Financial institutions around the world are beginning to wake up to the reality that climate change will have material impacts on their loan and investment portfolios. Since the Financial Stability Board’s Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosure (TCFD) released its recommendations in 2017, banks and other financial institutions have been working to understand how climate risks impact their businesses. Much of the focus of these efforts has been in the EU and North America, however trail-blazing banks in other parts of the world are also taking action.
In this conversation on climate change adaptation, we speak with Chaitanya Kommukuri, Yes Bank’s Vice President of Climate Strategy and Responsible Banking, to learn about the steps it is taking to understand, manage and respond to climate risk.
We live in a globalised world. Just as people, goods and services cross borders, so do the impacts of climate change and our subsequent adaptation responses. A localised drought, occurring more frequently and intensely as a result of climate change, disrupts a global supply chain, which in turn affects consumers many thousands of miles away. An adaptation response, to increase irrigation by tapping a transboundary river, affects a shared ecosystem and shifts sensitive political dynamics across a region. The stakes are high, yet our current adaptation plans often fail to recognise or account for such transboundary risks or our global interdependence.
Ahead of the UN Climate Action Summit 2019, ODI and Wilton Park convened a high-level discussion to present new research on transboundary climate risk. ODI, along with partners, SEI and IDDRI, has launched a new initiative–Adaptation without borders–to harness the international cooperation needed to effectively govern and manage such risks.
They explored how to raise visibility of transboundary climate risks, gather evidence and analysis, build connections between stakeholders and drive action from both policy-makers and practitioners, to ultimately reposition adaptation as a global public good.
1)What is your role at Acclimatise? What does/will your typical ‘work day’ look like?
My role is Climate Risk Analyst, analysing and interpreting environmental information for various public and private clients. However, I also work on analytics tools development, a range of research projects, and I contribute to evolving our advisory services to legal practitioners. A typical ‘work day’ looks like this:
2) What is your favourite location you’ve ever travelled to and why?
Palmyra, Syria. At the time, the immersiveness, rawness, and tranquillity of the ancient desert city was as earie and solemn as it was sublime.
3) What inspired you to work on climate issues?
Climate subsists in and modifies everything from the biochemistry of phytoplankton to the nuanced wording of M&A contracts, where the taken-for-granted vitality of the former can now insist on being a matter to be directly addressed by the latter.
They’re unavoidable, transversal, and important.
4) What book are you currently reading?
I am reading Hadji Murat, a short story by Leo Tolstoy. Set in the Caucasus mountains, it is the account – part-based on the author’s time in military service – of an Avar commander that forms an allegiance with the Russian military in order to gain the upper hand in a feud with his former leader.
5) If you could only eat one meal for the rest of your life, what would it be?
6) In your opinion, what would be one of the most effective ways to accelerate progress against climate change?
Tread lightly, regulate soundly, respect reality, price nature correctly. Multiply everywhere refuges for other modes of living and for recuperation.
As part of London Climate Action Week, the Resilience Shift hosted a film screening of interviews with a number of Cape Town’s leaders from government, private sector, academia and civil society reflecting on how their city narrowly avoided running out of water. This provided the basis for a panel discussion on the lessons that London and other cities can draw from Cape Town’s water crisis.
In the lead up to April 12, 2018 – ‘Day Zero’ when the city was projected to run out of water – all of Cape Town’s residents learned many hard lessons about managing and conserving their water, changing usage behaviour, communication and working in partnership to respond to a crisis.
Those involved in the city-wide response to ‘Day Zero’ were asked to share their stories as part of an innovative film project, the Cape Town Drought Response Learning Initiative (CTDRLI), led by Peter Willis of Conversations that Count, and the Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership, and Victor van Aswegen, Director, CineSouth Studios.
What we eat can harm not only our health, but the planet itself. About a quarter of all the greenhouse gas emissions that humans generate each year come from how we feed the world. Most of them are methane released by cattle, nitrogen oxides from chemical fertilisers and carbon dioxide from the destruction of forests to grow crops or raise livestock.
All of these gases trap heat in the Earth’s atmosphere. Extreme weather events like floods and droughts are becoming more frequent and severe in our warming world, destroying crops and disrupting growing seasons. As a result, climate change could wreak havoc on already precarious food supplies. The challenges for agriculture are vast, and they’ll only mount as the world’s population grows.
The new special report on climate and land by the IPCC warns that without drastic changes in global land use, agriculture and human diets, efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions will fall significantly short of targets to hold global temperature rise below 1.5°C.
A food system that produces nutritious food without harming the environment or other aspects of our well-being is sorely needed. But can it produce enough food to feed billions of people while reversing biodiversity loss and pollution?
This is where I believe archaeologists and anthropologists can help. Our recent paper in World Archaeology explores past agricultural systems and how they could help make agriculture more sustainable today.
Canals and corn in South America
There’s a long history of societies around the world experimenting with the way they produce food. Through these past successes and failures comes perspective on how humans have transformed local environments through agriculture and affected soil properties over thousands of years.
Ancient agricultural practices weren’t always in balance with nature – there’s some evidence that early food growers damaged their environment with overgrazing or mismanaging irrigation which made the soil saltier. But there are also many instances where past systems of growing food improved soil quality, increased crop yields and protected crops against flooding and drought.
One example originated in Pre-Incan South America, and was commonly used between 300 BC and 1400 AD. The system, known today as Waru Waru, consisted of raised soil beds up to two metres high and up to six metres wide, surrounded by water channels. First discovered by researchers in the 1960s around Lake Titicaca, these raised field systems were introduced into wetland and highland areas of Bolivia and Peru over the following decades.
Although some projects failed, the majority have allowed local farmers to improve crop productivity and soil fertility without using chemicals. Compared to other local agricultural methods, the raised beds capture water during droughts and drain water when there’s too much rain. This irrigates the crops all year round. The canal water retains heat and raises the air temperature surrounding the soil beds by 1°C, protecting crops from frost. The fish that colonise the channels also provide an additional food source.
Research is still ongoing, but today these Waru Waru systems are regularly used by farmers throughout South America, including in the Llanos de Moxos, Bolivia – one of the largest wetlands in the world. Waru Waru farming could prove more resilient to the increased flooding and drought that’s expected under climate change. It could also grow food in degraded habitats once considered unsuitable for crops, helping ease pressure to clear rainforest.
Fish as pest control in Asia
Monocultures are a much more familiar method of agriculture to people today. These are the vast fields that contain one type of crop, grown on a huge scale to guarantee higher yields that are easier to manage. But this method can also degrade soil fertility and damage natural habitats and decrease biodiversity. Chemical fertilisers used on these farms leach into rivers and oceans and their pesticides kill wildlife and create resistant pests.
Growing multiple crops, rearing different species of livestock and reserving different habitats for conservation could make food supplies more nutritious and resilient to future shocks in the weather, while also creating more livelihoods and regenerating biodiversity.
That may sound like a lot to consider, but many ancient practices managed to achieve this balance with rather simple means. Some of them are even used today. In southern China, farmers add fish to their rice paddy fields in a method that dates back to the later Han Dynasty (25–220 AD).
The fish are an additional protein source, so the system produces more food than rice farming alone. But another advantage over rice monocultures is that farmers save on costly chemical fertilisers and pesticides – the fish provide a natural pest control by eating weeds and harmful pests such as the rice planthopper.
Research throughout Asia has shown that compared to fields that only grow rice, rice-fish farming increases rice yields by up to 20%, allowing families to feed themselves and sell their surplus food at market. These rice-fish farms are vital to smallholder communities, but today they’re increasingly pushed out by larger commercial organisations wishing to expand monoculture rice or fish farms.
The enduring success of these ancient methods remind us that we could reimagine our entire food system to feed ten billion people while rejuvenating wildlife and locking carbon away. Instead of reinventing the wheel, we should look to what worked in the past and adapt it for the future.
This article was originally published on The Conversation.
By Mark Cuthbert, Cardiff University and Richard Taylor, UCL
Groundwater reserves in Africa are estimated to be 20 times larger than the water stored in lakes and reservoirs above ground. These are the freshwater stores that flow in rocks and sediment beneath the Earth’s surface. They are a vital source of drinking water in sub-Saharan Africa, where groundwater is often the only year-round supply of fresh water in rural areas. Increasingly it is being used in towns and cities as well.
Accessed through wells, boreholes and springs, groundwater is so valuable because it can be found almost anywhere and is generally high quality. It’s often a more reliable source during drought than other water sources. As climate change affects the reliability of water supplies at the surface, more freshwater will likely be drawn from beneath the ground to support rising populations and to irrigate crops. The big question is how much groundwater can be used sustainably as the climate changes?
Despite its obvious importance, surprisingly little is known about how groundwater in sub-Saharan Africa is replenished and how resilient it is to climate change. The main reason for this is that, until now, scientists haven’t had access to groundwater level records that go far enough back to see how the climate and groundwater are linked. So regional assessments of groundwater have, to date, relied on computer simulations that aren’t tested by groundwater data.
Groundwater levels are determined by the relative balance between recharge – the process by which groundwater is replenished – and discharge – the flow of groundwater to springs, streams, wetlands and the sea. The withdrawals people make, for irrigation or drinking water, also contribute to reducing the amount of stored groundwater.
By analysing long records of groundwater level and rainfall, our team showed that in wetter parts of Africa groundwater is mostly replenished by rainfall that trickles down through the soil to the water table, and that this occurs consistently over large areas.
But in drier regions, groundwater is mostly recharged locally by water leaking into it from temporary streams and ponds, which only flow after particularly heavy rainfall. This finding is important because previous studies have ignored how much leaking streams and ponds contribute to groundwater, and so are likely to have underestimated how well groundwater can be replenished in dry regions.
Climate change’s silver lining?
This has profound implications for our understanding of how resilient groundwater in Africa will be to climate change. It reveals that groundwater recharge is very sensitive to the intensity of rainfall, not just the overall amount of rain. This is especially true in the most naturally water scarce parts of sub-Saharan Africa.
These findings challenge predictions from computer models that freshwater will become scarcer in African drylands as climate change reduces rainfall. Instead, global warming is making rainfall come in fewer but heavier bursts – that could actually be good for increasing groundwater recharge overall.
Heavy rainfall and floods are often caused by weather patterns such as El Niño and La Niña. These are predictable up to nine months in advance. So, groundwater recharge could be enhanced by capturing a portion of flood water and storing it underground where it can later be withdrawn for drinking or irrigation during dry periods.
In some areas, the land surface might not be able to accept all of the potential replenishment that is available from rainfall. This happens when rocks are not very porous and unable to store much water, or in wetter areas where the water table is shallow. Pumping groundwater in such areas could create more “room” to accommodate greater seasonal replenishment.
The World Health Organisation estimated in 2015 that 319m people in sub-Saharan Africa still lacked access to safe water. This is also the only region in the world where per capita food production fell over the 20th century. As populations here grow, people will need to be able to withdraw more freshwater to drink and grow food in the face of more frequent droughts.
Crop irrigation fed by groundwater could be an important solution. This new research helps to show when and where groundwater could provide drinking water and be used to irrigate crops in a sustainable way, so that the stores of groundwater will still be there for future generations. For this, monitoring of groundwater levels should continue and be expanded across Africa.
1) What is
your role at Acclimatise? What does/will your typical ‘work day’ look like?
I am a Climate Risk Analyst working as part of the Advisory team
at the Cardiff Office. The nature of my work varies from day to day from
analysing data and statistical testing to analysing and evaluating climate risk
and resilience for various international projects. My role allows me to use my
previous experience working at a water consultancy to build fluvial and coastal
hydrological models and carry out flood risk assessments from the perspective
of climate risk and resilience.
What inspired you to work on climate issues?
Born and bred with rolling green hills and iron age hill forts
right at my door step, I inherently developed an appreciation for the diversity
of plants and animals, the complex geological forms and structures, and for the
rich history of the people of Wales. Learning in school that the equilibrium of
life was broken, the secure paradise which I so readily took for granted was
under threat, inevitably led me to pursue my passion in environmental sciences
and on to a career tackling climate change. The sense of belonging and the firm
roots which my country continues to give me is an integral part of my life and I
wish nothing more than to share this gift with future generations.
3) If you
could have dinner with anyone (past or present), who would it be and why?
I would have dinner with my Taid (grandfather), who passed away a month after I was born, as he lived a very interesting life. He was a chemical scientist who was sent to work at the nuclear powerplant Windscale during the second world war as he was a pacifist. He wrote a book similar to that of Geogre Orwell’s “1984”, were the characters in his book avoided being conditioned by the Big Brother by speaking a language that the Big Brother couldn’t detect, Welsh. He wrote scientific articles foreseeing an environmental dystopia, the mass extinction of plant and animal species and the rise of a monocultured, coca-cola world. And he was the founder of the Cymdeithas yr Iaith Gymraeg, a direct action pressure group in Wales campaigning for the right of Welsh people to use the Welsh language in every aspect of their lives. Over a hearty homemade Sunday Roast, I would enjoy nothing more than to discuss science, politics and the question of globalism v nationalism with him.
4) Three things on your bucket list:
Firstly, I would love to experience the immensity and the tranquillity of the
Himalayas in Nepal and then, in contrast, travel down to experience the
colourful, hectic cities of India.
Secondly, I would love to hike or cycle the entire border of Wales, along the
coastal path and the Offa’s Dyke between England and Wales.
Finally, I would love to see a zero-carbon Wales and play a part in developing
a flourishing green-economy.
What developments in climate science, policy, or public perceptions – or lack
thereof – have surprised you the most?
Two things stand out to me when I think of the recent wave of
change in public perception over recent years.
The first is the David Attenborough Effect – the religious
practice of watching Planet Earth every Sunday evening, the entire family mesmerized
at the richness of the natural world and empathising with the human-qualities
of the animals as portrayed by the narratives.
The second is how technology has changed our perception of the
world. We’re witnessing the world from different angles; a GoPro strapped to
the head of a dog to see the world from the dog’s perspective, aerial shots of
meandering deltas and crests of dunes taken from drones, to photos and videos
taken from under water thanks waterproof cameras.
I believe that both of these have changed the placement of the
individual within the world and has led to a growth in awareness of our role
within nature. Some might say that Charles Darwin and his Theory of Evolution
caused a cataclysmic change in people’s relationship with nature, but I also believe
that technology, which is so readily available to us all today, has caused
another wave. Platforms such as Instagram are enabling us to view the world
through a completely different lens, a creative lens. This is encouraging a new
sense of respect and duty to protect both the natural world and the family of
the human race.
By Kathryn Brown, Head of Adaptation at the Committee on Climate Change Secretariat.
Climate change is a cross-Government issue, and there is still much to do to increase the scale of cross-Government coordination and action to reflect that. As a tranche of new Ministers returns from the summer recess to red boxes full of EU-exit briefing, we will be trying to make our analysis heard. All of our key messages and recommendations are important, but here are three messages from the report that should not be lost amongst the din.
We know what the risks are, and with that comes a responsibility to act
The Government’s own Climate Change Risk Assessment, published every five years, sets out the current and future risks (and some opportunities) from climate change. The latest CCRA is based on the CCC’s Evidence Report, last published in 2016 and currently being updated for release in 2021. It is very clear what the risks to the UK are, from extreme heat, flooding, drought, pests and diseases; affecting both people and wildlife. Recent weather events mirror what is expected and have come as no surprise to the climate science community. The UK’s highest ever recorded temperature of 38.7°C was recorded on 25 July in Cambridge, with similar records having fallen in Belgium, Germany, and the Netherlands in the preceding weeks. Severe storms and flash flooding have occurred in the north-west and Lincolnshire, with knock-on impacts on infrastructure. Last year saw an extended summer drought. All of these impacts reflect the threats facing the UK from higher temperatures, too much and too little water.
Weather in the UK is becoming more extreme, and sea level continues to rise.
A UK net zero target does not reduce the need for adaptation
To have any chance of meeting the goal of the Paris Agreement (to keep global temperature rise well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels), very ambitious, but very achievable global action to reduce emissions is needed now. To have around a 50% chance of keeping warming below 1.5°C temperature, the latest science suggests that emissions of all greenhouse gases must be reduced and global CO2 emissions need to fall rapidly from today and reach net zero around 2050. The UK’s net-zero target represents an appropriate contribution to those global efforts, but it now must be implemented and other countries must follow suit. Actions to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions taken today will have an effect on some climate hazards in the UK within decades, whilst other hazards (such as sea-level rise) will continue to increase for centuries due to time lags in the climate system. It is highly likely that average annual temperatures in the UK by 2050 will rise by between 0.5 to 2.7°C above a 1980-2000 baseline period, depending on the pathway of global emissions. What happens beyond 2050 will be influenced even more strongly by global mitigation efforts.
Global average temperature is already around 1°C above pre-industrial temperatures, and rising. Not only do we need to plan adaptation strategies for 2°C, but also for 4°C, which could still be reached based on extrapolations of future global emissions consistent with recent trends. There are going to be limits to adaptation at 4°C, where no action is enough to manage the risk. There also remains the very real risk of triggering ‘global discontinuities’ or tipping points. The widespread fires happening across the Arctic, and high mortality observed in reindeer populations this summer, may just be a worrying and sad taste of what is to come at higher latitudes, where warming has been much larger than the global average. Many of the tipping point effects we know about relate to the poles. The CCRA has a section on ‘climate surprises and missing processes’ such as rapid arctic ice melt and methane release from permafrost, but we know that these risks are overlooked in planning at the moment, and this needs to change.
Adaptation is not being resourced sufficiently
There has been a marked erosion of resourcing for adaptation in England since 2009. Following the publication of the 2009 UK Climate Projections, the Prime Minister asked sixteen departments to produce Departmental Adaptation Plans, which were published in 2010. These Plans contained a detailed assessment of the adaptation plans and policies of each department; something that has not been replicated in the subsequent two iterations of the National Adaptation Programme in 2013 and 2018. Government funding for adaptation support services in England – for the UK Climate Impacts Programme between 1997 and 2009, Climate Ready service between 2010 and 2017 and the nine Regional Climate Change Partnerships – has ended. Dozens of officials worked in the climate team in Defra, and with other departments to create the first NAP in 2013. This was still far fewer than the hundreds working on mitigation in the Department of Energy and Climate Change, but there was a definite upward trajectory. Only a handful of officials existed in the same team in 2018. A team of this size cannot coordinate and support adaptation policy effectively across Government. A team of any size cannot put in place the policies needed without support and direction from Ministers and senior officials.
Adaptation should be a no-brainer. It is sustainable development. It is going to be essential for meeting Government goals on health, biodiversity, and supporting the economy. Alongside efforts to reduce emissions, we should be seeing much greater uptake of measures like passive cooling in new and existing homes, urban greenspace including green sustainable drainage, property-level flood resilience; managed realignment of the coast; habitat restoration; monitoring of pests and disease risks; water efficiency; business continuity planning; and ongoing monitoring and data collection.
We have been saying the same simple message, over and over, for years, and will keep saying it long after the tumult of EU-exit has died down.
This month, Acclimatise has appointed Dr Xianfu Lu to lead its Analytics Division. Xianfu brings a wealth of experience working with the Asian Development Bank, UNDP and UNFCCC, applying the latest climate data to real-world decision-making frameworks. Xianfu will help to ensure that Acclimatise’s analytics services grow to meet the fast-growing demand for new tools and software that support climate resilient decisions. “I am exceedingly excited about joining Acclimatise,” Xianfu said, “the time has arrived for climate action: we now have the Paris Climate Agreement, we have the TCFD recommendations, and we have a corporate community and financial services sector ready to engage.”
Xianfu’s wide-ranging experience makes her ideally placed to ensure
that Acclimatise continues to provide analytical tools that make climate data
useful for its clients. Trained as an applied meteorologist,
Xianfu has been working on climate risk assessment and management
for over 20 years. She began her career as a research scientist
developing and applying climate risk scenarios at the University of East Anglia
and was a coordinating lead author for the Fourth Assessment Report of the
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
Since then, Xianfu
has been putting her technical expertise into practice. She has worked with the
UNDP providing technical support to over 140 countries for their vulnerability
and adaptation assessments and has worked at the UNFCCC secretariat including
leading the support for negotiations on a number of issues related to climate
resilience and adaptation within the Paris Climate Agreement. Most recently,
Xianfu was the adaptation lead of the Asian Development Bank where she helped
establish and operationalise the institution’s climate risk assessment and
“It’s very exciting to have Xianfu joining the company” said Acclimatise CEO John Firth, “we
have ambitious plans for our Analytics business and Xianfu’s knowledge and
experience makes her perfectly placed to ensure that our tools and software
continue to lead the market.”
Xianfu’s experience at ADB included working with Acclimatise’s Aware for Projects™ tool which forms part of the physical climate risk screening process for ADB’s investments. Her experience institutionalising the climate risk framework gave her a clear appreciation of the challenge of developing tools that can be integrated into decision-making processes successfully. According to Xianfu, this remains the challenge for data analytics companies. “Although there has been a rapid growth in the offerings of data analytics including AI-enabled tools, truly user-friendly and technically robust analytics tools remain a rarity,” she said.
We have never known so much about the Earth’s climate system as we do
today. The amount of scientific data and information about past, present and
future climate is growing exponentially, as historic records are digitised,
satellites provide earth observation data on a daily basis, and climate models
become ever-more advanced. However, climate data alone is not sufficient to enable
corporates, investors or governments to make better decisions and build climate
resilience. “Since physical climate risk is a topic new to
businesses and the financial services sector, external professional services
are needed to identify, quantify, manage and disclose material risks and opportunities.”
Explains Xianfu, “given the technical complexity of assessing and
managing physical climate risk… analytics tools and software are needed.”
If done well, climate analytics software can help financial
institutions and businesses to assess physical climate risks across their portfolios
in line with TCFD recommendations and can facilitate climate-resilient
investment decisions. “It is particularly important to highlight that
analytics software must be user-friendly so that the task of assessing physical
climate risks and opportunities is manageable and makes practical sense and, at
the same time, is technically sound,” said Xianfu. “To achieve this, we
need not only climate information based on state-of-the-art climate science but
also a thorough understanding of the business processes and decision criteria
of any given business or financial services industry.”
As well as driving forward the development of new analytics tools, Xianfu will help build on the successes of Acclimatise’s current range of climate tools and software. “With Xianfu on board, we will continue to refine and develop our existing commercial tools such as Aware™ which is used by four of the largest development banks to screen their investments for climate risk and identify investment opportunities, MiCA which enables the mining sector to access relevant climate data for any asset anywhere in the world, and our thresholds tool which combines climate data with asset thresholds to support corporates to understand climate risks to their facilities and operations.” said Bob Khosa, Technical Director of Acclimatise Analytics.
Xianfu is confident that Acclimatise’s fifteen-years of experience of integrating climate risks into decision-making processes through its advisory services can be increasingly leveraged in support of its analytics offerings. “With a most talented and dedicated team and unparalleled experience in delivering climate risk assessment and management services, Acclimatise cannot be a better home for me to apply my unique skill sets, to support the management of climate risks and opportunities for our clients, through which we can help to strengthen climate resilience of economies, communities and natural environments around the world.”
In this Acclimatise Conversation on Climate Change Adaptation, we speak with Clyde & Co lawyers Wynne Lawrence and Nigel Brook, about the emerging field of climate liability risk and the pioneering work that the firm is doing to advise its clients about how to respond.
In September 2015 the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark
Carney, gave his seminal ‘Tragedy of the Horizon’s’ speech, to the insurance
market at Lloyd’s of London. In it, he highlighted the severe threats posed by
climate change to the financial system and warned the problem risked being
ignored because of institutional near-sightedness.
“The classic problem in environmental economics is
the ‘tragedy of the commons’… but climate change is a tragedy of the horizon,”
Carney said, “We don’t need an army of actuaries to tell us that the
catastrophic impacts of climate change will be felt beyond the traditional
horizons of most actors. It will impose costs on future generations that the
current one has little direct incentive to fix.”
The horizon for monetary policy goes out just a couple of
years, and financial stability only about a decade. Carney went on to outline
the three main ways in which climate change can affect financial stability:
Physical risks like storms and floods;
Transition risks associated with the transition
to a low carbon economy; and
Liability risks, legal claims by those suffering
losses due to climate change.
Much of the attention since then has been on the first two
categories, the physical and transition risks, but a growing number of lawyers
and pioneering legal firms are drawing attention to the third category, the
Their work has been reinforced by a growing number of international regulations and national laws and a growing body of case law. One such firm is Clyde & Co, a global firm that focusses on five key sectors: insurance, energy, trade and commodities, infrastructure and transport. The firm soon realised that climate change posed risks to all of these sectors, and so they set up a cross-disciplinary team on climate resilience. Listen to the full podcast to learn more.