Category: Government

COP23 roundup: The outcomes and implications for climate adaptation

COP23 roundup: The outcomes and implications for climate adaptation

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

In the early hours of Saturday morning, the official UN climate talks came to an end. Proceedings closed with a traditional Fijian song, Isa Lei, marking the end of the small island nation’s COP presidency. The negotiations did not close on a spectacular note, as was the case in 2015 when the Paris Agreement was signed, but that does not mean that nothing was achieved in Bonn. What many thought would be an event defined by the current US government’s announcement to step away from the Paris Agreement, turned out a little more positive.

New platforms for gender action, indigenous peoples, and oceans

This was the first COP chaired by a small-island state, which provided such nations a platform to highlight their challenges and inform discussions. With a strong focus on social issues, COP23 saw the establishment of the Gender Action Plan, highlighting role of women in climate action and promoting gender equality in the process, and the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform, which will support the exchange of experience and sharing of best practices on mitigation and adaptation. Fiji also launched the Ocean Pathway Partnership to integrate oceans more into the UNFCCC process.

Progress outside of the formal process

This year, significant progress was made outside of the official COP negotiations. This is important as it clearly signals that climate action is accelerating outside of governmental processes.

COP23 saw the establishment of the US Climate Action Center, an initiative by US American states, cities, a handful of US senators, businesses, colleges and universities, and non-profits who are committed to climate action regardless of the current White House position on climate change. ECO, the COP newsletter by Climate Action Network International said “the delegation represents a country whose people are deeply committed to climate action.

Current California Governor Jerry Brown and United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Cities and Climate Change Mike Bloomberg presented the first report of their initiative ‘America’s Pledge’, which was launched this year in July. The report communicates to the international community the scope and scale of non-federal climate action in the United States following the Trump administration’s decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. It clearly shows the amount of public support for climate action in the USA.

More specific to adaptation and climate risk was the launch of the Global Centre of Excellence on Climate Adaptation (GCECA). The centre, which Acclimatise is a founding member of, wants to accelerate climate adaptation by mobilising and convening the global adaptation community to recognize, build and promote excellence among all relevant stakeholder groups around the world.

Furthermore, the European Investment Bank announced it would start screening all of its investments for climate risks using Acclimatise’s Aware tool.

Tensions over pre-2020 action and finance

One area of conflict that emerged in the first week of the talks was the issue of pre-2020 climate action. Developing countries were concerned that rich countries would not meet their commitments they made under the Paris Agreement, for the period to 2020. One of the main issues was the agreed $100 billion per year in climate finance up to 2020, which developed countries have not delivered. While little substantive progress was made on this issue, developing countries succeeded in getting pre-2020 ambitions and implementation included in the COP23 decision text, which states that they are “of utmost importance”. These discussions will also be included in the so-called ‘Talanoa Dialogue’, a one-off process in 2018 to take stock of climate action.

Another issue on climate adaptation finance concerned the Adaptation Fund. There was disagreement over whether the fund, serves the Paris Agreement or not. The fund, was established in 2001 to finance adaptation projects in the developing country Parties to the Kyoto Protocol (the deal struck in 1997 committing developed nations to cut emissions up to 2020). Many argue that for the fund to keep political importance it should serve the newer Paris Agreement. Finally, it was decided that the fund ‘shall’ serve the Paris Agreement, expressing a strong intention but not fully committing to it.

Finally, the Green Climate Fund (GCF) put a strong focus on adaptation during COP23. Following a surge in requests for GCF support, they want to make access to climate adaptation finance easier with a suite of tools including Acclimatise’s GCF proposal toolkit.

Loss and damage – where will the finance come from?

Loss and damage is a historically thorny subject at the UN climate talks, but it was acknowledged in the Paris Agreement and is emerging as “the third pillar of international climate policy”. However, it currently has no sources of finance; an issue that was raised again this year and got postponed to 2019. Within the UNFCCC, loss and damage is dealt with through the Warsaw International Mechanism, which has its next review coming up in 2019. Shifting the discussion to 2019 has been described as “wholly inappropriate” by some experts. Countries agreed to hold further talks, known as the Suva Expert Dialogue, in 2018. The hope is that this will lay the foundations for delivering finance to climate-vulnerable countries where climate-related loss and damage will be most severe.

On a more positive note, the InsuResilience Global Partnership for Climate and Disaster Risk Finance and Insurance Solutions was launched during the second week of COP23. The initiative aims to provide insurance to 400 million poor and vulnerable people by 2020. “The Global Partnership is a practical response to the needs of those who suffer loss because of climate change, and I am very proud that it has happened under Fiji’s Presidency of COP. At the same time, it is a means of preparing for a more resilient form of development for those who will have to adapt to the great challenge of climate change,” said COP23 President and Fijian Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama.

The year ahead

2018 will be an important test for the Paris Agreement, as Parties will have to complete the work on the agreed rulebook and complete the global stocktaking under the Talanoa dialogue. Finally, in October, the IPCC will issue its special 1.5 °C report with the aim of strengthening the global response to climate change. COP24 is set to take place in Katowice, Poland from 3-14 December 2018.

Cover photo by UNFCCC (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): President of COP 23, CMP 13, CMA 1-2 hosts a meeting with Heads of State and Government, the Secretary General of the United Nations and the Executive Secretary UNFCCC
COP23 first week roundup: Push towards loss and damage action but stagnation on pre-2020 climate issues

COP23 first week roundup: Push towards loss and damage action but stagnation on pre-2020 climate issues

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

The first week at COP23 in Bonn is already behind us. What was supposed to be a boring, technocratic COP, got going with a surprising sense of urgency with negotiators seemingly spurred on by UN warnings that national pledges in made so far would only deliver one third of the emissions cuts to reach the Paris target. But beyond the carbon targets, discussions continued on a host of adaptation and resilience issues. As delegates get ready for the second week of negotiations (and the inevitable late nights that it brings), we take a look at what has happened so far:

Non-state climate action

Last week saw the establishment of the US Climate Action Center, an initiative by US American states, cities, a handful of US senators, businesses, colleges and universities, and non-profits who are committed to climate action regardless of the current White House position on climate change. ECO, the COP newsletter by Climate Action Network International said “the delegation represents a country whose people are deeply committed to climate action.

ECO and others report that the decision over the inclusion of pre-2020 climate action in the COP23 agenda is stagnating as developed countries claim the matter could be discussed elsewhere. A 2012 agreement of developed nations stated that they would cut emissions at least 18% compared to 1990 levels. To this day, however, most have not even ratified the agreement.

Loss and damage

With Fiji holding the presidency, it comes as no surprise that loss and damage is an especially important item on the agenda. The devastating climate disasters around the world in 2017 are serving as evidence of how important the permanent inclusion of loss and damage is at the UN climate talks. There are calls for the Warsaw Mechanism (WIM) to start moving beyond building “knowledge and collaboration” on the issue and toward mobilising finance and action to address climate-related loss and damage.

There has been considerable progress on loss and damage over the last decade, and although there are some reports that delegates from developed countries are trying to keep the finance issue out of discussions on the WIM, it does have a clear mandate to enhance, facilitate, mobilise and secure finance for loss and damage. It certainly seems that the hard yards on this issue are still ahead of us.

Adaptation funding

During last week’s opening sessions, Germany announced they were committing €50 million (US$58 m) in new funding to the UN Adaptation Fund, which distributes finance to climate change adaptation and resilience building projects in developing nations. The commitment gets the fund nearly 75% of its US$80 million goal for 2017.

It will be interesting to see this week if the climate talks will do anything to address the current imbalance on adaptation finance, and if improvements will be made to the way commitments are tracked. This will also be important for the 2020 climate finance goal of US$100 billion per year (for both adaptation and mitigation), the fulfilment of which is seen as a vital to enhance trust and cooperation between the developed and developing nations.

The importance of adaptation finance and support from developed nations was further underlined by a report completed by the Fijian government and the World Bank which concluded the island nation needed US$4.5 billion to reach its development objectives in the face of climate change. This amount is equivalent to Fiji’s entire gross domestic product over the next 10 years.

A focus on health

The World Health Organisation and the UN Climate Change secretariat drafted an initiative together with Fiji to protect people from small island nations from the health impacts of climate change. The plan wants to build capacity in such nations through enhancing knowledge, resources and technology to increase their healthcare resilience. Health projects currently only receive about 1.5% of adaptation finance, but people living in small island developing states are faced with severe health risks due to extreme weather events, rising sea levels and increasing risk of infectious diseases.

It will be interesting to see what the negotiations bring over the next few days as COP23 comes to its end. Will there be progress on the fine print of the Paris Agreement? Will loss and damage make another leap? Will parties agree on pre-2020 action? This and more in our final COP23 round up next week!

Cover photo by Wolkenkratzer/Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0): ‘Bonn-Zone’ in landscape park Rheinaue near river Rhine in Bonn, a few days before the begin of United Nations Climate Change Conference, November 2017 in Germany. White tents and temporary structures within green trees at a little lake, near one of water recycling and wastewater treatment plants in Bonn.
Climate Change poses risks to Maryland’s Retirement and Pension System

Climate Change poses risks to Maryland’s Retirement and Pension System

By Nathan Hultman and Alan Miller

Pension funds, unlike commercial banks, have to manage returns for the long term so as to ensure they fulfill the promises made to employees who may be decades from retirement.  Thinking about the future – and new financial risks – is therefore one of their most important responsibilities. Recent hurricanes and wildfires in the United States have underscored that climate change has become a new source of major financial risk—which will almost certainly grow in coming decades.  To date, however, the Maryland pension fund has been slow to respond comprehensively to this challenge, even as tidal flooding has become a regular feature in parts of Annapolis just blocks away from government offices.

The Maryland State Retirement and Pension System (SRPS) currently manages over $47 billion in assets on behalf of 380,000 members across numerous state and local government agencies. State pension funds such as Maryland’s invest funds in a broad swath of the global economy. Climate change poses real risks to those investments in a number of ways, including direct impacts from weather events, loss of competitiveness for companies in affected industries, and legal liability for the mismanagement of such risks. These risks create a vulnerability for Maryland and all other states with long term obligations to their residents and employees.

Pension funds in other jurisdictions have begun addressing both these risks resulting from climate change impacts and policies. In June of this year, a task force of international financiers under the auspices led by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg also issued a report highlighting these risks and the need for greater disclosures. Maryland’s SRPS did contribute to some early thinking with other pension funds about how to deal with climate change in investment decisions, and has taken some initial steps to engage in proxy voting. However, more can and should be done – starting now – both individually and in concert with other pension funds and long-term asset holders, institutions collectively managing about $100 trillion.

In a study[1] we recently co-authored, we identified some of the areas for potential improvement. The Maryland SRPS could, for example, learn from other states’ pension management practices and incorporate these into the System’s framework. The California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF) have commissioned reports to analyze their portfolio’s climate risks and approved climate change resolutions for five major energy companies this year along with other shareholders. Other tools they have used include proxy voting to place climate change risk management experts on corporate boards and shifting capital to companies with lower emissions or investing in green bonds.  They are also looking at the opportunities for good returns from green energy technologies and products that enhance resilience to climate impacts.

There are also known industry best practices for managing climate risk through clarifying investment guidelines and philosophy with respect to climate change, risk assessment, active ownership, asset reallocation, and transparency. The Maryland SRPS has initiated some of these best practices but has considerable room to do more. On transparency, for example, the Asset Owners Disclosure Project gave SRPS a “D” ranking for 2017 meaning “Bystander,” tying for 218th out of 500 asset owners indexed. We also recommend that the Maryland SRPS clarify its investment principles, undertaking a comprehensive climate risk assessment, and increasing corporate engagement and transparency. But the first and most critical step is to openly acknowledge the significance of the risks and an intent to address them seriously.

At a time when the national government has abandoned climate change leadership, the actions of states and financial institutions matters more than ever.  Maryland should be leading on this issue, because of the risks to our investments as well as our own vulnerability to climate change. These few basic steps can further advance our state as a national leader, and reflect the best scientific understanding of the risks that climate change presents to Maryland’s investments.

Nathan Hultman is the director of the Center for Global Sustainability at the University of Maryland. Alan Miller retired as a Specialist in the Climate Business Department at the International Finance Corporation in December 2013 and is now an independent consultant and Acclimatise Associate.

[1] “Climate Change Risk and the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System.” Center for Global Sustainability, University of Maryland, October 2017. Available at

Cover photo in public domain. Article published with authors’ permission.
UN talks in Bonn: What’s on the agenda for adaptation?

UN talks in Bonn: What’s on the agenda for adaptation?

By Will Bugler

In Bonn, Germany this week the 23rd Conference of the Parties to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP23) is underway. This year, under the presidency of the Government of Fiji, special attention will be drawn to the plight of small island states, and the risks that they face. So, what is on the agenda for COP23 in terms of climate change adaptation and resilience?

Ultimately this round of climate talks will be judged on how much progress can be made on delivering the roadmap to implement the global climate deal that was agreed in Paris in 2016. The deadline for making this Paris Agreement operational is 2018 and substantial challenges lie in store for the negotiating teams. Far from the headline-generating Paris COP, this conference will focus on the nuts-and-bolts. Expect, technical negotiations on the tools and procedures to achieve the goals laid out in the Paris Agreement.

Loss & damage and 1.5˚C

The tone has been set by the COP President, Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama, who will use the presidency to draw attention the some of the most vulnerable countries to climate impacts: small island developing states. Highlighting the plight of Caribbean island nations during this years’ series of violent hurricanes, Bainimarama said “as incoming COP President, I am deeply conscious of the need to lead a global response to the underlying causes of these events… the appalling suffering in the Caribbean and the US reminds us all that there is no time to waste”.

By raising the attention of the disproportionate effects climate change has on the most vulnerable countries the “Pacific COP” will put centre stage, two of the most challenging issues of the negotiations in recent years: loss and damage and the 1.5˚C temperature goal. Although both topics made it into the Paris Agreement they remain highly tense topics. Concerning loss and damage wealthy nations have so far been unwilling to accept liability for potential future damage to vulnerable nations. The 1.5˚C temperature target is particularly important for small island states as many low-lying countries such as the Maldives, will likely be submerged at the less ambitious target of 2˚C above pre-industrial levels.

Action by the private sector and other non-state entities

The role of non-state entities like regional and city governments, and the private sector is in the spotlight in Bonn, especially given the United States’ new-found lack of enthusiasm for the Paris Agreement. The role of non-state entities was formally brought into the process in 2014 with the launch of the UNFCCC NAZCA platform.

Expect ambitious action from private sector organisations especially in the financial services industry, as well as strong commitments from cities and local government. A collection of local administrations in the US, for instance, have joined forces to promise to counteract the federal government’s disengagement. Their action has been nicknamed “America’s pledge”.

Climate finance, technology and capacity building

Under the Paris agreement, the issues of finance, technology and capacity building are mentioned as the essential means of implementation for countries to meet their targets. Climate finance will yet again be at the heart of the climate talks. Regarding climate change adaptation, most pressing discussion remains how to increase the overall levels of adaptation finance, which still lags far behind mitigation funding. Other issues such as finance tracking, and accounting methods are also up for discussion.

The Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) will lead discussion on technology transfer and will convene the Technology Executive Committee (TEC) and the Climate Technology Centre and Network (CTCN). Capacity building discussions will take place in Bonn under the Paris Committee on Capacity-building (PCCB) and the Capacity Building Initiative for Transparency.

The rulebook

Now on to the fun stuff. To make the Paris Agreement fully operational by 2018 countries have been working to develop a rulebook that details all the procedures and guidelines that will govern a wide range of issues. Hardly a hot ticket for spectators, it is nevertheless one of the most important areas of the Bonn talks laying down how countries will report their adaptation pledges, transfers of climate finance and technology, and how to ensure that the collective efforts of all countries are sufficient to meet the agreed temperature target.

One area that is especially relevant to climate adaptation is the area under the Ad Hoc Working Group on the Paris Agreement (APA) which is responsible for defining procedures related to countries’ nationally determined contributions (NDCs) and the global stocktake.  Summaries of views on two key APA issues – NDCs and adaptation communications – have been made already available.

The ‘facilitative dialogue’

The ‘facilitative dialogue’ is one of the processes for assessing how well countries are doing in meeting their commitments under the Paris Agreement. The full facilitative dialogue is planned for 2018 and will look at performance against countries’ pledges relating to mitigation, adaptation and finance targets. In Bonn, the preparation phase for the facilitative dialogue will be officially launched. Discussions will then continue throughout 2018.

Stay tuned to the Acclimatise Network as we follow the developments over the course of the COP23 climate talks.

Cover photo by UN (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0): COP23 opened in Bonn, Germany, on 6 November 2017.
US government report on climate change at odds with White House position

US government report on climate change at odds with White House position

By John Queally

With the release of its National Climate Assessment on Friday, the U.S. government has released a report—which states the current period is “now the warmest in the history of modern civilization”—that critics say directly and irrefutably undermines the climate denialism and inaction of President Donald Trump and his administration.

Mandated by law and released every four years, the Fourth National Climate Assessment (or NCA4)—which states that recent years have seen “record-breaking, climate-related weather extremes, and the last three years have been the warmest years on record for the globe”— concludes (with emphasis in the original) that “based on extensive evidence, that it is extremely likely that human activities, especially emissions of greenhouse gases, are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For the warming over the last century, there is no convincing alternative explanation supported by the extent of the observational evidence.”

Despite that being the declared consensus from the global scientific community for years, the Trump administration has done nearly everything in its power to cast doubt by embracing the denialism pushed by the fossil fuel industry. Instead of offering solutions to the crisis, the administration has been hard at work doing the bidding of the oil and gas industries while rolling back efforts—both domestically and internationally—meant to combat the threat of human-caused global warming.

As Friends of the Earth declared in a tweet, the assessment “sharply contradicts” the Trump administrations own policies by “affirming humans are climate change driver.”

Shaye Wolf, climate science director at the Center for Biologicial Diversity, made a similar point.

“The contrast between this stark scientific warning and Trump’s reckless support for dirty fossil fuels is simply terrifying,” Wolf said. “Even as this report sounds the alarm, Trump’s team of climate deniers are twisting themselves into pretzels to justify blocking national and international climate action. If America’s leaders don’t start listening to scientists, the whole world is going to pay a truly terrible price.”

As the Washington Post reports, the Trump administration did not try to block the publication of the report even though “its findings sharply contradict the administration’s policies.” According to the Post:

The report’s release underscores the extent to which the machinery of the federal scientific establishment, operating in multiple agencies across the government, continues to grind on even as top administration officials have minimized or disparaged its findings. Federal scientists have continued to author papers and issue reports on climate change, for example, even as political appointees have altered the wording of news releases or blocked civil servants from speaking about their conclusions in public forums. The climate assessment process is dictated by a 1990 law that Democratic and Republican administrations have followed.

The good news about the new assessment, according to Wolf, is that it shows “scientists can beat Trump’s climate censorship if they speak out bravely.”

Read the Fourth National Climate Assessment here.

Cover photo: President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump, joined by Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke, listen as Texas Governor Greg Abbott gives briefing on Hurricane Harvey relief and rescue efforts, Tuesday, August 29, 2017, in Corpus Christi, Texas. (Official White House Photo by Andrea Hanks).
South East Asia floods have increased geo-political tensions in the region

South East Asia floods have increased geo-political tensions in the region

By Will Bugler

The full extent of the impact of the floods that hit Nepal, India, Bangladesh and China in the past months is yet to become fully apparent. However, it is clear that the intensity of the monsoon rainfall caused widespread devastation, costing over 1,200 lives and affecting an estimated 20 million people. As the floodwaters recede, they leave behind not just physical devastation, but also tangible damage to relationships between countries in the region.

In the wake of the floods, Nepal’s Ministry of Home Affairs, suggested that a number of Indian infrastructure projects including dams on the Kosi and Gandaki rivers, had made the flooding worse for Nepal. Whilst India has pointed to deforestation in Nepal, as a reason for the increased incidence of flooding to its northern territories. India has also been vocal in its criticism of China and Nepal, about the amount and speed of the data sharing between the nations, accusing the countries of being slow to share vital information about heavy rainfall in the Himalayas.

Tensions were running high between India, Nepal and China, despite the best efforts of Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, and his Nepali counterpart Sher Bahadur Deuba to present a united front by releasing a joint statement pledging to co-operate to tackle future climate disasters.

Floods like these are making new dams and large infrastructure projects that impact river flow increasingly controversial in the region. In 2016, security forces had to intervene to quell violent clashes in the Saptari district on the Nepal-India border. Twelve Nepalese were wounded as they protested India’s construction of a new dam on the Khado river.

Close co-operations between countries will be essential to prepare for climate threats on the scale of the recent monsoon floods. This is especially important as the latest evidence suggests that the region is likely to face more heavy monsoon rainfall in the future. A recent study by researchers from MIT, found that a 50-year trend towards drier conditions for the Indian summer monsoon season had been dramatically reversed in the last 15 years. The paper, published in Nature Climate Change suggests that this may be due very strong warming that has affected the Indian subcontinent.

Formal agreements for cross-border co-operation on environmental issues are not new. But climate change will mean that new agreements will be needed on a more regular basis, and relations between countries will be tested more frequently. In areas where tensions are already running high, climate change has the potential to add to the stress and spark conflict.

Cover photo by Kiranmadhu.e/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 4.0): Front view of the Kedarnath Temple in the aftermath of a flash flood in 2013.
Climate change will worsen US poverty

Climate change will worsen US poverty

By Tim Radford

Yet another study has exposed the cruel cost of climate change as it increases US poverty. It could be worse than the Great Recession. US researchers have calculated the detailed cost of climate change for all of the 3,143 counties in the country. The outlook is bleak, and US poverty is set to grow .

If global warming continues unabated, then near the end of this century the poorest third of the counties in the US could suffer economic damage that could cost up to 20% of their income.

Those counties in the south and southern midwest, already poor and hot, will lose the most. Rising temperatures will also have an impact on property crime, violent crime, agriculture, energy, coastal storms and human mortality.

Every 1°C rise in average temperatures could lift death rates by 5.4 per 100,000 and could cost 1.2% of gross domestic product, according to a new study in the journal Science.

“Unmitigated climate change will be very expensive for huge regions of the United States,” said Solomon Hsiang, professor of public policy at the University of California Berkeley. “If we continue on the current path, our analysis indicates it may result in the largest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in the country’s history.”

And his co-author Robert Kopp, an earth and planetary scientist at Rutgers University, said: “In the absence of major efforts to reduce emissions and strengthen resilience, the Gulf Coast will take a massive hit.

“Its exposure to sea-level rise – made worse by potentially stronger hurricanes – poses a major risk to its communities. Increasingly extreme heat will drive up violent crime, slow down workers, amp up air conditioning costs, and threaten people’s lives.”

The researchers have made their estimates of detailed impact available on an interactive map. Both Professors Kopp and Hsiang have been issuing increasingly detailed warnings of the costs of climate change for years.

More frequent floods

In 2016 Professor Kopp took a long look at sea level change over the last 3,000 years to confirm the unprecedented nature of sea level rises in the 20th century, and the link with human-driven climate change. 

Earlier this year he looked at coastal flood risks around the US to predict that the kind of once-in-a-decade flood observed in cities like Charleston could be 173 times more frequent if fossil fuel emissions continued under the notorious “business as usual” scenario.

Professor Hsiang has repeatedly emphasised the economic and social costs of climate change, and used statistical methods to make the connection between violence and rising temperatures.

This time the 12 researchers from seven institutions took the big data approach. They matched state-of-the-art statistical analysis with 116 climate projections for 15 different kinds of impact and ran 29,000 simulations of the US national economy to measure the real world benefits and costs of climate change at the county level, in terms of farming, crime, health, energy demand, labour and the impact on coastal communities from higher temperature, changing rainfall, rising seas and intensifying hurricanes.

Poorest hit hardest

And they concluded that, although some counties in the Pacific Northwest and New England might benefit, unless greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use are slowed, then the projected 3°C to 5°C warming in the last two decades of this century could have costs comparable to the Great Recession of 2008, with the cruellest impact upon the poorest.

President Donald Trump has withdrawn the US from the international pact agreed in Paris in 2015 to limit greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels and has separately dismissed global warming driven by human action as a hoax. But the team behind the Science study do not see it that way.

“The ‘hidden costs’ of carbon dioxide emissions are no longer hidden, since now we can see them clearly in the data,” said Amir Jina, an economist at the University of Chicago.

“The emissions coming out of our cars and power plants are reshaping the American economy. Here in the Midwest, we may see agricultural losses similar to the Dustbowl of the 1930s.”

This article was originally published on Climate News Network and is shared under a Creative Commons license.
Cover photo by United States Department of Agriculture (public domain): Buried machinery in barn lot in Dallas, South Dakota, United States during the Dust Bowl, an agricultural, ecological, and economic disaster in the Great Plains region of North America in 1936.
Climate disconnect in India’s smart cities mission

Climate disconnect in India’s smart cities mission

By Anu Jogesh, Umamaheshwaran Rajasekar, Soumita Chakraborty

The recent spate of floods in India has rekindled conversation on the need for smart city development that explicitly builds in resilience in planning and decision-making.

Climate resilience has failed to find mention in a cross-section of smart city proposals in India, though a number these urban centres are already engaged in projects aimed at assessing climate impacts and building resilience. It has been over two years since the Indian government kicked off its flagship smart city mission. Ninety cities have since been selected for funding under the programme. The total investment is estimated at INR 1,892.6 billion (USD 29 billion) and proposed projects are together expected to impact over 95 million people.

However, Indian cities have recently grabbed the spotlight for another reason. Rising instances of flooding are regularly bringing cities to a standstill, resulting in significant damage to life and property. A preliminary count of extreme weather events in the last five years presents a sobering trend. In this year so far, reports suggest that over 1,000 people have died across India, Bangladesh and Nepal following the worst monsoon floods to hit South Asia in recent memory.

Cities such as Mumbai, Ahmedabad, Chennai and Guwahati have been affected by floods between 2013 and 2017. The size of a city or its available resources has not been a predictor of better preparedness.

Floods apart, heatwave related deaths have become another frequent concern. Bhubaneswar suffered a heatwave in 2013, Hyderabad in 2013, 2014 and 2015. The entire Indian northern and central belt was affected by extreme heat in 2016.

Mapping climate trends in smart cities

Climate-linked trends have been evident in cities for over two and half decades. An aggregation of available data between 1990 and 2013 in the first 20 Indian cities selected under the smart city mission indicates that climatic shifts are already occurring in urban India. In many instances, the impacts from these events have been exacerbated by rapid unplanned urbanisation, overcrowding, lack of inclusive growth and planning, poor maintenance and lack of upgradation of old infrastructure.

Image: Climate trends between 1990 and 2013 in 20 ‘Smart Cities’.

What’s more, climate-related impacts are expected to increase in frequency and intensity in the future. The frequency of heat waves is expected to rise, made worse by urban heat islands; and rainfall is projected to become intense and erratic in some regions. Linked to the two, vector- and water-borne diseases are likely to become an even bigger public health challenge.

No explicit focus on climate resilience

Given that Indian cities are facing climate impacts that will probably worsen, it stands to reason that a two-year-old programme like the smart city mission — the largest government driven pan-India effort on urban development — should explicitly focus on urban climate resilience. If the smart city proposals are any indication, then the answer is rather ambiguous.

A study by TARU Leading edge — an organisation working closely with cities — comparing the first 20 approved smart city plans indicates that there is no explicit focus on climate change in any of the 20 city plans analysed. The cities examined are Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Surat, Indore, Kochi, Guwahati, Bhubaneswar, Aizawl and Panaji and the study was entitled Climate Change and Disaster Resilience in Indian Cities: Preparedness of City Governments.

In 17 of the 20 cities examined, requests for funds are predominantly targeted at area-based development across sectors as opposed to pan-city initiatives. It means is that there is greater emphasis on seeking funds for specific projects as opposed to interventions that address citywide development. Climate resilience, for instance, can be categorised as a crosscutting theme, but does not feature in any plan.

Image: Smart city proposal costs (Source: Climate Change in Cities: Innovations in Multi-Level Governance, 2017).

It is widely accepted that there are significant overlaps between promoting good development (even in a business-as-usual scenario) and building climate resilience. For instance, ensuring water security can buffer a city against dry spells, and improved housing for poor can limit exposure to extreme weather events. In that context, some of the smart city suggestions potentially build resilience in a default (but not explicit) setting. This is primarily visible in the water, energy efficiency, and sewage and storm water management sectors in the city proposals.

Focus on disasters, not future impacts

In addition, there is some direct focus in addressing natural disasters in cities such as Chennai, Guwahati, Bhubaneswar and Vishakhapatnam. This appears to be driven by their experiences of past disaster events. For instance, in Vishakhapatnam, there is a suggestion for a shore protection plan to counter tsunamis and prevent beach erosion. In Bhubaneswar, the focus, among other things, is on setting up an early warning system for flood and cyclones.

In Chennai, there is a suggestion on sensor-based water level monitoring, along with a surveillance system to forecast and generate warnings for floods and tsunamis. In Guwahati there is request for a hydrological information system (HIS) to be installed for generating real time data for flood forecasting.

However, tackling disasters, based on historical trends alone, is insufficient. It precludes a focus on climate variability over time as well the risk of impacts from slow onset events, such as sea level rise and rising temperatures.

Under-funded on disaster preparedness

Historically, funding on disaster risk resilience in cities has been relatively low. A study comparing fiscal provisions for urban climate and disaster resilience across ten cities in India notes that the per capita capital expenditure in sectors closely linked to disaster resilience is insufficient compared to other areas of funding.

Sectors including sewerage and sanitation, water supply, storm water drainage, solid waste management, economic development, urban amenities and vulnerable populations were all found to be under-funded. For instance, the per capita annual expenditure by the Municipal Corporation of Greater Mumbai on sewage and sanitation has not exceeded INR 250 between 2010 and 2016. On storm water drains, annual per capita expenditure was less than INR 15 until 2015. In 2016, it shot up to INR 350. In addition, disaster management is a component rarely found in the budget documents of urban local bodies.

Compounding the problem is the fact that there is no explicit focus in city plans on initiatives that consider climate and disaster risks over time. For any consideration of climate resilience, plans need to be robust against multiple climate scenarios in the medium to long term. This is especially true in the context of smart cities where there is a focus on building and improving long life infrastructure such as housing, roads, flyovers, water and energy transmission infrastructure etc. which need to be able to withstand future stressors.

Integration required

Many Indian cities are already involved in climate resilient projects, so why are they not integrated in city development plans? The concept of urban climate resilience is not new in India. There has been a gradual rise in learning in many Indian cities on urban disaster and climate adaptation over the past decade. The Asian Cities Climate Change Resilience Network (ACCCRN) was set up in 2008 and has since partnered with over 30 cities across Asia. The network comprising of external organisations, urban local bodies and NGOs, has conducted vulnerability assessments, and also developed city resilience strategies in a number of cities.

In Indore, for instance, two pilot projects are currently being implemented. In Surat, the Urban Health Climate Research Centre has been set up to address public health and climate change and is being funded by the Surat Municipal Corporation. In Guwahati, relevant recommendations have also been incorporated in the New and Revised Building Bye-laws being prepared by municipality. In Mysore and Bhubaneswar, a training programme on understanding climate change has been conducted.

Similarly, although narrower in reach, the 100 Resilient Cities initiative has focused on the cities of Surat (Gujarat) and Panaji (Goa) to develop more detailed city-level planning and preparedness for climate induced events. The Asian Development Bank has also set up an Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund for Asia and has begun work on building resilience in an integrated manner in Mysore, Vishakhapatnam, and Kolkata.

As part of the state climate plan process, most Indian states have initiated (or completed) district-level vulnerability and risk assessments to define vulnerability better. The awareness and information, therefore, on sub-national climate vulnerability as well as urban resilience strategies exist but does not seem to be aligned to city development planning, particularly the smart city proposals examined.

Challenges persist

Some challenges clearly persist in a project-based approach to climate action. There is a gap in ownership of climate resilience strategies among some city-level government agencies; mainstreaming climate resilience in city-level planning and budgeting is still an uphill effort. Cities already struggle in planning and funding other critical development projects and climate change is pressuring an already burdened system. Finally, with few exceptions, the conversation on city resilience has not made it into the national policy discourse in any meaningful way, which could translate to a central mandate to cities.

Given that 90 cities have already submitted smart city proposals and are focussed on implementation, there is an urgent need for cities to look at aligning existing vulnerability and risk assessments and resilience efforts. New and improved urban infrastructure and services need to ultimately hold up to future climate impacts.

Crucially, city agencies as well as state governments (given their greater fiscal agency and mandate over certain aspects of urban planning and spending) need to apply a climate lens on key urban projects, whether they focus on area-based development or pan-city initiatives. Not doing so could, in the long run, undermine the smart city mission.

The full report on smart cities and climate resilience in India can be found in the forthcoming book Climate Change in Cities: Innovations in Multi-Level Governance.
This article was originally published on India Climate Dialogue and can be found by clicking here.
Cover photo by Darshak Pandya/Pixabay (public domain).
Puerto Rico’s brutal way to hurricane recovery

Puerto Rico’s brutal way to hurricane recovery

By Lauren Lluveras, University of Texas at Austin

The United States had already seen its share of disasters, from back-to-back hurricanes that devastated Texas, Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands to roaring wildfires in the West. Then, after battering the rest of the Caribbean, Hurricane Maria left the island of Puerto Rico facing a humanitarian crisis. About a dozen people died in the Sept. 21 storm and the island was plunged into darkness. Now, some 3.4 million Puerto Ricans – which is to say, 3.4 million American citizens – are confronting life without electricity, gas, cellular service and, in many cases, a home.

After a decade of fiscal decline and a May 2017 bankruptcy, Puerto Rico has become exceptionally vulnerable to disasters like Maria. As both a policy analyst and the daughter of Puerto Rican immigrants, I’m concerned about how austerity-related reforms are now threatening the survival of not just my family there but everyone on the island. Though food insecurity, poor health care and resource-starved public transit all predate the hurricane, the result of both damaging U.S. policy and deepening financial crisis, these three problems will dramatically complicate Puerto Rico’s recovery.

Food insecurity

Because Puerto Rico imports over 85 percent of its food, food security on the island has always been fragile. The U.S. territory has been rationing supplies since Hurricane Irma in early September, but according to Puerto Rico’s former secretary of agriculture, it may have just one month’s worth of food on hand.

Puerto Rico’s main port reopened Sept. 23, allowing 11 ships to begin arriving with aid and resources, including clean water and food. Even so, distributing supplies across the 3,515-square-mile island will prove difficult on roadways damaged by flooding, debris and downed power lines.

Puerto Rico’s food supply is also uncertain given that several islands from which it imports food, including the Dominican Republic, Dominica and St. Martin, were also hit hard. And if the island goes without power for up to six months, the shelf life of the meat, vegetables, fruit and other staples of the traditionally fresh Puerto Rican diet will be awfully short.

This is the U.S. territory’s second food shortage in recent years. When a Puerto Rico-bound cargo vessel, El Faro, sank during Hurricane Joaquin in 2015, residents spent months in strife as the government struggled to develop a plan that ensured everyone had enough to eat.

Prior to World War II, Puerto Rico actually had an agricultural economy, producing and exporting sugar cane, tobacco and citrus fruits. But, post-war industrialization and growing stigma around farm work led to a downturn. Today, the island can’t feed its populace or compete with developed countries’ agribusiness and cheap prices.

In response, Puerto Rico has made an effort to grow domestic food production, which has increased 24 percent in the past five years. But Maria’s winds and floodwaters demolished these gains in bananas, plantains, coffee, dairy and corn production. Roughly 80 percent of Puerto Rico’s crop value just vanished over night, a loss of approximately US$780 million.

Poor health care

Puerto Rico had poor health care before Hurricanes Irma and Maria, but the storms will exacerbate this desperate situation, too. Ravaged by austerity, hospitals and other health care facilities saw their budgets cut by 15 percent from 2011 to 2015. Countless public clinics across the island closed during the past year, while four hospitals have filed for bankruptcy.

The island is also short on health care professionals, with 72 percent of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities deemed “medically underserved.”

This deficient system will face grave challenges in providing medical care to Puerto Ricans injured during and after the storm. Serious cuts and broken bones are extremely common following hurricanes, as are heat-related and infectious illnesses.

Loss of power may also lead to the worsening of illnesses for residents with such chronic conditions as diabetes, heart disease, psychiatric disorders and HIV whose medications require refrigeration. My own abuela (grandmother), a diabetic who began having mild cardiac episodes last year, is one Puerto Rican among thousands in this situation.

These domestic barriers to medical care are magnified by the ongoing debate around health care in the U.S. Even though Puerto Rico residents are more likely to be poor, elderly and diagnosed with a chronic illness than the general population, caps to Medicaid reimbursements have forced several hospitals on the island to cut services, close wings, leave positions unfilled and reduce employee hours and pay.

In the wake of this natural disaster, experts expect Puerto Rico’s hospitals to be overburdened, especially in San Juan and other metropolitan areas, where most medical facilities are located. In recent days, Gov. Ricardo Roselló has resorted to retweeting information about which hospitals are open and receiving patients.

Transportation shortages

Many Puerto Ricans will not be able to reach help, though. Upwards of 45 percent of the population lives in poverty and an estimated 35,000 riders depend daily on public transit to get around.

With a limited budget, an aging infrastructure and too few vehicles to support the island’s population, however, the transit authority has been struggling to meet needs. The agency underwent austerity-related budget cuts in 2015, operating at a deficit until, finally, in May 2017, it filed for bankruptcy.

This history has complicated evacuation efforts. Locals were puzzled at the “leave or die” warnings sent to Isabela residents on Sept. 23 when a large crack in the Guajataca dam threatened to flood surrounding areas. How, exactly, were they supposed to leave? And how could they get out on roadways long since rendered impassable?

As rescue and recovery efforts continue, transportation shortages have effectively left many residents reachable only by helicopter.

People across the island are already suffering the consequences. One family – Irees Gonzalez Collazo, 74, and her two sisters, Carmen, 73, and Sara, 72, of Utaudo municipality – exemplifies the cascading effect of this tragedy. All three women had immobilizing health complications and, unable to evacuate, were killed on Sept. 24 when a mudslide buried the home where they rested.

An American humanitarian crisis

If the situation in Puerto Rico seems dire, that’s because it is. People on the island will face seemingly insurmountable problems in nearly every aspect of their lives for months to come.

The Trump administration, which has thus far demonstrated a notable lack of concern for the island, could provide some urgent disaster relief by responding Gov. Rosselló’s request for increased aid for law enforcement and transportation, among other basic needs.

The U.S. Congress could also play a role in the territory’s longer-term recovery. Increasing the island’s Medicaid funding, for example, would save lives in this critical time and free up some of the territory’s scarce funds for other purposes.

While FEMA picked up the pace of aid five days after the storm, few Puerto Ricans anticipate that they’ll see the kind of “historic” federal disaster relief sent to Texas and Florida after hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

The ConversationFortunately, Puerto Rico has a culture of resilience. Since the storm, residents have stepped up to help, feed and shelter one another. If the U.S. federal government won’t save Puerto Rico, we Puerto Ricans will.

Lauren Lluveras, Post Doctoral Fellow at the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis, University of Texas at Austin
This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
 Puerto Rico National Guard photo by Sgt. Jose Ahiram Diaz-Ramos: Puerto Rican residents walk in flooded streets in Condado, San Juan, Puerto Rico, Sept. 22, 2017, following Hurricane Maria.
The Great Flood of Baton Rouge: One year later

The Great Flood of Baton Rouge: One year later

By Gracie Pearsall

In August of 2016, the worst rainstorm in state history hit Louisiana and devastated Baton Rouge. The locals have since dubbed the event the “Great Flood” – an apt name as the rainstorm caused flooding of almost biblical proportions. Inadequate support from the Federal Government exacerbated the immense destruction. The American Red Cross declared this rainstorm the worst natural disaster since Sandy. Yet, while the government and fellow Americans gave the victims of Sandy an outpouring of support, the victims of the Great Flood experienced mostly neglect and abandonment.

Now, one year has passed and the victims of the Great Flood are still trying to rebuild their homes and regain a sense of normalcy, all while the federal government continues to ignore the victims’ needs. This negligence disproportionally affects Baton Rouge’s most disadvantaged, who rely on relief to rebuild. In the face of a changing climate, in which such extreme events become more frequent, negligence will disproportionally the most disadvantaged.

The Aftermath

From August 11th through August 14th of 2016 an unnamed storm dumped 7.1 trillion gallons of water onto the greater Baton Rouge area. The subsequent flooding killed 13 people, damaged 100,000 homes, and displaced thousands of people. In a span of three days, Baton Rouge received two feet of rain, which pushed river levels to record highs. The rainfall alone would have been enough to inundate the area, but once the rivers overflowed, flash floods tore through the region.

The Federal Government administers disaster relief on an ad hoc basis, and provides funds to states and localities after disaster strikes. The victims use the money to rebuild homes, business, and infrastructure. The damages from the Great Flood tallied up to $10.3 billion dollars, and the state needed $3.7 billion of federal funding to administer relief. However, congress only provided Louisiana with $1.7 billion – only 13 cents per every dollar of damage.

Vulnerable populations

Low-income households often lack the resources to quickly rebound from natural disasters. Yet, vulnerable populations find themselves concentrated in undesirable areas with high natural disaster risks because the cost of living is low. Such is the case in north Baton Rouge, the area that the Great Flood affected the most, and where one in four households lives in poverty. Institutionalised neglect has plagued North Baton Rouge. Abandoned properties and streets lined with ditches instead of sidewalks expose rampant urban decay in this area, due to lack of investment, maintenance and resources. Recent closures of stores and two hospitals further exemplify the persistent decline of resources in north Baton Rouge.

When the flood hit, neither the infrastructure nor residents of north Baton Rouge were prepared. Many residents were dependent on the assistance from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), non-profits, and other agencies. The area was already severely lacking resources, and the inadequate relief punctuated the hardships. However, even when support fell short, the majority of survivors were determined to remain in the area and rebuild.

A year later, despite this community’s resilient spirit, north Baton Rouge still displays signs of neglect. Thousands of people are still displaced from their homes. Many are still living with their relatives or staying in FEMA trailers in front of their gutted homes. Repairs have been slow and many homes still have not even begun the rebuilding process

But in the wake of the flood, the most devastating impact has been the emotional and psychological toll on the survivors. The emotional and mental health consequences are not as visible as physical destruction, but nonetheless have devastated Baton Rouge. The victims not only had to deal with losing everything, but also the feeling of being abandoned in a time of need. A state mental health support agency has reported that feelings of hopelessness, despair, cases of depression, and problems eating and sleeping have significantly increased post-flood. Many survivors report feelings of anxiety and fear every time it rains because they are reminded of the flood. Police report that since the flood, incidents of domestic violence and alcohol abuse have increased as well.

Emotional distress is virtually universal after a natural disaster, and mental health support is a crucial aspect of rehabilitation. Louisiana Spirit is a state agency that provides counselling and helps people recover in the wake of natural disasters. However, the Trump administration recently denied a state request that would have authorised much-needed funding for Louisiana Spirit beyond August.

Links to Climate Change

By any measure, this storm was extreme. While it is difficult to attribute a single event to climate change, research has shown that the Great Flood is linked to the changing climate. Climate change did not cause the Great Flood, but it altered background climatic conditions to be more favourable to extreme precipitation events. The current strategy for handling natural disasters is recovery-focused. However, as extreme events become more frequent and affects more people, response plans should be focused more on preparedness and resiliency.

Nevertheless, in spite of the insufficient governmental response to this catastrophe, the people of Baton Rouge are determined to rebuild their lives and ensure that their community is prepared for the next flood. Hundreds of north Baton Rouge Citizens filed a class action lawsuit against the city, claiming flooding was amplified due to drainage valves that were closed for maintenance and were never re-opened. The citizens recognise the value that preparedness has in the face on the coming storms. Their resiliency should be mimicked by resilient policy, such as elevation standards in flood-prone areas and early flood warning systems. The situation in Baton Rouge exposes how the current disaster relief administration falls short, thus leaving vulnerable populations to endure the changing climate’s furore alone.

Cover photo via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 3.0): The Horace Wilkinson Bridge in Baton Rouge.