skeleton that is left behind, which is rapidly eroded and weakened.”

This article was originally published on The Climate News Network.
Cover photo of Great Barrier Reef Bleaching By CC BY-SA 2.0 fr, via Wikimedia Commons.
Belize launches its Country Programme, Toolkit and Readiness Support 2 for engagement with the Green Climate Fund

Belize launches its Country Programme, Toolkit and Readiness Support 2 for engagement with the Green Climate Fund

Tuesday August 13th, 2019- The Radisson Hotel and Marina, Belize City.

  • Belize has developed its Country Programme for engagement with the Green Climate Fund, containing a long list of 24 project proposals, 4 Readiness and Preparatory Support Programme requests and 1 Project Preparation Facility request.
  • A new Toolkit to help organisations in Belize understand and access funding through the Green Climate Fund was also launched.
  • The Toolkit provides guidance to Belize’s Ministry of Economic Development and Petroleum to undertake its duties as the country’s National Designated Authority, with the support of the Belize National Climate Change Committee.
  • A series of communications materials including briefing notes and infographics accompany the Toolkit, which also serve as awareness raising tools for national stakeholders who wish to access GCF funding.

Since 2015, Belize has engaged with the Green Climate Fund to improve access to international funds and to encourage investment in projects and programmes that will help the country prevent and cope with climate change and its impacts.

For this purpose, the Government of Belize has appointed CEO Yvonne Hyde of MEDP as National Designated Authority (NDA) to the GCF.

Through the Caribbean Community Climate Change Centre (CCCCC), the MEDP received a GCF Readiness grant approved in December 2016, designed to enhance the existing capacity within the NDA as well as develop a Country Programme for climate-related investments, thereby supporting appropriate oversight of the GCF activities at the country level.

Belize is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change and while the country has contributed less to global greenhouse gas emissions, it is expected to suffer from adverse impacts on its key socio-economic sectors including agriculture and water resources, coastal and marine resources, fisheries and aquaculture, forestry, biodiversity, tourism, human health, energy and transport infrastructure, as well as land use and human settlements.

The 5-year Country Programme, developed with the support of Acclimatise through a broad consultative process, includes a pipeline of 24 project proposals, 4 Readiness and Preparatory Support Programme requests and 1 Project Preparation Facility request, addressing key climate risks and capacity gaps in Belize, that will be submitted to the GCF for funding.

In addition, a Toolkit for the Green Climate Fund’s National Designated Authority in Belize has been launched by the Government with the assistance of Acclimatise. It primarily aims at providing guidance to Belize’s NDA to perform its GCF-related roles and responsibilities. The NDA will be supported in performing these functions by the Belize National Climate Change Committee (BNCCC). Moreover, all prospective recipients of GCF funding must submit a concept note and/or a full funding proposal that comply with GCF requirements and are in line with Belize’s strategic climate and development objectives. Applications for funding must be submitted to the MEDP that, as Belize’s NDA, is responsible for overseeing the ‘no-objection procedure’ which is used to assess the quality of proposals, including with the expertise provided by the BNCCC and its sub-committees.

A policy brief, briefing note and an infographic were also developed on the same themes for wider dissemination among Belize’s stakeholders.

Lastly, In February 2019, the NDA has received additional Readiness support that seeks to address the remaining capacity and coordination issues for accessing international climate finance in the country, including provision of post-accreditation support to the Protected Areas Conservation Trust (PACT), Belize’s first national accredited entity as of October, 2018. Additionally, this readiness support will see support for accreditation of additional national entities including Belize Social Investment Fund and the Development Finance Corporation, which will open up new opportunities for Belize.

Cover photo by J. Smith on Wikimedia Commons.
CDP reporting data suggests world’s biggest firms are underestimating climate risks

CDP reporting data suggests world’s biggest firms are underestimating climate risks

By Lydia Messling

A group of the world’s largest companies have valued the substantive risks presented to their businesses as a result of climate change as costing almost US $1 trillion, with many of the risks likely to occur in the next five years. However, firms identified climate-related opportunities worth around $2.1 trillion. The disparity between financial risks and opportunities is likely due to businesses failing to accounting for the full spectrum of climate risk. Indeed, the report by CDP found that a lot more work needs to be done to quantify and measure risk, and that it is likely that climate change will have a much bigger impact than currently estimated.

For the report, CDP gathered data from 6937 countries across the globe, including a sample based on the 500 biggest global companies. 215 of these companies reported estimations of the potential financial impact their climate risks. They reported that US$ 970 billion is at risk, with over half of the risks being likely, very likely, or virtually certain to occur within five years. While this figure is not insubstantial, it is likely that firms in most sectors are considerably underestimating the impacts of climate change to their operations.

As shown in Figure 1, a large proportion of the climate risk reporting comes from the financial services sector, with other highly-vulnerable sectors such as retail, fossil fuels, manufacturing, power and, food, beverage and agriculture reporting very low financial risk impact from climate change. Only two sectors, infrastructure and transportation services, reported that the financial risks of climate change will outweigh the financial opportunities.

Figure 1: CDP climate risks vs opportunities reporting by sector: CDP 2018

FIf this reporting is to be believed, then top businesses expect climate change to be a financial boon. Far more, likely is that they are significantly underestimating their climate risk exposure. So where is the missing climate risk? Digging deeper into the CDP analysis provides some answers.

Missing the full spectrum of climate risks

Companies are not yet able to sufficiently understand and identify physical climate risks. The report found that of the companies reporting to CDP, 53% of them identified climate-related risks that have the potential to have a substantive financial or strategic impact on business. However, almost two-thirds of risks identified were as a result of transition to a low-carbon economy, as opposed to physical risks presented by climate change. The increased prices of GHG emissions was a main focus for many companies’ analyses. This report focussed on the assessment of risks that were deemed to be substantive, but there are many more risks that present themselves to companies.

Additionally, most companies only identified potential physical and transition risks that would impact their direct operations, and not assess impacts to their supply chains and customers. This is concerning as, due to the complexity of supply chains today, disruption in one part of the world can greatly affect operations elsewhere. The report strongly recommends that investors and companies broaden their climate risk assessment practices to include these other areas.

The legal risks of climate change were another significant blind spot for firms. Of the companies that identified transition risks, only 25% of them focussed on potential policy and legal risks related to climate change, and many did not identify climate-related market, reputation, or technology risks as being substantive.

Strong cost incentive to act

Despite the narrow appreciation of climate risks, firms reported that taking action to build resilience made financial sense. Many of the companies who disclosed financial implication figures alongside the cost to manage these impacts showed that the potential implications of the risks greatly outweighed the costs that it would take to manage them.

Whilst there may be serious concerns about unaccounted risk, companies also identified climate-related opportunities, mainly driven by the demand for low emissions products and services as well as shifting consumer preferences. In almost all industries, the costs to realise these opportunities is reported to be significantly smaller than the total value of the opportunity – meaning that it would only cost US$312 billion to facilitate US$2.1 trillion in potential opportunities. These too could be realised in the next five years.

A mixed picture

Across the sectors, financial services reported most risks and opportunities. This may be expected as it is the biggest sector in the G500, and considerable work has been done on climate risk disclosure in recent years. However, the report states that the sector is likely to be missing a significant number of transition risks, despite being good at identifying physical risks for their clients.

The power sector also differs in that its costs to manage risks and realise opportunities are higher than the risks’ implications. Sector assets are long-lived and require a lot of investment, so the costs are proportionately higher for making them more resilient, retiring assets or investing in new ones. The power sector has also seen the biggest low-carbon transition change to date. Companies that were late in integrating these risks into their strategies are now facing much higher risks. An important lesson for other sectors to learn from.

Finally, the fact that fossil fuel companies report that there are more opportunities than risks from the low-carbon transition, raises questions about the nature of their reporting. Does this suggest that they are preparing for a large-scale shift towards low-carbon energy production? It would appear that climate-related risk disclosure still has some way to go to fully account for the risks that present themselves to businesses, but there is potential for these risks to be managed and for new opportunities to be realised.

Read the CDP report here.

Cover photo by Nikolas Noonan on Unsplash.
The views we’ll lose with climate change

The views we’ll lose with climate change

By Paul Brown

Staff at a British company became so frustrated by the many adults still denying the scientific evidence of global warming that they are using graphic images of the effects on several famous tourist sites to show people the views we’ll lose.

The prediction from scientists that the city of Venice and London’s world-famous Big Ben are among the treasures that will be overwhelmed by flooding from heavy rains and sea level rise has led those who work at The Solar Centre to produce current and future pictures of these tourist magnets to ram home their point.

They have also created similar before-and-after images of the English Lake District, which will begin to dry up because of climate change, and the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, where corals are already being wiped out and will vanish entirely under the worst-case scenario.

In the past tabloid newspapers have got into trouble for mocking up photographs of what will happen under rising temperatures, but the campaigners at The Solar Centre insist that their images recreate the scientific evidence.

They have used evidence from C40 CitiesNatural England, and National Geographic to show what changing weather patterns will do to some of the most famous sites in the world.

The UK: London’s Big Ben

How badly affected these places are and how quickly they will deteriorate depends on the efforts made now to reduce emissions to the atmosphere. But all of them could vanish within the lifetime of children now at primary school.

Hannah Buckley, from the company, said: “Our aim in these pictures is to raise further awareness of the damage we are inflicting on ourselves. We believe that people still choose to ignore the facts as they cannot see the damage today.

“Many people are choosing to go on holiday at this time of year and we picked out some of the tourist destinations, both in the UK and abroad, that are most at risk from climate change.

“Consistently climate scientists talk of rising sea levels and melting glaciers, whilst the reality is that people don’t think this will affect them as they don’t live near the sea or near a glacier.

England’s Lake District

“Action is needed to reduce the on-going sense of apathy towards climate change. Hence, here at The Solar Centre our climate awareness team decided to visualise what popular tourist destinations would look like in accordance with current research, using Photoshop. By visualising the effect on destinations that are immediately recognisable to everyone, we hope that people will start to take notice before it’s too late.”

Because London is one of the most popular destinations for tourists visiting the UK, and Big Ben one of its most iconic buildings, the company decided to show how climate change could threaten the 160-year-old clock.

Research has suggested climate change will cause storm surges from the North Sea coinciding with river flooding from the Thames. This would result in mass flooding of the city of London and create an abundance of surface water. Even walking across the Thames by Westminster Bridge could be problematic.

The Great Barrier Reef is the world’s largest coral reef system, located off Australia’s east coast. It attracts snorkelers and divers, and more importantly is home to many species of fish and other marine life. Climate change is already having a huge impact on the reef.

Italy: St Mark’s Square, Venice

Rising sea temperatures are the main reason, causing the coral to bleach and ultimately killing it. This trend is likely to increase, and soon there could be almost no marine life left in what is currently one of Australia’s world heritage sites.

Venice is sometimes called the floating city, but soon this could be the sinking city. It is already at constant threat from flooding because of its low-lying foundations. Any time there is heavy rain combined with high tides, seawater is driven into the city. Part could soon lie partly under water.

The Lake District – a popular holiday destination in north-west England – is famed for its mountain views and lakes. It faces multiple threats from climate change. Species likely to decline include the mountain ringlet butterfly. But there will be an increase in invasive species like pygmy weeds and Japanese knotweeds – not the type of plants you want in your back garden

Australia’s Great Barrier Reef

Heavy rainfall will cause erosion, damaging footbridges and footpaths, which will increase the amount of soil in the lakes. In the summer months, lake levels will also fall drastically, altering cherished views. – Climate News Network

This article was originally published on the Climate News Network.
Cover photo by Adrihani Rashid on Unsplash.
The heat is on for The Tour de France – how will it adapt to the new climate normal?

The heat is on for The Tour de France – how will it adapt to the new climate normal?

The 106th tour de France finished on Sunday night in Paris with eight laps of the Champs-Élysées. Riders celebrated their herculean achievement, riding hands free and drinking Champaign as the sun set over Paris. While the weather yesterday was favorable, the same could not be said for the rest of this year’s Tour. Riders endured a range of what would once be described as ‘freak’ weather conditions including extreme heat, downpours, hail, and mudslides, the latter of which led to shortened routes and stage cancellations.

The Tour de France is arguably the most grueling and competitive physical sporting event in the world. The race route alternates between clockwise and anti-clockwise circuits of France, passing through mountainous terrain, hilly-villages, cobblestone roads, and flat country side. In the 2019 tour, cyclists covered 2,200 miles (3,500 km) and climbed altitudes as high as 9087 feet (2770 meters), over the course of 23-days.

In the final week of this years’ race, a heat wave swept through Europe, bringing ambient air temperature up to 40˚C (104˚F) and 60˚C (140˚F) on the road. During the 16th stage of the race through the town of Nimes, cyclists cooled down by placing ice cubes in their helmet, wearing vests and sleeves made of ice, and drinking double the normal volume of liquid.

Surface temperatures from the Sentinel-3 satellite Source: Copernicus EMS Twitter

Slovakian pro-cyclist, and eventual Green Jersey winner, Peter Sagan called on the CPA, the professional riding association, to take action over the heat ‘I think the CPA should do something. I don’t know why we pay them if they don’t protect us’. As Sagan pointed out, the riding terrain was flat, however if cyclists were passing through the strenuous passes of the Alps where temperatures were only slightly lower, the strain combined with the heat could be dangerous.

In 2016, the CPA released the Extreme Weather Protocol to respond to unforeseen extreme weather events including freezing rain and hail, snow accumulation on roads, poor visibility, strong winds and extreme temperature. The Protocol enables the CPA to modify the time and schedule of the route and cancel stages in the event that they posed a risk to the riders. Indeed, the CPA enacted the protocol on Saturday, shortening the stage, when a mudslide passed over the road making it impassible.

However, unlike a mudslide, hail storm, or downpour, ‘heat’ does not provide a physical barrier to the riders’ progress, therefore the call of when it is ‘too hot’ is difficult to make. British Cyclist Alex Dowsett told VeloNews that he couldn’t image a stage being shortened or cancelled due to heat, because of the money involved, and the towns that spend thousands of euros for the right to host the event. George Hincapie, Lance Armstrong’s former Domestique and 17-time Tour De France cyclist, said “In 19 years of racing I was never in a bike race that they shortened or cancelled because of the heat”.

While heat-wave emergency management must certainty be improved in future editions of the Tour, extreme heat must also be taken into account during the planning of the event itself. Climate change projections show that heat waves are going to become increasingly common and therefore planning for them, rather than having to make a difficult emergency management decision, is important to ensure riders safety while minimising any impacts to the event itself.  There are several measures that Tour organisers should consider in the years to come:

  • Rides generally take place during peak heat hours, 12 pm to 17:00 pm. Moving rides to earlier hours, for example from 7:00 am to 12:00 pm, could help avoid the hours associated with the highest heat exposure.
  • Planning stages in regions where there is good vegetation and shade cover surrounding the roads. Roads are significantly hotter than ambient air temperature.
  • Planning the route so that the final stages – coinciding with the end of July – are in the northern part of France, instead of the hotter southern regions.
  • Moving the Tour earlier in the year – a move that will get a trial run (though not for climate reasons) next year when the Tour will take place at the end of June (rather than July 6 in 2019) so it does not overlap with the summer Olympics.

The Tour de France remains a very important cultural event and has been for over a century. Climate adaptation measures will have to be balanced with cultural considerations. It is an opportune time to explore potential heat-related adaptation options that will help ensure cyclist-safety and uninterrupted stages for years to come.

Cover photo by Tom Sam on Unsplash.

New CCC report highlights progress necessary to prepare for climate change

New CCC report highlights progress necessary to prepare for climate change

by Georgina Wade

The Committee on Climate Change’s 2019 Report to Parliament titled ‘Progress in preparing for climate change’ sets out their assessment of climate change preparations made in England and provides a first evaluation of the Government’s second National Adaptation Programme (NAP).

Declaring that the government has failed to increase adaptation policy ambition and implementation despite the increasing urgency of addressing the risks from climate change, the report finds that England is not prepared for even a 2°C rise in global temperature, let alone more extreme levels of warming.

For this report, the Committee introduced a new scoring system to give a simpler assessment of progress. The results showed that some sectors, including strategic roads, public water supply, and rail have good plans in place that consider the long-term risks and opportunities from climate change, whereas much still needs to be done to improve the health, business and agricultural sectors. Of the 56 risks and opportunities identified in the UK’s Climate Change Risk Assessment, 21 have no formal actions in the NA. Because of this, the CCC deems that they have “been unable to give high scores for managing risk to any of the sectors assessed”.

Additionally, the Committee addressed the preparation of the next UK Climate Risk Assessment (CCRA), due in 2022, and identified some specific recommendations for how this important programme of work can be improved. Highlighting that the need for action has never been clearer, the CCC’s message to the government is simple: Now, do it.

To download the report, click here

Cover photo by Dominik Lange on Unsplash.
Himalayan melt rate doubles in 40 years

Himalayan melt rate doubles in 40 years

By Alex Kirby

The Himalayan melt rate is now thawing glaciers on whose water many millions of lives depend twice as fast as just four decades ago, researchers say. One scientist thinks the glaciers may have lost a quarter of their mass in the last 40 years.

A new, comprehensive study shows the glaciers’ melting, caused by rising temperatures, has accelerated significantly since the turn of the century. The study, which draws on 40 years of satellite observations across India, China, Nepal and Bhutan, shows the glaciers have been losing the equivalent of more than 20 inches (about half a metre) of ice each year since 2000, twice the amount of melting recorded from 1975 to 2000.

The study, published in the journal Science Advances, is the latest to show the threat that climate change represents to the water supplies of hundreds of millions of people living downstream across much of Asia.

“This is the clearest picture yet of how fast Himalayan glaciers are melting over this time interval, and why,” said the lead author, Joshua Maurer, a Ph D candidate at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. While not specifically calculated in the study, the glaciers may have lost as much as a quarter of their mass over the last four decades, he said.

With around 600 billion tons of ice today, the Himalayas are sometimes called the Earth’s third pole. Many recent studies have suggested that the glaciers are dwindling, including one in February this year projecting that up to two-thirds of the current ice cover could be gone by 2100.

Wider picture

Until now, though, observations have usually focused on individual glaciers or specific regions, or on shorter lengths of time, and have sometimes produced contradictory results, on both the degree of ice loss and its causes. The new study incorporates data from across the region, stretching from early satellite observations to the present.

This shows the melting is consistent over time and in different areas, and that rising temperatures are to blame: they vary from place to place, but from 2000 to 2016 they have averaged 1°C (1.8°F) higher than those from 1975 to 2000.

Maurer and his co-authors analysed repeat satellite images of about 650 glaciers spanning 2,000 kilometres. Many of the 20th-century observations came from recently declassified photographic images taken by US spy satellites.

The researchers created an automated system to turn these into three-dimensional models that could show the changing elevations of glaciers over time. They then compared these images with post-2000 optical data from more sophisticated satellites, which show elevation changes more directly.

“This is the clearest picture yet of how fast Himalayan glaciers are melting over this time interval, and why”

They found that from 1975 to 2000, glaciers across the region lost an average of about 0.25 metres (10 inches) of ice each year in the face of slight warming. Following a more pronounced warming trend which started in the 1990s, from 2000 the loss accelerated to about half a metre annually.

Recent yearly losses have averaged about 8 billion tons of water, Maurer says. On most glaciers the melting has been concentrated mainly at lower elevations, where some ice surfaces are losing as much as 5 metres (16 feet) a year.

Despite suggestions that changes in precipitation, or increasing deposits of soot from growing fossil fuel burning in Asia, might be affecting the glaciers rather than climate heating, Maurer believes rising temperature is the main cause of the melting.

“It looks just like what we would expect if warming were the dominant driver of ice loss,” he said. At least one recent study has found a similar process at work in Alaska.

Alpine parallel

Ice loss in the Himalayas resembles the much more closely studied European Alps, where temperatures started going up a little earlier, in the 1980s. Glaciers there began melting soon after that, and rapid ice loss has continued since. The Himalayas are generally not melting as fast as the Alps, but their changes are similar, the researchers say.

Their study does not include the huge adjoining ranges of high-mountain Asia such as the Pamir, Hindu Kush or Tian Shan, but other studies suggest similar melting is under way there as well.

About 800 million people depend in part on seasonal runoff from Himalayan glaciers for irrigation, hydropower and drinking water. The faster melting appears so far to be increasing runoff during warm seasons, but scientists think this will slow within decades as the glaciers lose mass, eventually leading to water shortages.

In many high mountain areas meltwater lakes are building up rapidly behind natural dams of rocky debris, threatening downstream communities with outburst floods. On Everest, the long-lost bodies of climbers who failed to return from the summits are emerging from the melting ice.

This article was originally published on The Climate News Network.
Cover photo Aerial view of Himalaya From Delhi Leh Flight / Wikimedia Commons
It’s Time to Stop Ignoring the Climate Change Threat to World Heritage

It’s Time to Stop Ignoring the Climate Change Threat to World Heritage

By Adam Markham

The World Heritage list comprises more than 1,000 of our planet’s most important natural and cultural heritage sites, but from the ancient city of Venice to the forests and rivers of Yellowstone National Park, these extraordinary places are increasingly vulnerable to climate change. The 187 governments which have ratified the World Heritage Convention have promised to take action to address climate threats to these sites, but as with the same countries’ Paris Agreement pledges, progress to date has been far too slow.

As an unprecedented early summer heatwave grips parts of Europe, and the worst wildfires in 20 years rage out of control in Spain, the annual meeting of the World Heritage Committee is beginning in Baku, in oil-rich Azerbaijan, on the shores of the Caspian Sea. The meeting comes in the wake of the recent wake-up call issued by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) with its Special Report on 1.5°C.

The IPCC described how much worse a 2°C world is likely to be than if global temperature changes were limited to 1.5°C. For example, a further decline of 70-90 percent in coral reef is expected even at 1.5°C, but with a warming of 2°C, a shocking 99 percent of coral is expected to be lost.

There are 29 World Heritage reefs, including Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, the Belize Barrier Reef, and in the US, the Papahānaumokuākea National Marine Monument in the Hawaiian archipelago. According to a 2017 UNESCO analysis, coral in 21 out of the 29 properties (79 percent) experienced severe or repeated heat stress during the previous three years.

Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, a US World Heritage site, provides sanctuary for Galapagos sharks, coral reefs and an extraordinary array of marine biodiversity and Pacific cultural heritage. Photo: Courtney Couch/HIMB

Worsening wildfires and a global glacier meltdown

On land, the heat and fires gripping Europe this week are another sign of a shift in climate conditions and a “new normal’ that will bring larger and more intense wildfires to many fire-prone parts of the Globe soon.

For example, devastating wildfires in Australia’s Tasmanian Wilderness World Heritage Area came on the back of dramatic heat and drought in 2016, severely damaging unique fire-sensitive alpine and rainforests ecosystems.  Fires hit again in 2019, endangering areas of slow-growing forests including King Billy pines, some of which are 1,000 years old.

As in Tasmania, one of the biggest threats to the Cape Floral region of South Africa with its extraordinarily rich plant endemism is the increased frequency and intensity of fires. In the US, western fire seasons have gotten at least 7 weeks longer since the 1970s, and we are seeing more large fires.

World Heritage glaciers too are under threat. According to a new study from IUCN, glaciers will completely disappear from many World Heritage sites within 80 years if current rates of greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated. Of the 19,000 glaciers surveyed in 46 World Heritage properties, (9% of the total of the total of approximately 200,000 glaciers world-wide), almost two-thirds could be lost.

To be inscribed on the World Heritage List, a protected area must demonstrate Outstanding Universal Value (OUV) under at least one of ten criteria. World Heritage sites that are listed wholly for the value of their glaciers include the Swiss Alps Jungfrau-Aletsch and the transnational site that includes Glacier Bay and Wrangell/St. Elias National in the US, and Canada’s Kluane National Park.

Ancient sites of the Mediterranean at risk

Yet more bad news comes from a 2018 study published in Nature Communications which looked at the risk from sea level rise and coastal erosion for 49 cultural World Heritage properties situated on low-lying coasts of the Mediterranean. The analysis showed that 96% of the sites would be at risk by the end of the century, and most of them are already vulnerable.

Among the sites already at the highest risk today are the Early Christian Monuments of Ravenna (Italy), the Kasbah of Algiers (Algeria), Tyre (Lebanon) and Délos (Greece). On the island of Délos – the mythical birthplace of the Greek god Apollo and a center of Greco-Roman culture, sea level rise is pushing salt water up through the porous limestone substrate and damaging stonework and marble in this remarkable archaeological World Heritage property.

Flooding and coastal erosion aren’t the only climate threat to the Mediterranean. As elsewhere, wildfires, driven by heat and drought are increasing in the region, putting at risk World Heritage sites including the Old Town of Corfu and the monasteries of Mount Athos (Greece) and the Donana National Park in Spain.

Researcher Stéphanie Maillot shows the effects of salt water intrusion on 2,200 year old artefacts at the Délos World Heritage site in Greece. Photo: Andrew Potts.

Time for the World Heritage Committee to take action

Despite the clear and present danger that climate change represents for World Heritage sites across the globe, the World Heritage Committee has not responded to the scale or urgency of the problem. For example, if a site comes under local or regional threat from, say, mining, a hydroelectric project or uncontrolled urban development, it can be added to the List of World Heritage in Danger, with the sanction of being taken off the list if the problems are not urgently addressed.

However, no similar mechanism exists for climate change. Nor is there even any formal requirement under the World Heritage Committee’s current Operating Guidelines to assess climate risk or propose resilience or adaptation measures to address these risks when nominating a new site to the World Heritage list.

Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) will be at the Baku meetings the week of July 1st, working with partners including the International Committee on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), World Heritage Watch, Historic Environment Scotland and Australia’s James Cook University to propose new strategies and mechanisms by which the World Heritage Committee could effectively address climate change. The proposals include the adoption of a Climate Vulnerability Index (CVI) for World Heritage properties.

This article was published by the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Cover photo of Taj Mahal, Agra, India on Wikimedia Commons.
World Bank: Lifelines for Better Development

World Bank: Lifelines for Better Development

Infrastructure is at the heart of lives and livelihoods. It can enable schools and hospitals, businesses and industry, and access to jobs and prosperity. In developing countries, however, disruptions to infrastructure are an everyday concern, reducing opportunities for employment, hampering health and education, and limiting economic growth.

In low and middle-income countries, direct damages from natural hazards to power generation and transport alone cost $18 billion a year, cutting into the already scarce budget of road agencies and power utilities. But the main impact of natural shocks on infrastructure is through the disruptions they impose on people and communities, for instance, businesses unable to keep factories running or use the internet to take orders and process payments; or on the households that don’t have the water they need to prepare meals or on people unable to go to work, send children to school, or get to a hospital.

Along with poor maintenance and mismanagement, natural hazards are one of the main causes of the disruptions that costs households and firms at least $390 billion a year in low- and middle-income countries. And this is a conservative estimate that does not factor in the indirect burdens, such as those placed on women who are often the ones in charge of securing water for households, or the effect on small firms that are unable to grow and innovate because they must bear the cost of electric generators.

“Resilient infrastructure is not about roads or bridges or powerplants alone. It is about the people, the households and the communities for whom this quality infrastructure is a lifeline to better health, better education and better livelihoods. Investing in resilient infrastructure is about unlocking economic opportunities for people. This report offers a pathway for countries to follow for a safer, more secure, inclusive and prosperous future for all.” – David Malpass, World Bank Group President

According to Lifelines, a new report from by the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recoverythe net benefit of building more resilient infrastructure in low- and middle-income countries would be $4.2 trillion, with $4 in benefit for each $1 invested.

Solutions to improve the resilience of infrastructure exist and investments to do so are both sound and profitable. What does this resilient infrastructure look like? It could be digging deeper foundations, using alternative materials, building flood protection, strengthening electrical poles and cell towers, improving road design, and building stronger water treatment plants.

But it is also necessary to look beyond each individual asset and build more resilient systems and networks. Building redundancy in networks, that is by increasing the number of connections that serve a community, for instance, can be a gamechanger. A city that is accessible through multiple roads and powered through multiple transmission lines is less likely to find itself isolated or without power when a devastating storm strike.

At the same time, not all disruptions can be prevented, so ensuring that households and businesses plan for and manage them – for instance, by ensuring that each home has emergency supplies, or that communities have robust and adaptable supply chains – will also be essential.

Spending Better

Closing the infrastructure gap to meet the Sustainable Development Goals will require substantial investments in new infrastructure and in the maintenance of existing assets. However, it’s not only about spending more, it’s also about spending better. Investing in regulations and planning, in the early stages of project design, and in maintenance can significantly outweigh the costs of repairs or reconstruction after a disaster strikes. These kinds of early investments may be difficult to fund in low-income countries. They can therefore be considered as priorities for the international community and development aid.

This report lays out how to unlock this $4.2 trillion opportunity with a range of clear and concrete recommendations:

  1. Get basics right. Tackling poor management and governance of infrastructure systems is key. For instance, a poorly-maintained infrastructure asset cannot be resilient.
  2. Build institutions for resilience. Wider political economy challenges also need to be addressed, and critical infrastructure assets and systems need to be identified so that resources can be directed toward them.
  3. Include resilience in regulations and incentives. Financial incentives can be used to ensure that the full social costs of infrastructure disruptions are accounted for, encouraging service providers to go beyond just meeting mandatory standards.
  4. Improve decision making. Access to better data, tools, and skills is needed to build resilience: for instance, digital elevation models for urban areas are not expensive and are critical to inform hundreds of billions of dollars in investments per year.
  5. Provide financing. The right kind of financing at the right time is key. For example, the amounts of resources needed to support regulators and consider natural risks at the early stages of infrastructure design are small compared to the billions needed to repair and recover in the aftermath of a disaster.

There is no time to waste. With a rapidly changing climate and large investments in infrastructure taking place in many countries, business as usual over the next decade would cost us $1 trillion more. By getting it right, however, we can provide the critical infrastructure services – lifelines – for better development for those who need it the most.

Download the Report

This article was originally published on The World Bank website.
Cover photo by Patrick Beznoska on Unsplash.