Category: Research

Climate change threatens empires

Climate change threatens empires

By Tim Radford

Research into the impact of climate change on early society reveals link between environmental stress and the collapse of civilisations. Two new studies highlight the interplay of natural forces on climate change – and how these may have led to the collapse of an ancient dynasty. Volcanic eruptions more than 2,000 years ago may have weakened the Ethiopian monsoon, suppressed the annual flood of the Nile, and played a role in the downfall of the Egypt of Cleopatra.

And, says a second research paper, explosive volcanic eruptions may be a factor in cyclical climate phenomena such as El Niño, that ominous bubble of heat in the eastern Pacific linked to failure of the rains in Indonesia in the western Pacific and dangerous floods on the west coast of the Americas. There is a practical purpose to such studies: they highlight the connections between environmental stress and political stability, and may separately forewarn of the kind of natural climate reversals that farmers rightly dread.

US and European scientists report in Nature Communications that they studied the famous Islamic “Nilometer” records of the Nile flood between the years 622AD and 1902, pored over papyrus records from the Ptolemaic era of Egyptian history – the dynasty founded by Alexander the Great from 305BC to 30BC – and matched these with evidence from ancient ice cores and computer models. They found that revolt against elite rule, and the halt to warfare between Egypt and its old rival the Seleucid empire could be linked to volcanic eruptions that clouded the upper atmosphere and affected the pattern of Nile floods.

“With volcanic eruption dates fixed precisely in time, we can see society in motion around them. This is the first time for ancient history that we can begin to talk about a dynamic understanding of society”

“Ancient Egyptians depended almost exclusively on Nile summer flooding brought by the summer monsoon in east Africa to grow their crops. In years influenced by volcanic eruptions, Nile flooding was generally diminished, leading to social stress that could trigger unrest and have other political and economic consequences,” says Joseph Manning, a professor of history and classics at Yale University in the US, who led the research.

“Egypt and the Nile are very sensitive instruments for climate change, and Egypt provides a unique historical laboratory in which to study social vulnerability and response to abrupt volcanic shocks. Nile flood suppression from historical eruptions has been little studied, despite well-documented Nile failures with severe social impacts coinciding with eruptions in 939, in 1783-1784 in Iceland, and 1912 in Alaska,” Professor Manning says.

“With volcanic eruption dates fixed precisely in time, we can see society in motion around them. This is the first time for ancient history that we can begin to talk about a dynamic understanding of society.”

Circumstantial evidence

In fact, researchers have been trying to make such a connection for years, although with less direct written testimony. They have used circumstantial evidence to link climate change with the collapse of a Bronze Age empire in the Mediterranean and the fall of an ancient empire in Assyria.

They have identified ancient episodes of catastrophic drought in the Fertile Crescent, the birthplace of civilisation, and there has been a long-running but difficult battle to resolve argument about climate change and civil conflict provoked by the present bloodshed in Syria.

Separately, researchers have warned of the potential impact on the Nile as the world warms, because of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from profligate fossil fuel combustion, along with ominous rise in temperatures that could dramatically affect North Africa and Southern Europe.

The Yale-led study provides both detailed evidence from a dynasty that ended with the death of Queen Cleopatra and the Roman occupation, and a wider lesson of vulnerability to volcanic eruption, which, the authors say, “offers a caution to all monsoon-dependent agricultural regions, presently including 70% of the world population”.

Volcanic blasts

Quite separately, a week earlier, an international team led by French scientists reported in the same journal that they had matched aerosols in the stratosphere from volcanic eruptions with cooling over tropical Africa and episodes of El Niño within two years.

Volcanic blasts can lift millions of tons of sulphur dioxide into the stratosphere to deflect radiation and reduce global surface temperature: the researchers think they have evidence from climate simulations to show that such episodes favour the conditions for an El Niño. Sea surface temperatures since 1882 suggest that five major eruptions in the 20th century were followed by at least four El Niño episodes and disruptive weather patterns in many parts of the world.

All climate scientists would need, says Alan Robock, an environmental scientist at Rutgers University in the US, and one of the authors, would be a figure for sulphur dioxide levels in the upper atmosphere – easily measured by satellite – and they could warn of climate hazard.

“If you’re a farmer and you’re in a part of the world where El Niño or the lack of one determines how much rainfall you will get, you could make plans ahead of time for what crops to grow, based on the prediction for precipitation.”

This article was originally published on Climate News Network and is shared under a Creative Commons license. Read the original by clicking here.

Cover photo by AussieActive on Unsplash
New Horizon 2020 research sheds light on the successes and failures of the climate services market

New Horizon 2020 research sheds light on the successes and failures of the climate services market

By Richard Bater

In partnership with LGi, Acclimatise has led a multi-national consortium of research partners undertaking deep-dive studies of various economic sectors’ demands for climate services. Whilst previous studies have largely sought to develop prototypes or explored the potential use of climate (data) services by means of individual use cases, the Horizon 2020 research project MARCO (MArket Research for a Climate services Observatory) takes a 360° view of the market as a whole. Rather than honing in on the technical requirements of specific users, the project widens its focus to understand the vulnerabilities and needs of different market segments and the conditions that could enable the market to flourish into the future.

Sectors analysed in the MARCO project span the Copenhagen real estate to Austrian alpine winter tourism sectors. The project also includes the world’s first analysis of the implications of climate change for legal services and that sector’s potential demand for climate services.

The outcomes of the MARCO project, available soon, will provide unprecedented detail as to the nature and scope of the climate services market, and provide foresight on how demand could evolve in the coming years and decades. Recommendations will not only inform proposals for a Climate Services Observatory but provide recommendations – for the supply and demand sides – as to how individual sectors and regions can support uptake of climate services and build climate resilience.

With the EU High Level Expert Group on Sustainable Finance, the European Pensions Directive IORP II, and the Finance Stability Board’s Taskforce on Climate-related Financial Disclosures rapidly bringing about change in the regulatory environment, management of climate-related risks and appreciation of related opportunities has never been so high on the agenda of directors and boards.

MARCO results, however, show that users seldom, if ever, request ‘climate services’. There is low awareness of what climate services are across all sectors. Such generalised lack of understanding undermines early-stage analyses of the market and, more importantly, identification of proposals to promote climate services take-up. Use of unfamiliar terminology (e.g. climate services) can itself be a barrier to users’ desire to learn about services even when the service may itself be desired.

The climate services supplier market has been historically thought of as comprising a small number of mainly public sector meteorological organisations. This is somewhat true in so far as MARCO research finds more public than private climate service suppliers in 8 of 9 studied sectors. Water and sanitation, energy, agriculture, urban planning, education, and forestry sectors are all well served by (predominantly public) climate services suppliers. However, this characterisation is partly an effect of ‘common-sense’ understandings of climate services that associates them with the work of such organisations. This both limits (potential) users’ expectations of what climate services could be and embeds the notion that climate services are, in their entirety, public goods. Such engrained assumptions act as a brake on sector growth that contributes to a false appraisal of the nature and scope of the climate services sector, leaving tangible needs unaddressed, suppliers in the dark about what services need to be improved and where money needs to be invested, and policy makers unclear about how the sector could best be nurtured.

It is clear that climate services suppliers must become more geared toward the specific needs of individual sectors and their activities. A demand-centred view of climate services focuses attention on user needs and applications of climate-related knowledge that more, often than not, fall beyond the scope of traditional, non-commercial meteorological services providers. The possible applications are manifold – as plural as they are necessary to ensure build the resilience of individuals, societies, and economies. However, these applications are poorly understood and even poorly served by policy makers and climate services suppliers.  Analysing the broader spectrum of actual and potential climate services activities and climate service suppliers redefines and enriches definitions of the climate services market, and highlights end users’ own perceptions about what climate services are and could be.

Following the insights of the MARCO research, to be successful, climate services must:

  • bridge the ‘translation gap’ between climate science and applied use to be pertinent to specific users in different sectors and regions;
  • demonstrate value: what are the cost-benefits of climate services; what opportunities does using certain climate services open-up? (e.g. enhancing reputational value);
  • build visibility and credibility through establishing an easy-to-use ‘shop window’ for non-experts and quality assurance regime

Full reports and project results will be available for download soon.

For more information, please see the MARCO: You can also find MARCO on Twitter: @marco_h2020

If you would like to know more about the MARCO project or would like to receive regular updates on its progress, please contact: Eric Hoa, Climate-KIC:  and Chloé Chavardes, LGI:

MARCO Coordinator: Thanh-Tam Le, Climate-KIC

Partners: Climate-KIC (France), Acclimatise Ltd. (UK), Technical University of DenmarkFinnish Meteorological InstituteHelmholtz-Zentrum Geestacht HZG (Germany), INRA(France), Joanneum Research (Austria), kMatrix (UK), LGI Consulting (France), Smith Innovation (Denmark), UnternehmerTUM GmbH (Germany).

Duration: November 2016-November 2018. EU contribution: EUR 1,520,303.75

Cover photo by Sandro Katalina on Unsplash.
How climate services could revolutionise the aviation industry (and save you money)

How climate services could revolutionise the aviation industry (and save you money)

By Suzi Tart, LGI Consulting

Flying is a contributor to climate change, but how will climate change impact flying? A new report finds that under the emissions scenarios of RCP4.5 and RCP8.5,* both medium- and large-sized aircraft will be unable to lift as much weight at their current speeds. The reason is that the predicted higher temperatures will result in lower air density, yielding a less-effective plane lift. Indeed, The Economist reports that this has already happened, with dozens of planes being grounded in Arizona on a particularly hot day in 2017.

Several factors of course play into this equation, but the report notes that aircraft flying out of airports with higher elevations, as well as aircraft using shorter runways in high temperatures, will be the most affected. Anywhere from 10%-30% of all flights taking off during the daily high temperatures are predicted to have reduced lift abilities, resulting in the need to cut as much as 4% of their overall weight.

This difference in weight could mean that quite a few seats must go empty in order for planes to take off. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that airlines will not continue to earn the same amount of profit with flights that are less full. For travellers, this could result in more expensive flights, vis-à-vis hauling fewer passengers on the same trips, or higher luggage fees due to new luggage weight restrictions. Airlines may also cut back on ammenities such as the drinks they offer, in order to cut weight in other ways. Also likely are increased delays at airports due to planes being unable to depart on time, indirectly adding to the costs. Changes to airport infrastructure, should airports need to extend runway lengths to provide planes more time to generate the same lift capacity, could also hit travellers with higher airport fees.

Apart from the financial impacts, there are some safety concerns as well. The temptation for airlines to book a seat too many when there are seats sitting idle is imaginable, particularly if there is no guarantee of higher temperatures on the day of the flight. A quick look at the runways of the Madeira (recently renamed Cristiano Ronaldo) Airport in Portugal, Barra Airport in Scotland, Courchevel Airport in France, or Gibraltar Airport in Girbraltar, is all it takes to realise that there is little room for error on the current runways. Perhaps these airports offer more extreme examples, but if planes can’t get the lift they need before hitting the end of their runway, it could be disastrous.

Dealing with future air density restrictions no doubt calls for technological innovation. Yet climate services should be an integral part of the solution as well. Most people have never heard of the term “climate services,” including those who actually use them in their work. The EU’s Roadmap for Climate Services defines it as “the transformation of climate-related data—together with other relevant information—into customised products such as projections, forecasts, information, trends, economic analysis, assessments (including technology assessment), counselling on best practices, development and evaluation of solutions and any other service in relation to climate that may be of use for the society at large.”

The MARCO project, for which LGI is a contributing partner, shows us that although the climate services market is still in its infancy, there is an increasing trend of both public- and private- sector professionals across many economic sectors who are starting to use climate services. The aviation industry is among them. Should Europe’s airports effectively incorporate climate services into their work, requiring all airlines and aircraft flying into and out of the airports to do so as well, Europe’s aviation industry as a whole would become much more adept at handling the impacts of climate change. Foreseeable examples include:

  • Aircraft manufacturers being able to better predict and construct the features that planes (including electric planes) will need, based on future atmospheric conditions;
  • Airlines having a better idea of when to schedule flights and how many seats to book under the predicted conditions;
  • Air traffic controlers having a less-stressful job, with better-planned flight schedules and fewer disruptions;
  • Airport authorities being able to invest in future terminals and tarmacs in a wise, climate-proof manner;
  • Aviation schools being aware of the future conditions under which pilots should spend more time training.

There are many foreseeable benefits stemming from applying climate services to the aviation industry, and this does not exclude related financial benefits. However, one major hurdle is getting companies with short-term time frames to look at such long-term aspects. Guidance from the government, via regulations and policies promoting the use of climate services, would no doubt help to send a strong signal to the market. By way of example, in 2011 the City of Copenhagen implemented similar regulations for its built environment sector, incorporating climate services for flood risks into its new urban development projects. Today, the city now expects to gain a whopping EUR 700-900 million.

While the financial gain for the aviation sector has not yet been calculated, climate services offer strong economic incentives, both for travellers and the aviation industry alike. Moreover, climate services support fewer chances of human error under the predicted tougher atmospheric conditions—something that even the most powerful engine may need.

This article was originally published on LGI Consulting‘s blog and is shared with kind permission, read the original article here.

*RCP stands for Representative Concentration Pathway. Established by the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), there are four RCPs: RCP2.6, RCP4.5, RCP6, and RCP8.5. The numbers refer to the increase in radiative forcing in the year 2100 from pre-industrial values.

Cover photo by Gerrie van der Walt on Unsplash.
An X-factor in coastal flooding: Natural climate patterns create hot spots of rapid sea level rise

An X-factor in coastal flooding: Natural climate patterns create hot spots of rapid sea level rise

By Arnoldo Valle-Levinson, University of Florida and Andrea Dutton, University of Florida

For Americans who live along the east and Gulf of Mexico coasts, the end of the 2017 Atlantic hurricane season on Nov. 30 was a relief. Forecasters recorded 17 named storms, 10 of which became hurricanes. Six were major hurricanes (Category 3 or stronger), and three made landfall: Harvey in Texas, Irma in the Caribbean and Florida, and Maria in the Caribbean and Puerto Rico. It was the most costly season ever, inflicting more than US$200 billion in damages.

Many scientists have found evidence that climate change is amplifying the impacts of hurricanes. For example, several studies just published this month conclude that human-induced climate change made rainfall during Hurricane Harvey more intense. But climate change is not the only factor making hurricanes more damaging.

In a study we co-authored with our colleague Jon Martin, we showed that two converging natural climate processes created a “hot spot” from Cape Hatteras, North Carolina to Miami where sea levels rose six times faster than the global average between 2011 and 2015. We also showed that such hot spots have occurred at other points along the Eastern Seaboard over the past century. Now we see indications that one is developing in Texas and Louisiana, where it likely amplified flooding during Harvey – and could make future coastal storms more damaging.

Nearly every site measured has experienced an increase in coastal flooding since the 1950s. The rate is accelerating in many locations along the east and Gulf coasts. USEPA

Solving a salinity puzzle

Our work started when Jon Martin showed one of us (Arnoldo) salinity data from water trapped between sediments lining the floor of the Indian River Lagoon in east Central Florida. Here groundwater with zero salinity pools along the coast behind several barrier islands. Jon and his research team were analyzing changes in water chemistry and found that salinity had increased dramatically over the preceding decade. This suggested that saltwater was rapidly intruding into the lagoon.

This process is typically driven either by sea level rise or humans pumping fresh water from underground, or some combination of the two. Arnoldo consulted online data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and found that sea level rise had accelerated rapidly at nearby Trident Pier between 2011 and 2015. While global sea level has been rising at an average pace of about 1 foot per century, this site had recorded an increase of about 5 inches in a mere five years.

When Arnoldo shared this finding with Andrea, an international expert in past sea level rise, she was floored. These rates were ten times higher than the long-term rates of sea level rise along the Florida coastline. Further investigation showed that all tide gauges south of Cape Hatteras showed a similar uptick over the same period. This raised two questions: Had similar rates of rapid sea level rise previously been observed in the southeast United States? And what was causing this temporary acceleration?

Stations with positive sea level trends (yellow-to-red) are experiencing both global sea level rise and lowering or sinking of the local land. Stations illustrated with negative trends (blue-to-purple) are experiencing global sea level rise and a greater vertical rise in the local land, causing an apparent decrease in relative sea level. NOAA

Converging climate patterns

Previous work along the Atlantic coast had identified the area north of Cape Hatteras as vulnerable to accelerated rates of sea level rise, particularly in the context of climate change. Warming of the planet is expected to weaken the Gulf Stream, a powerful Atlantic Ocean current that pulls water away from the east coast and carries it northward. Slowing down the Gulf Stream leaves more water in place along the coastline, raising sea levels.

But this mechanism could not explain a jump of this magnitude in sea levels south of the Cape. Another previous study offered an additional clue. It proposed that the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), a seesaw pattern in air pressure over different regions of the North Atlantic Ocean, could explain the shift in the position of short-term variations in sea level rise.

Shifts in the NAO alter the position of the jet stream, wind patterns and storm tracks, all of which affect the distribution of water in the North Atlantic basin. Ultimately, the cumulative effects of NAO on the ocean determine whether water will pile up to the north or south of Cape Hatteras. Thus, water piled up preferentially to the north of Cape Hatteras in the period 2009-2010, and to the south from 2011 to 2015.

When the NAO is in its positive phase (left), the contrast between high pressure over the Azores and low pressure in the far north Atlantic is stronger than normal, which leads to mild storms over northern Europe and drying over the Mediterranean. But when the contrast is lower than normal, the NAO enters its negative phase (right), leading to cold, dry weather in northern Europe and wet conditions across the south. UCAR, CC BY-ND

This NAO-related mechanism explained where sea level accelerations might occur along the Atlantic coast, but did not seem to explain their timing. We filled in the blanks by examining tide gauge records over the last century along the entire U.S. Atlantic coast. This review showed that the timing of short-term sea level accelerations, lasting one to several years, was correlated with the accumulated signal of another recurring climate pattern: The El Niño Southern Oscillation, or ENSO, which is the result of an oscillation of atmospheric pressure in the Tropical Pacific Ocean basin.

Although ENSO occurs in the Pacific, its effects propagate across North America, altering air temperatures and wind regimes in the eastern United States. These changes in wind distributions can affect water transport in the North Atlantic Ocean, causing it to build up along the U.S. Eastern Seaboard at times. Other scientists have shown that this transport ultimately determines the timing of short-term accelerations in sea-level rise along the U.S. Atlantic coast.

In summary, we found that short-term accelerations in sea level rise have repeatedly occurred over the last century, sometimes occurring south of Cape Hatteras and sometimes focused north of the Cape. These hot spots can exceed rates of 4 inches in five years, and can occur anywhere along the U.S. Atlantic coast. They form when the accumulated signals of ENSO and the NAO converge, displacing seawater toward the coastline.

A wild card for coastal flooding

Our research has serious implications for coastal planners. Global warming is raising sea levels along the entire Atlantic coast, and communities should be preparing for it. In addition, our findings show that sea level can rise and fall around this level by more than 4 inches over a five-year period, due to variability in ocean-atmosphere interactions in the Pacific and Atlantic ocean basins. This variability can occur over the course of five to 10 years.

These hot spots amplify the severity of coastal flooding that is already occurring from storms and king tides. Residents between Charleston, South Carolina and Jacksonville, Florida – a stretch where sea levels are at least 4 inches (10 centimeters) higher now then they were in 2010 – have found this out the hard way.

Miami Beach residents are coping with dramatic increases in flooding driven by sea level rise.

The ConversationNow we are looking at data from the Gulf of Mexico, where tide stations are also showing water levels which are typically higher than predicted. The increase along Florida’s Gulf coast is past its peak, but Texas and Louisiana are still seeing an acceleration in sea level rise. Accelerations in sea level rise are hard to predict, and it is unclear whether they will become more serious over time. But they make it even more urgent for coastal communities to take sea level rise seriously today.

Arnoldo Valle-Levinson, Professor of Civil and Coastal Engineering, University of Florida and Andrea Dutton, Assistant Professor of Geology, University of Florida. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cover photo by Chris Coudron on Unsplash.
Bangladesh research network builds climate knowledge and resilience

Bangladesh research network builds climate knowledge and resilience

By Danielle Falzon

“Gobeshona” is the Bangla word for research. It is also the name of an innovative knowledge network of climate change researchers in Bangladesh working to build capacity to adapt to climate change.

Knowledge is integral for enhancing this capacity, and the Gobeshona network is a model that can be replicated around the world to strengthen international climate adaptation.

Gobeshona was set up in 2014 by Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development in Dhaka. It builds knowledge through training programmes on publishing for young researchers, monthly science-policy dialogues, an annual conference and an online article database.

Most importantly, it brings together a community of academics, policymakers and practitioners to put the latest knowledge into practice.

As Gobeshona builds knowledge, it also builds resilience. “Bangladesh has a lot of experience but we haven’t captured the knowledge that well. This is a means to try and do that,” explains Huq.

The network enables young researchers to share their work with the international community. The Gobeshona Young Researcher programme ensures that research on climate change in Bangladesh by Bangladeshi researchers is high quality and gets published in international peer-reviewed journals.

Gobeshona coordinates monthly themed dialogues with the General Economics Division of the National Planning Commission, which prepares the country’s development plans, as well as other government agencies. At these learning hub events, policymakers and researchers connect, and share their expertise and ideas.

It also highlights the knowledge generated at an annual conference each January. People from all realms of climate change work attend, including participants from around the globe, to share knowledge and learn from what is being done in Bangladesh.

In addition, Gobeshona’s web portal has compiled thousands of articles on climate change and Bangladesh. This creates easy access to a wealth of information, as well as a reliable place to access the latest research.

These initiatives increase the capacity of those who produce and use knowledge. They also enhance national adaptive capacity, as policymakers and practitioners are able to act according to the most up-to-date research.

“It’s still early days, but [Gobeshona] has gathered momentum and has now become an engine of harnessing the intellectual capacity and outcomes of the research community in Bangladesh on this issue,” says Huq.

At the end of the annual Gobeshona conference, the agenda is set through commitments for the year ahead.

At its 2018 conference in January, the network firmed up plans to:

  1. Extend beyond Dhaka to better connect with climate-vulnerable parts of the country.
  2. Develop a green-growth action programme focused on bringing in support from the private sector.
  3. Improve communication of climate information so that those who need it, such as farmers, can make better decisions.
  4. Enhance communication of research through new tools such as video.
  5. Create a youth leadership programme that connects young people from all over the world to develop solutions for climate change.

Gobeshona has an incredible ability to grow its network, and expand its influence to enhance adaptive capacity through knowledge exchange and development.

Furthermore, this knowledge is being generated and shared from the Global South. Bangladesh will be the site of many climate change impacts – from rising seas to river flooding and migration – and it has much to teach the rest of the world about building resilience to those growing pressures.

This article originally appearead on and can be found here. Please credit Zilient, an initiative of The Rockefeller Foundation, the Thomson Reuters Foundation, Blue State Digital and OnFrontiers. All rights reserved.

Cover photo by Sadman Sakib on Unsplash: First moon on Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
2017 was warmest non-El Niño year in history

2017 was warmest non-El Niño year in history

By Georgina Wade

2017 was the year of individual extreme climate events with its raging wildfires, turbulent hurricane season and widespread monsoon flooding. And the closure of the year has brought yet another unprecedented climate record with 2017 being the second-hottest year on record and the hottest non-El Niño year in history according to NASA data.

In fact, 2017 holds this record by a significant margin by being .17 degrees hotter than the previous record set in 2014. Remarkably, 2017 was also hotter than 2015, which at the time was by far the hottest year on record thanks in part to a strong El Niño event that year.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), one of the services provided through the European Commission’s Earth observation programme Copernicus, reported that global temperatures averaged 14.7 degrees Celsius – 1.2 °C above pre-industrial times. Additionally, C3S found that 2017 was just 0.1 °C cooler than 2016, and 0.5 °C warmers than the 1981-2010 period.

This has climate scientists worried with many citing this phenomenon as anything but normal. Professor of thermal sciences John Abraham believes this outcome is a sign that the underlying global warming trend is stronger than ever.

“The fact is that without global warming, “all the natural influences should have made the year cooler than normal; not hotter than normal,” he said. “The fact we continue to see records break regardless of the natural conditions means that we humans have over-ridden the natural cycle.”

Cover photo by Manki Kim on Unsplash
Climate service innovation market dynamics from a multi-layered perspective

Climate service innovation market dynamics from a multi-layered perspective

By Peter Stegmaier & Klaasjan Visscher, Dept. of Science, Technology and Policy Studies, Institute of Innovation and Governance, University of Twente

Main messages: (1) There are different kinds of services with different underlying configurations of technologies, users, service providers, and business models; and (2) market development is complex and enablers and barriers are related. See EU-MACS Deliverable 1.4 for more detail.

Climate services are still a niche phenomenon. Service innovations tend not to be utterly smooth in the beginning. There is still a lot of experimentation with user practices, business models, products, regulatory structures, infrastructure, and technology, which makes it hard for them to compete on the market against established services or forms of ‘strategic intelligence’ (the latter we call ‘incumbent regime’).

The specific market itself might even be not yet fully developed (see figure below)—or very small and already dominated by the few services that were able to establish themselves in their niches. Newcomers will thus hardly gain a share, but rather have to find their own niches.

Especially when innovations include sustainability promises, market niches and user demands may not be ready yet, since the innovations may differ radically from the prevailing. Moreover, clever niche management will require to link niches at some point.

In order to become aware of climate services-related trends and processes that could have the potential to foster successful niche development, we carried out an explorative study (see EU-MACS Deliverable 1.4) on the EU niche governance of and procurement of innovation for climate services in global context, of emerging (soft) standards, conventions, and ethical frameworks; we looked into neighbouring niche developments (e.g. ecosystem services, climate engineering, platform capitalism with FinTechs and InsurTechs), into relevant technological innovations (e.g. blockchain, online information brokerage, internet of things, citizen sciences).

On incumbent regime level, we looked into innovation policies, consultancy, weather services, law, climate sciences, and economic frameworks; and finally also scanned into broader landscape developments, such as political discontinuation and economic divestment from fossil fuels, exits from climate governance, high-performance computing, social movements, knowledge demands, the blurring of design and use in many areas of governance, technology, science, and consumption, as well as into experiences with non-use and resistance.

For the stakeholder interactions we have developed—together with our project partners—a suite of interactive formats, in which this multi-actor and multi-layer perspective on actually useful climate services can be probed together with stakeholders.

As a red thread that runs through many stakeholder interactions, we have developed a typology of climate services along which we can imagine and discuss the prospective shaping of climate services at an early enough stage of a development (when modifications are still possible) through “constructive dialogues” between all relevant actors in a given field/sector.

Overview of core characteristics for types of climate services

From the analysis we derived suggestions for the workshops, where they could be probed in stakeholder interactions and analyses. They carry key ideas for better enabling climate services by overcoming major barriers:

Climate services as ‘strategic intelligence’: Climate issues address problems that are dealt with in arenas whose complexity and variation is growing. Issues are negotiated in multi-actor settings and on multiple levels of governance and business. Services need to offer insights that can serve explorative and analytic approaches, as well as allow for specialist and integrated use.

Limitations of sectoral focus: On top of sectoral analyses it is relevant to identify cross-sectoral, sub-sectoral, trans-sectoral or even non-sectoral phenomena that might already have or win impact on climate services markets in the future.

Roles of technology for climate services market building: Technology and sciences play a crucial role for climate services in multiple ways: e.g. as instruments of research, as service infrastructure, and as means of communication. Climate services need to observe and probe novel technoscientific trends and possibilities in order not to lose contact with innovation trends and to use amplifying effects.

Role of organisations and institutions: Existing ways in which business or public organisations work, which could be users of climate services, need to be taken into account, such as formal barriers to using climate services and informal ways of collaborating even across departmental boundaries. The same is true for institutional enablers and barriers, like rules, procedures, standing practices, and instruments policy-making and management.

Allowing for a variety of climate services: Specialized, tailored services provided by climate experts receive most attention, but also climate services integrated in management consulting, policy consulting or engineering consulting, climate services shared by knowledgeable users, climate services embedded in technology based consumer services, as well as packaged in insurance products and other risk management service products should be considered in the interaction with stakeholders.

Be careful with labels: Whatever ‘climate services’ could be, may in its the actual context of use not be called ‘climate services’. What at the end of the day counts as ‘climate services’ may in practice figurate in many different terms and practices (e.g. linked to ‘resilience’, ‘climate adaption’, ‘risk assessment’, to name a few), depending on what justifies paying attention to climate issues in a given context. It even may in some way or another be connected to other kinds of services, advice, or intelligence, only making sense in combination with other bodies of knowledge.

Anticipating the end of subsidies: Providers, purveyors, and users of climate services need to develop plans to become independent of subsidised projects (getting out of the protected space), while public procurement might remain an important segment of the market.

Trade-off between ecological and economic targets: Climate intelligence by climate services may lead to more sustainable management and policy, but not necessarily; it could also foster strategies that push the limits of avoiding climate protection until profitability can no longer be claimed.

Non-use and resistance: User-related service innovation will have to analyse carefully what leads actors not to use climate services or to even reject them. Resistance is a common feature of change and innovation processes, which cannot be reduced to deficiency or an involuntary act, but rather could, at closer inspection, turn out to be perfectly rational, voluntary, and capable. In sensitive areas, for instance, every link to “climate” or other environmental issues may be avoided in order not to raise further leading questions.

This article was originally published on EU-MACS is funded by the European Union under Horizon 2020 – Fighting and adapting to climate change. Project ref. 730500.

Cover photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash.
Study shows Hurricane Harvey’s record-shattering rainfall has climate change’s fingerprints all over it

Study shows Hurricane Harvey’s record-shattering rainfall has climate change’s fingerprints all over it

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Yesterday at the 2017 American Geophysical Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, researchers presented evidence from two separate studies that human-induced climate change increased the amount and intensity of Hurricane Harvey’s unprecedented rainfall.

Harvey made landfall in southern Texas on 25 August and dumped over 1,000mm (40 in) of rain in affected areas, with peak accumulations of 1,539mm (>60 in). It was the wettest tropical cyclone on record in the United States and caused catastrophic flooding that displaced over 30,000 people.

Now, two studies attribute the record-shattering rainfall of the hurricane to climate change. One study, which has been accepted for publication in the a GAU journal, finds Harvey’s rainfall total potentially increased by at least 19% and up to 38% compared to totals in the mid-20th century. Another study, published yesterday in the journal Environmental Research Letters, finds the record rainfall over Houston was made three times more likely and 15% more intense than similar storms in the early 1900s.

Researcher Michael Wehner of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in Berkeley, California, a co-author of one of the studies, said “It is not news that climate change affects extreme precipitation, but our results indicate that the amount is larger than expected.”

The research confirms that heavy rainfall events across the Gulf of Mexico are increasing due to climate change. As warmer air carries more moisture and warming ocean surface temperatures intensify hurricanes, the region will have to ramp up its adaptation efforts in order to protect itself.

Cover photo by U.S. Air National Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Daniel J. Martinez (public domain): Members of the South Carolina’s Helicopter Aquatic Rescue Team (SC-HART) perform rescue operations in Port Arthur, Texas, August 31, 2017.
Resilience building at risk? Five key insights for addressing borderless climate risks

Resilience building at risk? Five key insights for addressing borderless climate risks

By Kevin M. Adams

Borderless climate risks have the potential to severely hamper or completely roll-back progress made on building resilience through climate change adaptation. Can they be addressed in the follow-up of the Paris Agreement’s global goal on adaptation?

This concern was the convening force behind a recent UNFCCC Side Event at COP23, titled A Global Adaptation Goal and borderless climate risks: Strengths and limits of the Paris Agreement. The event was organized co-organized by SEI, Acclimatise, and the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, and was supported by both Formas and Mistra Geopolitics. Below are five key insights from the conversation, which brought together researchers, practitioners, and policy-makers.

1. Transboundary and teleconnected risks

Traditionally, climate risk is closely linked to the direct impacts of climate change, like increased flooding or drought, heat waves, or other extreme weather events. Yet, according to Magnus Benzie, SEI Research Fellow, this view makes several critical omissions. “By focusing primarily on climate impacts within national borders, both policy-makers and researchers have tended to overlook the ways that climate change in one part of the world can affect people in another,” Benzie said.

Climate impacts can flow across borders via several different ‘pathways.’ These include shared biophysical flows like shared rivers or ecosystems, trade flows, financial flows like investment, and flows of people as patterns of mobility, migration, and tourism change. Importantly, these borderless climate risks do not always occur among neighbours; transboundary risks may inspire regional cooperation when the impacts are localized, but risk can also be teleconnected, linking countries and people relatively far away from one another.

By considering the borderless dimensions of climate impacts, we are presented with a quite different view of vulnerability to climate change, raising important questions for the way we adapt, both nationally and as a global community.

A comparison of traditional climate risks (ND-GaIN Index of the vulnerability of countries to climate change, top) with borderless climate risks (Transnational Climate Impacts Index, bottom, Benzie et al, 2016:

2. Adaptation as a global public good?

Throughout the conversation, a potent and recurring example was rice trade between exporting countries like Thailand, Vietnam and India, and heavily import-dependent countries like Senegal. Extreme weather events that impact rice exporters like Thailand cause price hikes, which makes food security in Senegal vulnerable to climate impacts beyond its own borders. Taking trade relationships like these as a focus, Oliver Schenker, from the Frankfurt School of Finance and Management, argued that climate adaptation should be considered a global public good with important benefits for both importers and exporters.

Using economic modelling, Schenker’s work suggests that when developing countries receive adaptation finance and are able to optimize their adaptation, the benefits are felt all across the globe. There is a collective interest in financing adaptation, a statement strongly seconded by panellists Mizan Khan, a climate finance negotiator from Bangladesh, and Maria Banda, on the faculty of law at the University of Toronto.

3. Borderless climate risks under the Paris Agreement

Recognizing the potentially significant role of borderless climate risks, as well as the collective interest in addressing them, what provisions or instruments exist under the Paris Agreement to help take these into account? According to Annett Möhner, Team Lead for the Adaptation Committee at the UNFCCC Secretariat, National Adaptation Plans may be one potential avenue for beginning to identify and assess borderless climate risks. Some countries have already begun to do this, though teleconnected risks are rarely considered. Additionally, as methodologies are developed for assessing progress toward the Global Goal on Adaptation and performing the Global Stocktake in 2023, there is an opening to raise awareness about these risks, and think about how they may be meaningfully incorporated into stocktaking efforts.

Borderless Climate Risks side event at COP23. From left: Richard Klein, Dustin Schinn, Mizan Khan, John Firth, Annette Möhner, Rebecca Nadin, Maria Banda.

Likewise, as Åsa Persson, Senior Research Fellow at SEI noted, addressing borderless climate risks necessarily intersects with discussions about climate adaptation finance, and there is a need to think carefully about how to manage these risks while not re-allocating resources away from countries vulnerable to direct climate impacts. Dustin Schinn, Climate Change Specialist at the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), agreed, and suggested that countries needed to be in the “driver’s seat” for addressing borderless climate risks, and should be supported by finance and global coordination.

4. Not the only game in town

Given the country-driven nature of the Paris Agreement, it is also important to consider that the UNFCCC may not be the only venue for capturing and addressing borderless climate risks. Despite Senegal’s interest in bolstering Thai rice production, adaptation must be country-driven and Thailand may rightly choose to focus on other adaptation priorities of national importance.

Rebecca Nadin, head of the Risk and Resilience Programme at the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), suggested that there is the potential to learn from other UN conventions like the UN Convention to Combat Desertification or the UN Convention on Biological Diversity, or to mainstream climate considerations into the multitude of existing water resources treaties. Similarly, Sara Venturini, Policy Analyst at Acclimatise, argued that trade agencies, financial institutions, and private sector actors may have a substantial role to play in this regard, especially given their high capacities for complex risk assessment.

5. Research for the future of borderless climate adaptation

Moving forward, there is a strong call for more knowledge and research in this area. It is especially necessary to develop methodologies, indicators, and indices to raise awareness about the potentially significant impacts of borderless climate risks, especially those that are teleconnected. Strong calls were made to produce specific case-studies, as well as to develop meta-analyses that locate commonalities, help to identify best-practices, and foster collaboration.

This sentiment is perhaps best captured by John Firth, CEO at Acclimatise, who during the panel discussion remarked: “climate change has caused us to embark on a complex experiment that we do not entirely understand. New teleconnections may arise as we continue to grapple with how we should adapt to our changing world – work in this area will need to be iterative and ongoing.”

This article was originally published on the SEI International website and is shared with kind permission. Read the original article by clicking here.

Climate change adaptation from a water-land-energy-food-climate nexus perspective

Climate change adaptation from a water-land-energy-food-climate nexus perspective

The first policy brief of the EU funded SIM4NEXUS project on ‘Coherence in EU policy on water, land, energy, food and climate’ is now launched to shed light on synergies and trade-offs between policy objectives in the water-land-energy-food-climate (WLEFC) nexus. It also discusses the implications for the EU strategy on climate change adaptation as well as national adaption efforts.

Being comprised of water, land, energy, food and climate, the ‘WLEFC nexus’ constitutes a complex system influenced by numerous policies, including those that address sectors outside the nexus. The good news, though, is that European policy objectives along the WLEFC nexus are largely coherent.

The policy brief indicates that adaptation to climate change is indivisible from the achievement of numerous EU policy objectives in the nexus. For example, adaptation is inextricably linked to energy security, by ensuring sufficient water for cooling and hydropower generation, and protection of infrastructure against flooding. Similarly, indivisible mutual interrelations exist between adaptation and water policy aims on flood risk and water scarcity management. Furthermore, adaptation reinforces the achievement of objectives in the agricultural sector on farms’ competitiveness and income, as well as maintenance of forest cover as part of land-use management, which in turn supports climate adaptation.

However, climate change adaptation measures may also have a rebound effect. For instance, when implementing measures against droughts, more water becomes available during dry periods which could be used for irrigation or hydropower generation. But increased water availability could also discourage water efficiency improvements and lead to mismanagement of water resources. It may also increase energy use in water exploitation and management. Understanding such consequences is important for the effectiveness of policies and improving the synergies between them.

To read the full policy brief, please click here.

To learn more about SIM4NEXUS project, please visit its website.