Category: Climate Change Impacts

Met Office: Climate change made 2018 UK summer heatwave ‘30 times more likely’

Met Office: Climate change made 2018 UK summer heatwave ‘30 times more likely’

By Daisy Dunne, Carbon Brief

This year’s summer heatwave, which saw temperature records broken across the UK, was made up to 30 times more likely by climate change, a new assessment says.

A preliminary study by scientists at the Met Office Hadley Centre finds that the extreme heat experienced by the UK this year had around a 12% chance of occuring. In a world without climate change, it would have had a 0.5% chance, according to the results.

The influence of climate change on the odds of the 2018 summer heatwave is the highest recorded for a study of this kind looking at extreme events in the UK, the study scientist tells Carbon Brief at the UN’s 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) in Katowice, Poland.

And, by 2050, the chances of such a heatwave occuring could reach 50%, the scientist adds. “With continued emissions, we’ll eventually make it impossible to adapt.”

Feeling the heat

This year’s summer heatwave dominated front pages in the UK – with all-time temperature records broken in, among other places, Belfast (29.5C), Glasgow (31.9C) and Porthmadog, Wales (33C).

The new analysis suggests that such extreme heat was made around 30 times more likely by human-caused climate change.

The results are “surprising”, says study author Prof Peter Stott, who leads on climate monitoring and attribution at the Met Office Hadley Centre. Speaking to Carbon Brief at COP24, he says:

“This is a piece of scientific evidence showing that this is not just chance; we’re not just unlucky. We’re reaping the results of our emissions.

“If you look right back at global temperatures, it’s effectively impossible to have the temperatures that we’re having now without human-induced climate change. Zooming in to a region like the UK, this is probably the highest I’ve seen in that context.”

Climate change chiefly heightens the risk of heatwaves by raising global temperatures, but the 2018 heat could have also been influenced by “unusual” patterns of weather in the atmosphere, he adds:

“This is largely dominated by rising temperatures. It really is as simple of that. Where we are now, you need relatively unusual circulation patterns to get to such elevated temperatures – but, as we go on, weather patterns which bring warmer temperatures will be less rare.”

Warming’s fingerprint

The new research is the latest in what are known as “single-event attribution” studies. These aim to identify the influence that human-caused climate change does – or does not – have on episodes of extreme weather.

(In 2017, Carbon Brief produced a global map of the results of more than 140 attribution studies.)

For this analysis, scientists used climate models to compare the chances of this year’s summer heatwave happening in today’s world to a hypothetical world without human-caused climate change. Stott explains:

“There are now many models which have, in their simulations, all the forcings on climate – so, increasing greenhouse gas concentrations and other human factors, as well as natural factors, such as volcanic eruptions and solar variability.

“We can basically look into those models and then zoom in over the UK and look at the odds of that extreme weather happening in the UK – and then compare that with the same models, but when they only include natural forcings.”

For the study, the researchers defined a “summer heatwave event” as the average temperature increase experienced across the entire season (June to August), when compared to a baseline period of 1901-1930.

The research has not yet been published in a scientific journal, but the methods used are peer-reviewed, Stott says.

Falling odds

The results suggest that the 2018 summer heatwave had a 12% of occuring. In other words, in today’s climate, this sort of heatwave is likely to happen every eight years.

However, in a world without human-caused climate change, the heatwave had around a 0.5% likelihood of occuring – meaning this kind of event would only occur once in every 245 years.

The findings of the study seem to correspond to historical records of heatwaves in the UK, Stott says:

“If you’re looking at high summer temperatures in the UK, then 2003, 2006 and 2018 were all actually neck in neck. That’s three times in the last 20 years. If you look back at pre-1850s – an estimate of pre-industrial temperatures – it happened once, in 1826. So, once in 200 years versus three times in 20 years – that’s roughly 30 times [more].”

The research follows in the footsteps of another attribution study published earlier this year. That analysis by scientists at the World Weather Attribution network found that, across northern Europe, the 2018 summer heatwave was made up to five times more likely by climate change.

The difference in results likely arises for differences in methods and scope, Stott says. The previous analysis focused on six countries in northern Europe, but did not include the UK.

In addition, the previous study focused on how climate change could have influenced a three-day spike in temperatures, whereas the new analysis looks at temperatures across the summer season, Stott says.

Last week, the Met Office published its 2018 climate projections. Among its findings, it reported that summers as hot as in 2018 could be expected every other year by the middle of the century. Stott says:

“What we’re already experiencing is a forecast of what could happen – but in spades. With continued emissions, we’ll eventually make it impossible to adapt.”

This article originally appeared on Carbon Brief and is shared under a Creative Commons license.

Cover photo from Wikimedia Commons (public domain): Outdoor events at The Overture, a free three-day festival to mark the reopening of Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, attended by over a quarter of a million people.
5 key adaptation messages from new US climate report

5 key adaptation messages from new US climate report

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Late last week, the fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA4) for the United States was released by the US Global Change Research Program (USGCRP), a federal program mandated by Congress. The 1,600-page report finds that by 2100, climate change could harm the US economy even more than the Great Recession did costing roughly $500 billion per year under the most extreme scenario (RCP 8.5). But it also highlights that the impacts are already being felt.

“The impacts and costs of climate change are already being felt in the United States, and changes in the likelihood or severity of some recent extreme weather events can now be attributed with increasingly higher confidence to human-caused warming,” authors write in the first chapter of the NCA4.

Climate risk reduction and adaptation are especially important given that even under moderate scenarios (RCP 4.5) annual economic losses are still at several hundred billion per year.

Projected damages and potential for risk reduction by sector. Source: NCA4

In its 28th chapter, the NCA4 outlines 5 key messages about reducing climate risks through climate change adaptation.

1. Adaptation implementation is increasing

While the last NCA found that adaptation in the US was mainly in the planning stage, implementation has significantly picked up. Both the scale and scope of implementation have increased in federal, state, tribal, and local agencies. However, there is still no common reporting system on adaptation, making it difficult to tally the extent of implementation accurately. But due to increasing climate-risk awareness, especially in the private sector, the recognition that adaptation investment benefits exceed their costs, and the increasing number of extreme weather events, adaptation actions have increased in the US.

2. Climate change outpaces adaptation planning

While much headway has been made in climate adaptation, it still has a long way to go. Many organisations have yet to move away from the assumption that they can rely on historical data to make informed decisions about the future. Due to this slow evolution, climate change is worsening faster than the US are adapting to it.

3. Adaptation entails iterative risk management

In order to successfully adapt to climate change and build resilience, climate risk management needs to be an iterative process. The process includes steps for “anticipating, identifying, evaluating, and prioritizing current and future climate risks and vulnerabilities; for choosing an appropriate allocation of effort and resources toward reducing these risks; and for monitoring and adjusting actions over time while continuing to assess evolving risks and vulnerabilities.” Through this ongoing cycle of assessment, action, reassessment, learning, and response climate challenges can be grappled with and climate risks reduced significantly.

4. Benefits of proactive adaptation exceed costs

The NCA4 confirms what many climate adaptation practitioners have been promoting for a long time: the benefits of investing in adaptation often exceed the cost. By anticipating and preparing for future impacts, organisations can avoid large economic losses at the same time as providing many co-benefits. These can be especially extensive when adaptation actions include nature-based solutions.

5. New approaches can further reduce risks

Climate risks can be reduced by working climate considerations into existing organisational policies and practices. However, it will be necessary to create new approaches that alter regulatory and policy environments, cultural and community resources, economic and financial systems, technology applications, and ecosystems in order to build systemic resilience to climate change.

Access the Fourth US National Climate Assessment by clicking here.

Cover photo by ESA/A.Gerst (CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO): Hurricane Florence seen from the International Space Station.
Parts of the world could be facing multiple climate-related crises at once by 2100

Parts of the world could be facing multiple climate-related crises at once by 2100

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

A newly published study in Nature Climate Change finds that risks posed by climate change will be so wide-ranging by the end of this century that some parts of the world could face up to six climate-related crises simultaneously.

The paper analyses a range of climate hazards including heatwaves, wildfires, sea level rise, hurricanes, flooding, drought and water shortages. Many of these problems are already being noticed around the world. This year alone several severe flood events occurred around the world from Japan and Nigeria to the United States, in summer a heatwave led to temperature records across the whole Northern Hemisphere. Just last week, California experienced some of its worst wildfires in its history.

According to the paper, under current greenhouse gas emission scenarios, the situation will get much worse. By 2100, large parts of the world, especially in the Tropics and mostly coastal areas, might experience up to 6 simultaneous climate-related crises. Lead author of the study Camilo Mora, University of Hawaii, described the prospect “like a terror movie that is real.”

Global map of cumulative climate hazards. The main map shows the cumulative index of climate hazards, which is the summation of the rescaled change in all hazards between 1955 and 2095. Smaller maps indicate the difference for each individual hazard for the same time period. Individual hazards were rescaled to be normalized between − 1 and 1. Negative values indicate a decrease in the given hazard, whereas positive values represent an increase relative to the 1950s baseline values. The largest value in the cumulative index was six (that is, cumulatively, the equivalent to the largest change in six climate hazards occurred for any one cell). Plots are based on RCP 8.5, results for all three mitigation scenarios are provided in Supplementary Figs. 1–3. An interactive data visualization is available at and time-series animations at

According to the authors the largest losses of human life during extreme climate events will occur in developing nations, while developed nations will mostly be impacted by high economic losses, a trend that is already true today. To accompany the paper, ESRI developed an interactive map to visualize the findings of the study and even under the most optimistic emission scenario it is clear that adaptation and resilience building are a dire necessity pretty much all over the globe. “We see that climate change is literally redrawing the lines on the map and revealing the threats that our world faces at every level,” said Dawn Wright, ESRIS’s chief scientist.

The paper includes a multidisciplinary effort by 23 authors who reviewed over 3,000 papers on the effects of climate change determining close to 500 ways in which these effects could impact human physical and mental health, food security, water availability, infrastructure and many other aspects.

This study is just another urgent reminder that inaction in terms of climate change mitigation and also adaptation will come at way too high a cost, not just economically but also in terms of human lives.

Mora, C., Spirandelli, D., Franklin, E., Lynham, J., Kantar, M., Miles, W., Smith, C., Freel, K., Moy, J., Louis, L., Barba, E., Bettinger, K., Frazier, A., Colburn IX, J., Hanasaki, N., Hawkins, E., Hirabayashi, Y., Knorr, W., Little, C., Emanuel, K., Sheffield, J., Patz, J. and Hunter, C. (2018). Broad threat to humanity from cumulative climate hazards intensified by greenhouse gas emissions. Nature Climate Change. Access the article by clicking here (paywall).

Cover photo by Eoghan Rice – Trócaire / Caritas (CC BY 2.0): Debris lines the streets of Tacloban, Leyte island. This region was the worst affected by typhoon Hayan in 2013, causing widespread damage and loss of life.
Flash floods increase as mercury climbs

Flash floods increase as mercury climbs

By Tim Radford

Heavy rain must fall somewhere. The danger lies in where it falls and on what kind of terrain. As cities grow, the risk of flash floods rises.

Scientists once again have confirmed that humankind’s actions have triggered ever-greater extremes of rainfall – and an ever-greater rise in disastrous flash floods.

The study comes close on the heels of a warning by UN scientists of a dramatic increase in economic losses from climate-related disasters. Between 1998 and 2017, natural disasters cost the world’s nations direct losses of $2.9 trillion, and although earthquake and tsunami accounted for most deaths, floods, storms and other climate-related catastrophes accounted for 77% of the economic damage.

Scientists and engineers from China and the US report in the journal Nature Communications that flash floods now cause more deaths as well as more property and agricultural losses than any other severe weather-related hazards. These losses have been increasing for the last 50 years and over the last decade worldwide have topped $30bn a year.

And, they find, extremes in run–off from increasing extremes of rainfall are driven by what humans have done, and continue to do, to their planet: in the race for economic growth, people have burned ever more coal, oil and gas to dump ever-increasing levels of carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere.

Heat hazard rises

They have driven up global average temperatures by around 1°C in the last century, and without drastic action this average could reach 3°C by the century’s end.

As average temperatures rise, so does the hazard of extremes of heat. With every rise of 1°C the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb moisture rises by about 7%: higher temperatures are linked to ever-harder falls of rain. And rain that falls must go somewhere.

Moisture once naturally absorbed by forests, extensive wetlands or rich natural grasslands now increasingly lands on tarmacadam, brick, cement, tile or glass, to race down city streets, threaten ever more lives and sweep away costly homes, offices and bridges.

“Those who are suffering the most from climate change are those who are contributing least to greenhouse gas emissions”

Altogether one billion people are now settled in floodplains: the lives at risk are on the increase. And, the researchers warn, the losses will go on rising.

Most researchers have been unwilling to link specific floods directly to global warming. That cautious attitude shifted in the last few years as separate teams of climate scientists made connections between global warming and disastrous flooding and destructive storms in Europe, in India and in the US.

Australia – more often linked with extended drought and wildfire hazards than floods – has identified ever greater dangers from extreme rainfall.

The Nature study was based on decades of rainfall, run-off and temperature data collected on a daily basis and forms part of a widening search for ways to adapt to a danger that, inevitably, looks set to increase, particularly in the US.

Growth in extremes

“We were trying to find the physical mechanisms behind why precipitation and run-off extremes are increasing all over the globe,” said Jiabo Yin, a Wuhan University student working at the Earth Institute in the University of Columbia, who led the research.

“We know that precipitation and run-off extremes will increase significantly in the future, and we need to modify our infrastructures accordingly. Our study establishes a framework for investigating the runoff response.”

Altogether, according to the UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction’s latest survey, the world experienced more than 7,000 major disasters in the last two decades: floods and storms accounted for 43% and 28.2% of them and were the most frequent kinds of disaster.

Together, such disasters claimed 1.3 million lives – almost 750,000 of these to a total of 563 earthquakes and tsunamis. An estimated 4.4 billion people were hurt, or lost their homes, or were displaced or placed in need of emergency help.

Biggest losers

The greatest economic losers were the US, with almost $945 billion, and China with $492bn. Storms, floods and earthquakes put three European nations in the top ten, with France, Germany and Italy losing around $50bn each in those two decades.

Once again, the UN study highlights the gap between rich and poor. “Those who are suffering the most from climate change are those who are contributing least to greenhouse gas emissions,” said Deberati Guha-Sapir, head of the UN’s Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters at the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium.

“Clearly there is great room for improvement in data collection on economic losses, but we know from our analysis … that people in low income countries are six times more likely to lose all their worldly possessions or suffer injury in a disaster than people in high income countries.”

Tim Radford, a founding editor of Climate News Network, worked for The Guardian for 32 years, for most of that time as science editor. He has been covering climate change since 1988.

This article originally appeared on Climate News Network.

Cover photo by European Commission, DG ECHO/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY 2.0): Flash floods in Uttarakhand in 2012
Iraq’s climate stresses are set to worsen

Iraq’s climate stresses are set to worsen

By Kieran Cooke

Iraq’s climate stresses are worsening, raising the prospect of a hotter, drier future for a country which has already seen widespread devastation.

It’s been invaded and bombed, had a third of its territory taken over by terrorist groups, hundreds of thousands have been killed and much of its infrastructure has been destroyed.

Now Iraq and its 39 million people are facing the hazards of climate change; a prolonged drought and soaring temperatures earlier this year ruined crops. Swathes of land in what was, in ancient times, one of the richest agricultural regions on Earth are drying up and turning into desert.

“Iraq is one of the Middle East’s most climate-vulnerable countries”

A recent report by the Expert Working Group on Climate-related Security Risks – made up of academics including members of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) – paints a stark picture of what’s happening in Iraq.

“Climate change is currently manifesting itself in prolonged heat waves, erratic precipitation, higher than average temperatures and increased disaster intensity”, says the report.

Its authors say that over the past summer Iraq suffered from its worst water shortage crisis for 80 years. They say flows of water in many rivers have decreased by up to 40% over recent decades.

The outlook is grim; the study says that due to climate change, average rainfall across the country is likely to decrease by 9% by mid-century, though the intensity of storms is set to increase. Temperatures in Iraq, which regularly reach more than 40°C in the summer months, are set to rise further – by an average of 2°C by 2050.

Livelihoods at risk

“Iraq is one of the Middle East’s most climate-vulnerable countries”, says the Working Group.

“The combination of its hydrological limitations, increasing temperatures and extreme weather events puts pressure on basic resources and undermines livelihood security for Iraq’s population.”

Oil revenues account for more than 80% of Iraq’s gross domestic product (GDP), but a majority of the workforce is involved in agriculture and has been hit hard by the drought and worsening climate conditions.

One of the regions of the country that has suffered most from shifting weather patterns and drought is the marshlands of the south, near the city of Basra.

Unique community

The marshlands, where the mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers which flow through Iraq meet and divide into dozens of channels, formerly covered an area of more than 20,000 square kilometres and were once home to up to half a million people – widely referred to as Marsh Arabs – with a unique way of life.

In the early 1990s, Saddam Hussein, the country’s former ruler, dammed and drained the marshes after tribespeople in the area backed an uprising against his regime. After Saddam was toppled, locals tore down the dams and dykes and brought life back to the region.

Now, once again, the dense channels and waterways of southern Iraq are under threat.

Cross-border impacts

Reductions in rainfall and other climate-related events are only one part of what is a disaster unfolding in one of the most diverse and ecologically rich areas in the Middle East.

Misuse of upriver water resources by the Baghdad government and dams constructed across the Iraqi border, in Iran and Turkey, are severely reducing water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates.

As water levels have plummeted, salinity has increased dramatically, particularly in the south of the country, due to evaporation and saltwater intrusion from the Gulf. Often, because of salinity and pollution, there is little or no drinkable tap water in Basra, a city of more than 2 million.

During the drought last summer, thousands were hospitalised with water-borne diseases.

Corruption threat

Buffaloes, bird life and fish are dying. Reeds and other plant life are being destroyed.

Several people have been killed as protests have erupted over government ineptitude and the lack of basic infrastructure and jobs in what is Iraq’s most oil-rich province.

The Working Group’s report says generally poor governance is exacerbating an already precarious set of circumstances. Civil unrest and terrorism could further destabilise the country.

Widespread corruption is a serious problem. “This factor severely reduces the Iraqi government’s capacity to address security risks and stabilisation strategies, including those relating to climate change”, says the report.

Kieran Cooke, a founding editor of Climate News Network, is a former foreign correspondent for the BBC and Financial Times. He now focuses on environmental issues.

This article originally appeared on Climate News Network.

Cover photo by Hassan Janali, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/Wikimedia Commons (public domain): Marsh Arabs poling a traditional mashoof in the marshes of southern Iraq.
The bitter lesson of the Californian fires

The bitter lesson of the Californian fires

By David Bowman, University of Tasmania

California is burning, again. Dozens of people have been killed and thousands of buildings destroyed in several fires, the most destructive in the state’s history.

The California fires are just the most recent in a series of major wildfires, including fires in Greece in July this year that killed 99 people, Portugal and Chile in 2017, and Australia.

Why do wildfires seem to be escalating? Despite president Donald Trump’s tweet that the California fires were caused by “gross mismanagement” of forests, the answer is more complex, nuanced, and alarming.

What caused the California fires?

The current California fires reflect a complex mix of climate, social, and ecological factors. Fuels across California are currently highly combustible due to a prolonged drought and associated low humidity and high air temperatures. Indeed, it is so dry fires burn freely through the night. Such extreme weather conditions have the fingerprints of climate change.

Compounding the desiccated fuels are the seasonally predictable strong desert winds (the Diablo and Santa Ana) that help fires spread rapidly towards the coast.

Low density housing embedded in flammable vegetation has created an ideal fuel mix for these destructive fires. Having people scattered across the landscape ensures a steady source of ignitions, ranging from powerline faults to carelessness and arson, making fires a near certainty when dangerous weather conditions arise.

Decades of wildfire suppression have created fuel loads that sustain intense fires. That these fuels are burning in late autumn is even more alarming. Under severe fire weather forest fires can engulf entire communities, with fires spreading from house to house, and human communities turning into a unique wildfire “fuel”. Suburbs can burn at the rate of one house per minute .

The standard response to wildfires is to fight them aggressively, using a military-style approach involving small armies of fire fighters combined with aircraft that spread fire retardant and saturate fire-fronts with water. Such approaches are extraordinarily costly. Annual spending on fire fighting has been steadily rising. In the US, annual fire-fighting costs now exceed several billion dollars, with individual fire campaigns costing ten to over a hundred million dollars.

Although industrial fire-fighting approaches currently enjoy political and social support, the strategy is economically unsustainable. And they are impotent in the face of climate change driven fire disasters such as those currently occurring in California.

A human disaster

Across the fire science community there is growing recognition this “total war” on fire approach has failed. The key to sustainable co-existence with flammable landscapes is instead managing fuels around settlements, and stopping wildfires from starting in the first place.

Spain and Portugal are good examples of why this is so important. In these Mediterranean lands, humans have sustainably co-existed with flammable landscapes for thousands of year. However, the near ubiquitous depopulation of rural lands following the second world war has led to the proliferation of flammable vegetation that had previously been held in check by intensive small-scale subsistence agriculture.

The Village of Rojas in Catalonia, Spain in 1946. Institut Cartogràfic i Geològic de Catalunya

The same Spanish village in 2017. Large-scale rural depopulation has led to widespread abandonment of formerly agricultural land, massive fuel accumulation and subsequent historically unprecedented fires. Institut Cartogràfic i Geològic de Catalunya

With the loss of this traditional agriculture Mediterranean countries are now experiencing regular fire disasters (such as the 2018 Greek fires and the 2017 Portuguese and Spanish fires). These are equivalent to fires in more recently settled flammable landscapes in the Americas and Australia.

This seems to be the story in most flammable landscapes on earth: the removal of traditional landscape management by colonisation and globalisation has combined with climate change to turn these landscapes into tinderboxes.

But just as it is unrealistic for Australia to faithfully restore Indigenous fire management practices, expecting a return to historical practices in the Mediterranean is not realistic. There is little economic or social reason for people to return to traditional rural lifestyles, and the gravitational pull of the social and economic advantages in urban areas is too great to stem rural depopulation.

Living with fire

But we can adapt traditional practices to help us live with fire. In the Mediterranean, people are already experimenting with different ways to manage landscapes, such as managing forests for cork and bioenergy, combined with prescribed burning and grazing.

Cork harvesting, selective cutting of trees for bioenergy, understory clearing, and cattle grazing are used in Catalonia, Spain to manage fire hazard by creating a ‘green fire break’. David Bowman

This can create picturesque landscapes that are fire-resistant and easy to defend. Similarly, in Australia, the Victorian government has created parkland-like green fire breaks that were used for back burning operations to protect communities during 2009 Black Saturday wildfires.

A green fire break in mountain ash forest near Kinglake, Victoria. David Bowman

The Hobart City Council is planning to use similar fire breaks to protect its outer suburbs with dense bushland. Such management could be used on a larger scale to substantially reduce fire risk. The challenge for landscape fuel management is providing financial and regulatory incentives for citizens and local communities to reduce fuel.

Currently, no society is sustainably co-existing with wildfire. Globally, the situation will worsen under a rapidly-warming climate with ballooning firefighting costs, and huge loss of life and destruction of property. This is the bitter lesson of the Californian fires.The Conversation

David Bowman, Professor, Pyrogeography and Fire Science, University of Tasmania. Article written with contributions from PhD Student in Fire Ecology, University of Tasmania.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cover photo by  Scott L/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.0): La Tuna Fire in Los Angeles, September 2017.
European Commission: Adapting to climate change is more urgent than ever

European Commission: Adapting to climate change is more urgent than ever

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

In a recent evaluation of the 2013 European Adaptation Strategy the European Commission (EC) asserted that adapting the regions and economic sectors of the European Union (EU) to the impacts of climate change is now more urgent than was forecasted in 2013.

The finding was shared in a report on the implementation of the adaptation strategy and lessons learned, published on 12 November. The recently released IPCC report about the impacts of 1.5 °C versus 2.0 °C global warming added even more urgency to the EC’s findings.

“The need to adapt remains and it has actually grown, as impacts of past emissions unfold through heatwaves, storms, forest fires at high latitudes or destructive floods.”

Miguel Arias Cañete, DG CLIMA

Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete said: “Our collective work on adaptation has shown we not only know more but can also do more to prevent the worst climate impacts projected by 2050. The need to adapt remains and it has actually grown, as impacts of past emissions unfold through heatwaves, storms, forest fires at high latitudes or destructive floods. This evaluation provides a credible basis for the EU policy on adaptation to explore new directions, improvements and also alignment with international developments since 2013.”

Expected annual damage to critical infrastructure in European regions, due to climate change, by the end of the century (million EUR). Source: European Commission.

The EC’s evaluation showed that the adaptation strategy had delivered on its objectives to promote action by Member States, ‘climate-proof’ action at EU level and support better-informed decision-making. However, it is very clear that Europe is still vulnerable to climate impacts and more work needs to be done in order to build resilience. The findings will undoubtedly provide food for thought for the upcoming UN climate change conference COP24.

Some of the key findings of the evaluation are:

  • The current adaptation strategy is still relevant, and the Commission will be guided by its objectives.
  • Major infrastructure projects financed by the EU budget have become climate-proof and will withstand sea level rise, flooding or intense heat.
  • In the future, an effort must be made to ensure most, or all, EU cities have a thorough adaptation plan to protect citizens from both extreme and slow-onset climate hazards. The plans should also cater for specific vulnerabilities of certain communities (e.g. the EU’s Outermost Regions) and the different risks faced by the very diverse regions in the European continent.
  • Adaptation must support and be supported by the protection of the EU’s biodiversity (nature-based solutions).
  • The contribution of the private sector to enhance society’s resilience must be encouraged: the Commission’s efforts will continue to be channelled through its Action Plan on Financing Sustainable Growth and the subsequent legislative proposals adopted in 2018.
  • Climate services for specific adaptation needs should develop into business opportunities, based on reliable and standardised data and the incentives provided by Copernicus and other European Earth observation initiatives.

Cover photo by  Dimitris Vetsikas/Pixabay (public domain).
Climate change poem captures struggles and resilience of indigenous peoples

Climate change poem captures struggles and resilience of indigenous peoples

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Sister of ice and snow, sister of ocean and sand – This is how Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner from the Marshall Islands and Aka Niviâna from Greenland address each other in their poem.

The two indigenous poets tell a story of the fragility of their respective homes and the resilience of their peoples in the face of climate change. Standing on the top of a melting glacier they speak about environmental degradation, pollution, and a changing climate accompanied by hauntingly beautiful music and impressive images.

Speaking to grist, Jetnil-Kijiner explains “I’m not here to convince someone else of my humanity or the reality of our situation, I’m just trying to create a different sort of experience that speaks more truth to my own.”

The idea for the poem came out of a conversation Jetnil-Kijiner had with grist board member Bill McKibben during a conference. McKibben had suggested Jetnil-Kijiner read a poem about climate change while standing on a melting glacier, however, she felt uncomfortable using a landscape of a different country to do so. McKibben put Jetnil-Kijiner in touch with glaciologist Jason Box who introduced her to Niviâna. Jetnil-Kijiner and Niviâna started corresponding via email which ultimately led to them writing this poem together.

Watch the video:

Rise: From One Island To Another from Dan Lin on Vimeo.

Cover photo by U.S. Army (public domain) and Stig Nygaard (CC BY 2.0).
Ocean warming may be faster than thought

Ocean warming may be faster than thought

By Tim Radford

Science knows that ocean warming is occurring. A big challenge now is to work out how quickly the temperature is rising.

The seas are getting hotter – and researchers have thought again about just how much faster ocean warming is happening. They believe that in the last 25 years the oceans have absorbed at least 60% more heat than previous global estimates by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) had considered.

And they calculate this heat as the equivalent to 150 times the annual human electricity generation in any one year.

“Imagine if the ocean was only 30 feet (10m) deep,” said Laure Resplandy, a researcher at the Princeton Environment Institute in the US. “Our data show that it would have warmed by 6.5°C every decade since 1991. In comparison, the estimate of the last IPCC assessment report would correspond to a warming of only 4°C every decade.”

The oceans cover 70% of the Blue Planet, but take up about 90% of all the excess energy produced as the Earth warms. If scientists can put a precise figure to this energy, then they can make more precise guesses about the surface warming to come, as humans continue to burn fossil fuels, release greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and drive up the planetary thermometer.

“There will have to be an even more drastic shutdown of fossil fuel investment and an even faster switch to renewable sources of energy”

At the academic level, this is the search for a factor known to climate researchers as climate sensitivity: the way the world responds to ever-increasing ratios of greenhouse gas in the atmosphere.

At the human level, this plays out as ever-greater extremes of heat, drought and rainfall, with ever-higher risks of catastrophic storm or flood, or harvest failure, and ever-higher tallies of human suffering.

Comprehensive global measurements of ocean temperature date only from 2007 and the network of robot sensors that deliver continuous data about the top half of the ocean basins.

Dr Resplandy and her colleagues report in the journal Nature that they used a sophisticated approach based on very high-precision measurements of levels of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the air.

Gases released

Both gases are soluble, and the oceans are becoming more acidic as the seas absorb ever-greater levels of carbon dioxide. But as seas warm, they also become less able to hold their dissolved gases, and release them into the atmosphere.

This simple consequence of atmospheric physics meant that the researchers could use what they call “atmospheric potential oxygen” to arrive at a new way of measuring the heat the oceans must have absorbed over time.

They used the standard unit of energy: the joule. Their new budget for heat absorbed each year between 1991 and 2016 is 13 zettajoules. That is a digit followed by 21 zeroes, the kind of magnitude astronomers tend to use.

That the oceans are warming is no surprise: this has been obvious from the crudest comparison of old naval data with modern surface checks, and for years some researchers argued that ever-higher ocean temperatures could account for the so-called slowdown in global warming in the first dozen years of this century.

Challenging achievement

The new finding counts first as an academic achievement: there is now a more precise thermometer reading, and new calculations can begin.

One of the researchers, Ralph Keeling of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, said: “The result significantly increases the confidence we can place in estimates of ocean warming and therefore help reduce uncertainty in the climate sensitivity, particularly closing off the possibility of very low climate sensitivity.”

But the result also suggests that internationally agreed attempts to hold planetary warming to a maximum of just 2°C – and the world has already warmed by around 1°C in the last century – become more challenging.

It means that there will have to be an even more drastic shutdown of fossil fuel investment and an even faster switch to renewable sources of energy such as sun and wind power.

Tim Radford, a founding editor of Climate News Network, worked for The Guardian for 32 years, for most of that time as science editor. He has been covering climate change since 1988.

This article was originally published on Climate News Network.

Cover photo by Giga Khurtsilava on Unsplash
Biodiversity is plummeting, humanity needs a radical response

Biodiversity is plummeting, humanity needs a radical response

By Will Bugler

The scariest thing about Halloween this year? Digesting the findings of the World Wildlife Fund’s (WWF) most recent 2018 Living Planet report. The report shows that in the 40 short years between 1970 and 2014, more than 4,000 species of mammal, bird, fish reptile and amphibian are in decline. The average rate of decline of the species in the study? 60 percent. This astonishing loss of biodiversity presents a grave threat to human prosperity. The loss of wildlife and the ecosystems that support it will undermine any attempt to mitigate or adapt to climate change.

WWF’s report lists many factors for the decline, noting that just 25% of land on the planet has not been severely damaged by human activity. It also warns that this is likely to drop to just 10 percent by 2050 due to pollution, disease and climate change. The report was particularly striking in its timing, coming just weeks after the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s recent report on climate change, which warned of the impacts that the world faces at 1.5 degrees of warming. The impacts included wiping out almost all of the world’s coral reefs and altering other fragile habitats and ecosystems.

These two reports together show that significant and far reaching change is necessary in order to protect the vital systems that we rely on to grow food, access fresh water, and power our lives. They also clearly imply that only a holistic approach to climate change adaptation will be effective in safeguarding human systems in the coming decades.

Broadly speaking, the purpose of adapting to climate change is to safeguard lives and livelihoods of people in the face of considerable changes to the climate system; many of which are now inevitable. This goal becomes impossible if we are unable to protect the ecosystems that support life. These may seem like straightforward statements of the obvious, however this does have implications for the way we respond to climate change.

Decision making on climate adaptation should be part of a much broader approach to socio-ecological protection. When making decisions about how best to adapt to climate related impacts such as flooding for example, a narrow, impact-specific approach might be to identify the threat (an overflowing river) and then come up with a cost-effective way to reduce the risk it poses to people and property (a flood barrier perhaps). Congratulations you have successfully reduced the risk of flooding – but have you increased the overall resilience of the people and the environment?

The flood barrier might have diverted the flood risk further downstream leading to flooding of a fragile ecosystem or farmland. It may have cut off vulnerable populations from accessing the market to sell their goods or reduced access to the river for fishermen, or it may provide a perverse incentive for people to build houses and property behind the barrier, increasing the potential impact of a future, more severe flood event.

Finding solutions to climate change that build long-term resilience, requires decisions that are taken in line with a coherent, systemic approach to strengthening ecosystems and protecting the lives of the most vulnerable people. Decisions that reduce climate risk or indeed cut carbon emission at the expense of either people or the environment are self-defeating.

Download the full WWF Living Planet Report by clicking here.

Cover photo by Thomas Kelley on Unsplash