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California public utility P.G.& E. filing for bankruptcy protection should be a wakeup call to corporates and investors on climate risk

California public utility P.G.& E. filing for bankruptcy protection should be a wakeup call to corporates and investors on climate risk

By Will Bugler

Last year the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued a report that outlined the potential impacts of climate change should temperatures rise to 1.5˚C above pre-industrial levels. The report surprised some by highlighting many serious risks even if the world meets this highly ambitious target. Last month, the World Economic Forum’s 2019 Global Risk Report listed the two most severe risks to global economic stability as extreme weather events, and the failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation.

If these warnings were too abstract for governments, corporations and investors to take note, then it did not take long for a real-world case-study to emerge. Just days after the Global Risk Report was released, Pacific Gas and Electric (P.G. & E.) announced that it was filing for bankruptcy protection. The California-based utility company faced huge liabilities resulting from two successive seasons of devastating wildfires that burned large swathes of the state in 2017 and 2018.

The utility company said that it is facing as much as US$ 30 billion in liabilities as its equipment is said to have been the cause of over one thousand separate wildfires across the state. The fires, of course, were exacerbated by the extreme heat and tinder-dry conditions made more likely due to climate change.

Foreseeable risks

However, the company’s protestations about its role in the fires is unlikely to get them off the hook for the damage. During a hearing in January, federal judge William Alsup, pointed to the scale of the damage saying “in two years, three per cent of California burned up” and adding “P.G. & E. is not the only source of these fires, but it is a source, and to most of us it’s unthinkable that a public utility is causing that type of damage.”

Alsup also pointed out that P.G. & E. had failed to take sufficient action to prevent its equipment causing fires, despite paying US$4.5 billion in dividends to shareholders in the last five years. The clear implication of this is that the risks posed by climate change are reasonably foreseeable, and therefore companies have a duty to act.

The implications of this are wide ranging. Public utilities are put in a very difficult position, as they have a high level of exposure to climate risks and have legal duties to supply homes in remote areas, where risks are highest. The ratings agency Standard & Poor’s said that a second electric utility in California could well face a devastating wildfire this year and therefore it could lower the credit ratings of the other two major investor-owned utilities in the state, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric.

Existential threat

For investors, investments in regulated utility companies suddenly don’t look as rock solid as they once did. Traditionally thought of as ‘perpetual investments’ that need little scrutiny climate change is now challenging the thinking. As climate impacts intensify, they pose an existential threat to such companies, who will not be able to cope with the mounting legal liabilities unaided.

The scale of the threat is likely to require governments to step in. In California, state officials are considering creating an insurance fund that will help cover the cost of such events, lifting some of the burden from corporations. However, governments will certainly want to avoid creating perverse incentives that lead to inaction on the part of private companies. Therefore, if public money is going to be used in this way, it is highly likely the governments will also demand that companies do far more to increase the climate resilience of their operations.

Cover photo by Joanne Francis/Unsplash
GEO and Amazon Web Services – Cloud Credits for projects that improve understanding of planet

GEO and Amazon Web Services – Cloud Credits for projects that improve understanding of planet

The new collaboration between GEO and Amazon Web Services (AWS) offers GEO Member agencies and research organisations from developing countries access to cloud services to help with the hosting, processing and analysis of big data about the Earth to inform decisions for sustainable development.

Eligible government agencies and research institutions can apply for AWS credits that will enable them to build Earth observations applications that support environmental and development goals, including the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Paris Agreement and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

Recipients of cloud credits through this initiative will also receive support from the GEO community and AWS experts to refine and implement their projects for the best possible results.

AWS and GEO first announced their collaboration in 2017 to support the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS) open data platform.

Visit GEO’s website to apply and for more information.

The application deadline is 31 March 2019.

Cover photo by NASA on Unsplash.
Job opening: Communications consultant with technical knowledge of climate change adaptation and resilience

Job opening: Communications consultant with technical knowledge of climate change adaptation and resilience

Acclimatise is looking for a self-motivated Communications Consultant with strong technical knowledge of climate change adaptation and resilience, combined with a commitment to make what we do even more awesome.

The role entails extremely varied, fast-paced work that changes from project to project. It provides the opportunity to improve the way climate change is communicated and understood using a range of media including video, podcasts, infographics, and written outputs.

The cross-cutting nature of Acclimatise communications work means that the successful candidate will have the opportunity to work on Acclimatise’s projects from across its global portfolio and teams.

Click here to learn more about the position and to apply!

Deadline for applications Friday 1 February 2019, 6pm GMT.

All applicants must have full rights to reside and work in the UK. Acclimatise will not consider candidates who require sponsorship to secure visas and work permits.

Experts warn: climate change already a health emergency

Experts warn: climate change already a health emergency

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Climate change is already damaging people’s health in a number of ways from deadly heatwaves across the globe to increasing instances of dengue fever in the tropics.

The 2018 report of the Lancet Countdown: Tracking Progress on Health and Climate Change, produced by 150 experts from 27 universities and institutions including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank, also shows climate change can negatively affect nutrition, mental health, and people’s capacity to work outdoors.

During the press conference marking the report’s launch, authors highlighted that the combination of rising temperatures, leading to higher A&E and hospital admissions due to heat-related illness, and extreme weather event, which can damage infrastructure, could overwhelm health services.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said about the report “The findings are clear and the stakes could not be higher, we cannot delay action on climate change. We cannot sleepwalk through this health emergency any longer.”

Nick Watt, the executive director of the Lancet Countdown, added “These are not things happening in 2050 but are things we are already seeing today. We think of these as the canary in, ironically, the coalmine.”

According to the report, 153 billion hours of work were lost in 2017 due to extreme heat. 80% of it in agriculture and almost half of the losses happened in India, which is equal to roughly 7% of its whole working population. Compared to the year 2000, 157 million more vulnerable people were exposed to heatwaves in 2017 and 18 million more than in 2016.

The temperature increase is not just dangerous because the heat itself affects human health directly, it also exacerbates urban air pollution. With 97% of cities in low- and middle- income countries not meeting WHO air quality guidelines, this adds even more pressure to health systems.

Prof. Kris Ebi, Professor of global health and of environmental and occupational health science, University of Washington, said “Increased mortality in extreme heatwaves is not something that may happen, it’s happening now and will continue as global temperatures continue to rise. There is abundant evidence that communities are not prepared for the ongoing increases in the frequency, intensity, and duration of heatwaves. Actions are needed right now, matched with investments, such as implementing early warning systems for heatwaves, including mapping vulnerable populations and providing interventions designed to increase resilience during hot weather.”

Of the 478 global cities surveyed in the report, 51% were expecting climate change to seriously compromise their public health infrastructure. 65% said they have either already completed or are currently doing climate change risk assessments but spending on climate adaptation for health is estimated to be just 4·8% (£11·68 billion) of all adaptation spending which is woefully inadequate, the report warns.

Access the report and its accompanying materials by clicking here.

This New Climate: New podcast exploring the innovations that tackle climate change launched

This New Climate: New podcast exploring the innovations that tackle climate change launched

This New Climate, a new podcast that explores the innovations that are being developed to transform the world in the face of climate change, will launch this November. The first six-episode series investigates some of the toughest climate challenges of our times and tells the stories of the projects and people who are grappling with them.

This New Climate is an Acclimatise production and the first series is produced in conjunction with the Knowledge and Innovation Community – EIT Climate-KIC – created and supported by the European Institute for Innovation and Technology (EIT). The series explores five EIT Climate-KIC-supported projects or programmes that are tackling issues related to water, agriculture, urban development, supply chains and insurance. Episodes will be published fortnightly starting on 30 November 2018.

The podcast focusses on innovations that can help humanity adapt to a new climate reality. As we enter a new era that will be governed by its ability to respond to a climate system that does not behave how it used to. Our civilisation has emerged in a stable climate. This New Climate asks the questions: what happens when that stable climate breaks down and what can we do about it?

Episode summaries:

1 – EIT Climate-KIC and the quest for deep innovation: The first episode introduces EIT Climate-KIC and explores how its approach to stimulating innovation in the face of a challenge as great as climate change. In particular, it unravels how EIT Climate-KIC aims to foster change at the systems level in an effort to bring about transformative change.

2 – Running dry: dealing with water scarcity: The world faces a water scarcity crisis. Geisler Kaiser, Executive Direct of Informal settlements, Water & Waste, for the City of Cape Town takes up the story of the city’s water scarcity crisis as it approaches ‘day zero’ in early 2018. This episode explores why it is so difficult to manage water resources and presents Water2Invest – a new tool that helps decision makers make smarter choices about managing water supply and demand.

3 – OASIS and the democratisation of climate data: Climate data and information is at the very heart of efforts for insurance companies to price risk and respond to extreme events, such as hurricanes. Steve Bowen, Director of the Catastrophe Insight team at insurance giant Aon, explains why data was central to Aon’s response to hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria. The episode tells the story of how the OASIS group of companies are seeking to transform our ability to understand climate risk through a commitment to open source data.

4 – Agriculture on the front lines: The agriculture industry feels the effects of climate change very acutely.  Iris Bouwers, farmer and Vice-President of the European Council of Young Farmers, tells the story of how her farm and those of her fellow farmers around Europe suffered during the recent drought. The episode then explores a suite of innovations that are helping farmers to adapt, including Agro Adapt that helps policy makers assess the impacts of climate change across the industry, and PhenoPiCam, an innovation that is helping winemakers maintain quality as the world warms.

5 – The blue green dream: Cities are concentrated centres of climate risk with large populations, high levels of economic activity and expensive cost of properties. But they are also centres of innovation. This episode explores how nature-based solutions are being developed that can make cities better able to cope with climate impacts like extreme heat and flooding. London-based NHS nurse Claire Herne gives an insight into her experience working in heatwaves and gives an indication of how these conditions can have severe impacts for patients.

6 – Sharing supply chain risk: everyone’s a WINnER? Few appreciate the intricate network of suppliers, traders and retailers that make up the food supply network. This episode explores how the risks of climate change are being disproportionately shouldered by smallholder famers, and presents an innovative project called WINnERS, that has helped farmers in Tanzania to share the cost of climate change more evenly across the supply chain.

For more information about This New Climate, please visit:

About Acclimatise

Acclimatise is a specialist advisory and analytics company providing expertise in climate change adaptation and risk management. We bridge the gap between the latest scientific developments and real-world decision-making, helping our clients to introduce cost-effective measures to prepare for the challenges that climate change will bring. From the very beginning, we have focussed solely on adaptation, which has allowed us to become leaders in the field. Our work is still shaping the adaptation agenda across the world.

About EIT Climate-KIC

EIT Climate-KIC is a European knowledge and innovation community, working to accelerate the transition to a zero-carbon economy. Supported by the European Institute of Innovation and Technology, we identify and support innovation that helps society mitigate and adapt to climate change. We believe that a decarbonised, sustainable economy is not only necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change, but presents a wealth of opportunities for business and society.

Key Contacts

World very likely to enter another climate-warming El Niño next year

World very likely to enter another climate-warming El Niño next year

By Will Bugler

There is a 75-80% chance of an El Niño developing by February 2019, according to the latest update from the World Meteorological Organization (WMO). Although it is not expected to be a strong event, it will drive warmer overall temperatures through next year.

The El Niño is a naturally occurring phenomenon driven by changes in ocean surface temperatures in the equatorial Pacific, which in turn drive changes in the circulation of air in the atmosphere. El Niño conditions have major implications on weather patterns across the globe.

“The forecast El Niño is not expected to be as powerful as the event in 2015-2016” said Maxx Dilley, director of WMO’s Climate Prediction and Adaptation branch. “Even so, it can still significantly affect rainfall and temperature patterns in many regions, with important consequences to agricultural and food security sectors, and for management of water resources and public health.”

Strong El Niño events like that in 2016, can lead to extreme weather events with normally damp places such as parts of Australia experiencing drought, and drier places in South America facing heavy rainfall and flooding. However, the exact nature of the weather patterns remains unpredictable. Warmer ocean temperatures are likely to be a bad sign for the world’s coral reefs, which may face further bleaching next year.

What might the El Niño mean for the world’s weather?

  • Temperatures are more likely to be above average in most of Asia, Europe, North America, the Caribbean, Africa, Australia, the Indonesian archipelago and South America. There could be some exceptions to this, but most regions that saw above normal temperatures over the summer of 2018 can expect higher than average temperatures.
  • Rainfall is more likely to be lower than normal in the Caribbean, central America, part of northern South America, the offshore islands of southeast Asia, the southern part of the Indonesian archipelago, some south Pacific islands, portions of southwest Africa and eastern equatorial Africa, subtropical southwest coastal South America and southern South America.
  • Rainfall is more likely to be higher than average in part of southern North America, part of southeast South America, part of northwest North America, central and northern Asia, part of southwest Asia, part of the eastern Maritime Continent, and part of Europe.

As Maxx Dilley explains El Niño conditions are expected to “combine with long-term climate change to boost 2019 global temperatures.” Higher temperatures, evaporation rates and water in the atmosphere means that weather conditions are likely to be abnormal next year, and 2019 could be amongst the hottest years on record.

Cover photo by NASA Jet Propulsion Lab (public domain): Sea surface temperature differences on March 1, 2016. Dark red indicates much warmer water.
William Nordhaus wins Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for work on economics and climate change

William Nordhaus wins Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for work on economics and climate change

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

On Monday 8 October, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced its decision to award William Nordhaus the Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences “for integrating climate change into long-run macroeconomic analysis.”

Currently a faculty member of Yale University, which he joined in the late 1960s, Nordhaus has focused his research on economic growth and natural resources, and the economics of climate change. One of his main contributions are his models to determine efficient paths for coping with climate change.

While his earlier work (e.g. Reflections on the Economics of Climate Change, 1993) somewhat underestimates climate change impacts on booming economies like the United States of America or Japan, his integrated assessment model (IAM) was groundbreaking. In the mid-1990s Nordhaus became the first to create a quantitative model that described the global interconnectivity and mutual influence of physics (climate module), chemistry (carbon-circulation module), and economics (economic-growth module).

The model, also known as the Dynamic Integrated Climate-Economy model, or DICE model, allows a weighing of the costs and benefits to curb climate change. It is used to simulate how the economy and climate co-evolve, and what the consequences of different climate policy interventions are (see figure below).

CO2 emissions over time for four climate policies (explanations in the text). Predictions from the DICE-2016R2 model, according to Nordhaus’ own simulations. Source: Royal Swedish Academy of Science, Popular Information: Integrating nature and knowledge into economics (PDF).

The Nobel Prize announcement came on the same day the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published its special report on the importance of limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Nordhaus is sharing this year’s Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences with Paul Romer, who is receiving it for integrating technological innovations into long-run macroeconomic analysis. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences sees both their contributions as crucial additions towards addressing central questions of our time and adds “we do not yet have conclusive answers to these questions, but the laureates’ methods have been fundamental in allowing current and future researchers to improve our understanding of the best way to progress towards sustained and sustainable global economic growth.”

Cover photo by BBVA Foundation: Professor William Nordhaus.
New report by IPCC finds world faces huge risks if warming is not kept below 1.5C

New report by IPCC finds world faces huge risks if warming is not kept below 1.5C

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released a special landmark report on the impacts of 1.5 °C warming above pre-industrial levels. The report finds unprecedented changes would be necessary worldwide to keep warming below 1.5 °C but that it would massively decrease global climate risks.

The half-degree difference between 1.5 °C and 2 °C, the target range set out in the Paris Agreement during COP21, is a significant one. “Every extra bit of warming matters, especially since warming of 1.5°C or higher increases the risk associated with long-lasting or irreversible changes, such as the loss of some ecosystems,” Hans-Otto Pörtner said, who leads the working group on impacts and adaptation.

At the current rate of warming, we could reach the 1.5 °C target as early as 2030 and 2052. Keeping to that ambitious warming target would significantly lower the risks of droughts, floods, extreme heat and poverty for millions of people across the globe. For example, the proportion of the global population exposed to water stress would be 50% lower at 1.5 °C than at 2.0 °C.

Climate adaptation needs will be much lower at 1.5 °C, above it there are limits to adaptation and adaptive capacity for some human and natural systems, meaning losses would become inevitable.

However, keeping to that target and not exceeding it would require “rapid and far-reaching” transitions across all sectors and human carbon dioxide emissions would have to be reduced by 45% from 2010 levels by 2030, reaching net zero by 2050.

“We have presented governments with pretty hard choices. We have pointed out the enormous benefits of keeping to 1.5 °C, and also the unprecedented shift in energy systems and transport that would be needed to achieve that,” said Jim Skea, co-chair of the working group on mitigation. “We show it can be done within laws of physics and chemistry. Then the final tick box is political will. We cannot answer that. Only our audience can – and that is the governments that receive it.”

At the moment the world is on track for disastrous 3 °C warming. Amjad Abdulla, IPCC board member and chief negotiator for AOSIS (Alliance of Small Island States) said “the report shows that we only have the slimmest of opportunities remaining to avoid unthinkable damage to the climate system that supports life as we know it.”

Download the IPCC special report on global warming of 1.5 °C by clicking here.

Cover photo by Zooey/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)
Climate science faces ‘pivotal moment’ and government questions

Climate science faces ‘pivotal moment’ and government questions

By Natalie Sauer in Incheon, Climate Home News

The UN’s climate science body began one of its “most important meetings” on Monday, as it presents to governments a report on warming the world just half a degree more than today.

The authors of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) latest report will meet government delegates from Monday to Friday in Incheon, South Korea.

They will attempt to broker agreement on the policy recommendations from the IPCC’s latest major report, which looks at the impacts of 1.5C warming above pre-industrial levels, together with suggestions on how to stay below that mark.

The most recent draft of the ‘summary for policy makers’, published by Climate Home News, highlighted stark differences between the impacts of warming 1.5C and the upper limit imposed by the Paris deal of 2C. The world has already warmed roughly 1C.

The key question at this meeting will be how the draft changes after this week’s intense scrutiny from diplomats who represent national interests.

Hoesung Lee, the chair of the IPCC, described the conference as “one of the most important meetings in the IPCC’s history”.

“Science alerts us to the gravity of the situation, but science also, and this special report in particular, helps us understand the solutions available to us,” he said.

“This is a critical point in history,” said Youssef Nassef, director of Adaptation at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) told the opening plenary on Monday. “The window of opportunity is rapidly shrinking and we must all work together to turn things around.”

Elena Manaenkova, deputy secretary of the World Meteorological Organization, also opened the session in earnest, stressing that the world stood “at a pivotal moment”.

“We need greater ambition and a greater sense of urgency,” she said.

Some governments, including the European Union, hope the report, ordered by the 2015 Paris Agreement, will bolster calls for more rapid emissions cuts.

Others fear the report for the same reason. On Monday, India’s Business Standard reported that the US has questioned the basis for the report in the lead up to this week’s conference. Last week, authors rejected reports that they were susceptible to political pressure.

South Korean environment minister Kim Eunkyung told the conference: “I understand that are still some climate sceptics out there. But let me tell you this: truth is truth. Climate change cannot be denied, or avoided.”

Drawing from the latest research on climate change, the report is the result of a mammoth collaboration between 91 authors and 114 co-authors. In total, the IPCC received 42,000 comments on the drafts of the report. Authors are bound to address each comment as part of the review process. Manaenkova said that the work as nothing short of “heroic”.

The final report is due out on Monday 8 October.

This article was originally published on Climate Home News and can be accessed by clicking here. It is shared under a Creative Commons license.

Further reading by Climate Home News:

Cover photo by Alfonsojung/Pixabay (public domain): Incheon skyline.
Mangkhut batters Philippines and South China as Florence brings widespread flooding to the Carolinas

Mangkhut batters Philippines and South China as Florence brings widespread flooding to the Carolinas

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

It has been a rough and tragic weekend for people living in the Philippines, South China and the Carolinas. Two major storms are wreaking havoc – Florence in the USA and Mangkhut in Southeast Asia – killing several people and leaving widespread destruction. While Mangkhut was named “the strongest tropical cyclone of the year” by the World Meteorological Organisation, Florence is also likely to remembered for years to come due to catastrophic flooding and storm surge.

Typhoon Mangkhut: One of the most powerful storms to hit Southeast Asia in decades

As of Monday morning, 17 September 2018, Typhoon Mangkhut had led to the deaths of 33 miners in the Philippines and 29 people still missing after a landslide buried a mining site in Itogon. As search and rescue continues, Itogon’s mayor says the final death toll might still rise above 100.

Two further people were killed in the Chinese province Guangdong. More than 2.5 million people were evacuated from Guangdong and Hainan Island. Hong Kong was also severely impacted over the weekend, injuring more than 200 people, shattering windows, flooding streets and leading to the suspension of transport services.

Following the enormous death toll of Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013, which killed over 7000 people, The Philippines dramatically improved preparation and evacuation procedures issuing more warnings, restricting travel, shutting schools down, and putting the army on standby. However, Mangkhut has caused extensive damage to Cagayan’s farmland, one of the major agricultural provinces in the country, threatening staple crops like rice and corn.

Hurricane Florence: Major floods and storm surge, and 50% more rain thanks to climate change

So far, Florence has killed at least 18 people and left 740,000 homes in the Carolinas without power. The coastal city of Wilmington has been completely cut off from the rest of North Caroline due to rising flood waters. Parts of North and South Carolina have seen up to one metre of rain since the hurricane – now a tropical depression – made landfall on Thursday.

According to officials in North Caroline, about 900 people were rescued from the flood waters and roughly 15,000 remain in emergency shelters. The federal administration declared a disaster in several counties of North Caroline, freeing up federal funding for recovery efforts.

The National Weather Service issued flash flooding alerts of varying degrees for all counties of North Carolina. Rainfall will continue throughout Monday, already breaking the state record set by Hurricane Floyd in 1999.

Florence is also probably the first hurricane to have an attribution study made about it pre-landfall. The research found that the storm would bring 50% more rainfall than it would have without the influence of human-induced climate change.

Since both storms are still active, the final impact of Mangkhut and Florence is yet to be seen. However, it is clear that they will both have long lasting impacts highlighting the need to build back better.


Cover photo by NOAA: The animated GIF shows Tropical Depression Florence on Sunday 16 September, 2018.