Category: Research

New study finds legal sector demand for climate services very likely to increase in near future

New study finds legal sector demand for climate services very likely to increase in near future

By Richard Bater

Law, and therefore legal services, will be indispensable to achieving a just transition to a low-carbon economy, as well as to ensuring that societies are resilient in the face of future climate-related risk. This renders the legal profession an essential actor, be it through crafting clear and robust legislation, ensuring compliance, or upholding constitutional rights.

New research by Acclimatise, that examines the legal sector’s demand for climate services, finds that whilst climate change has ranked very low on the sector’s agenda this has started to change during the last three years. This is partly attributable to new legislation – which increased 20-fold during the 20 years to 2017 to reach 1,200 laws – but is also due to the increasing recognition on the part of lawyers and their clients that climate change means material risk.  In future, individuals and organisations will increasingly solicit advice as to what their legal duties are vis-à-vis climate change in respect of existing (and forthcoming) laws and established legal doctrines, as well as to be shielded from climate-related litigation.

Climate change is cross-cutting and raises implications – to a greater or lesser degree – across the majority of areas of legal practice, from professional negligence, to product defect, to directors’ duties, to climate disclosure, to constitutional rights. Legal risks can arise, for example, where climate change results in organisations breaching existing compliance requirements (e.g. water quality standards).  With the reinterpretation of common law doctrines in light of climate change, failure to become adequately informed about – and manage – climate-related risk could lead directors to be in breach of directors’ duties. As Jason Betts, Partner at Herbert Smith Freehills, has observed, in order to mitigate litigation risk “companies across all sectors must ensure that the impact of climate change events – both those they may contribute to and those that might affect their businesses and profitability – are risk-assessed, costed and, where material, disclosed to the market.”

Emerging disclosure arrangements – such as those promoted by the Taskforce on Climate-Related Financial Disclosures (TCFD) – are putting climate-related risk on the boardroom agenda. By rendering climate risk a material issue that must be dealt with by organisations today, such initiatives help to bring organisational decision making on climate change into line with the timeframes within which action must be taken to limit the magnitude and risks of climate change.

Climate change adaptation, from a legal perspective, requires a highly collaborative approach; the bringing together of a range of legal skills and expertise.

– Mark Baker-Jones

Accurately disclosing climate-related risks – and proving disclosure breaches – is just one area that can require multi-disciplinary expertise, spanning climate and legal services. Indeed, as reflected by Mark Baker-Jones, more broadly “climate change adaptation, from a legal perspective, requires a highly collaborative approach; the bringing together of a range of legal skills and expertise.”  Underdevelopment of tailored climate services partly explains the hesitation of regulators to impose more stringent requirements: if regulatory provisions step too far beyond what is able to be reliably measured in a comparable way, regulators cannot be certain that regulations are being complied with and producing the change intended. Improving the robustness of harmonised and comparable climate risk metrics is essential. As Baker-Jones has also stated, “what is missing is the translation of that [climate] knowledge into practical advice and guidelines that those leading the private sector can understand and apply…Whether it is redefining the point at which liability is incurred or introducing new levels of liability where before there appeared to be none, climate change law is driving a reinterpretation of some fundamental principles of duty and responsibility.”

The study identifies several key ways in which climate services can better address the sector’s needs:

  • Develop the science of climate attribution, impact modelling, and integrated socio-economic climate impact models (including counter-factual scenario modelling);
  • Rigour, resolution, and comparability are the three highest ranking criteria of climate-related information;
  • Increase dialogue between legal services, climate scientists, and climate services;
  • Communicate climate knowledge in ways intelligible to legal audiences, including how findings correspond with legal standards of proof;
  • Develop a quality assurance regime for climate services providers.

Where climate science is evolving rapidly, there needs to be more accessible regularly-updated, spatially-nuanced communication of the state of climate (attribution) science that summarises the ‘consensus’ view to legal and other audiences in mind. A thorough record of this could become a touchstone for what is considered – and what was considered – ‘reasonably foreseeable’ at a given point in time, both guiding decision making in the present and enabling future accountability for harm.

The case study was led by Acclimatise under the MArket Research for a Climate Services Observatory (MARCO) programme. MARCO, a 2-year project coordinated by European Climate-KIC, hopes that research such as this will help to remove the barriers to the growth of the climate services industry across Europe.

Download the full case study “Legal Services” by clicking here.

Please check the MARCO website for the full suite of MARCO case studies.

The MARCO project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Program under Grant Agreement 730272.

New study shows billions of urban citizens at risk of climate-related impacts by 2050

New study shows billions of urban citizens at risk of climate-related impacts by 2050

New research by Acclimatise, C40, the Urban Climate Change Research Network (UCCRN), and Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy reveals number of cities and citizens threatened by direct and indirect climate hazards if global greenhouse gas emissions continue unchecked. Bold climate action by cities is key to prevent 1.6 billion people being exposed to extreme heat, 800 million to coastal flooding, and 650 million to droughts. 

Billions of people in thousands of cities around the world will be at risk from climate-related heatwaves, drought, flooding, food shortages, blackouts and social inequality by mid-century without bold and urgent action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Fortunately, cities around the world are delivering bold climate solutions to avert these outcomes and create a healthier, safer, more equal and prosperous future for all urban citizens.

This new research predicts how many urban residents will face potentially devastating heat waves, flooding and droughts by 2050 if global warming continues on its current trajectory. The Future We Don’t Want – How climate change could impact the world’s greatest cities also looks at indirect climate impacts and estimates how climate change under a ‘business-as-usual scenario’ will impact urban food security and energy systems as well as the urban poor, who are most vulnerable to climate change.

Headline findings include that, by 2050

The Future We Don’t Want also contains concrete examples of bold climate solutions that cities are delivering, which, if adopted at-scale, could help prevent the worst impacts of climate change. The research was launched at the Adaptation Futures conference in Cape Town, where representatives of cities around the world are sharing ideas on how to prepare and adapt their cities for the effects of climate change.

“For decades, scientists have been warning of the risks that climate change will pose from increasing global temperatures, rising sea levels, growing inequality and water, food and energy shortages. Now we have the clearest possible evidence of just what these impacts will mean for the citizens of the world’s cities, said Mark Watts, Executive Director C40 Cities. “This is the future that nobody wants. Our research should serve as a wake-up call on just how urgently we need to be delivering bold climate action.”

“For most C40 cities, the impacts of climate change are not a far-off threat. From Cape Town to Houston, Mayors are seeing severe droughts, storms, fires and more,” said Antha Williams, Head of Environmental Programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies and C40 Board Member, “As this report shows, C40 mayors are on the front line of climate change, and the actions they take today–to use less energy in buildings, transition to clean transportation and reduce waste—are necessary to ensure prosperity and safety for their citizens.”

“Climate change is already happening, and the world’s great cities are feeling the impact. Cape Town is facing an unprecedented drought, but thanks to the efforts of our citizens to adapt, we have averted Day Zero, when we would have had to switch off most taps,” said Patricia de Lille, Executive Mayor of Cape Town and Global Covenant of Mayors for Climate & Energy Board Member. “The lessons from Cape Town, and from this important new research is that every city must invest today in the infrastructure and policies that will protect citizens from the future effects of our changing global climate.”

City climate solutions featured in the report include:

  • Extreme heat: Seoul has planted 16 million trees and expanded its green space by 3.5 million m2. The city has also set up shaded cooling centres for those unable to access air conditioning.
  • Flooding: New York City is improving coastal flood mapping, strengthening coastal defences and building smaller, strategically placed local storm surge barriers around the city.
  • Drought: São Paulo has set up reward schemes to incentivise citizens to use less water, whilst investing in the city’s pipeline system to reduce water leakage.
  • Urban food security: Paris plans to establish 33 hectares of urban agriculture within the city’s boundaries by 2020. By 2050, 25 percent of the city’s food supply will be produced in the Île-de-France region
  • Energy Supply: London is improving drainage infrastructure to ensure key infrastructure can withstand heavy flooding, whilst also encouraging decentralised energy supply to reduce the risk of blackouts if any one power source is damaged.
  • Extreme heat & poverty: Lima’s Barrio Mío programme created a poverty map of the city helping policy makers to focus resources on the most vulnerable and under-served areas where people are most exposed to heat risks.

Download the full report by clicking here.

Cover photo by Arto Marttinen on Unsplash
Rising heat wave risk looms for Pakistan

Rising heat wave risk looms for Pakistan

By Saleem Shaikh

Average temperatures and heatwave frequency will keep rising in Pakistan, say researchers as the country has struggled to come to grips with soaring temperatures in recent weeks.

A team of international researchers, who say their study is the first to show the country’s heat-wave trajectory forecasts a 75 per cent increase in heat waves by 2030, a 189 per cent by 2060 and a 277 per cent increase by 2090. “This means the country will experience around 12 heat wave events annually by 2030, 20 such events by 2060 and 26 events by 2090,” says Wajid Nasim, lead author and associate professor at the department of environmental sciences, COMSATS Institute of Information Technology.

“Extreme weather events will become more frequent, prolonged and intense” –Wajid Nasim

The study, published this month (June) in Atmospheric Research, shows that Pakistan was hit by 126 heat waves of varying durations over the 1997‒2015 period for an average of seven heat waves per year. This year, at least 65 people have died in the capital Karachi, and temperatures in parts of the country have exceeded 40 degrees Celsius for weeks, reaching a record-breaking 50.2 degrees in April.

These extreme events will become more frequent, prolonged and intense, Wajid tells SciDev.Net.

He and his team relied on historical datasets of heat wave events and daily maximum temperature variations for the study period. The data was drawn from the Pakistan Meteorological Department (PMD) through 29 weather stations in the provinces of Punjab, Sindh and Baluchistan.

Heat waves are defined as spikes in temperature beyond 45 degrees Celsius in the plains, and beyond 40 degrees Celsius in hilly areas. Average maximum temperatures of 42 degrees Celsius, with a 5‒6 degree rise lasting eight days or more, are also classed as heat waves.

The researchers warn that the trend carries risks for crop yields as well as human health. Heat waves raise the irrigation needs of summer crops, increase droughts and contribute to groundwater depletion in the country.

Rising average temperatures during pre-monsoon months (March, April and May), during which most of the heat waves are expected to occur in the coming decades, could lead to early maturity of winter crops including wheat, maize, potato and lentils — and a consequent decline in crop yields.

Higher temperatures during these months will also increase irrigation needs for various summer crops including rice, cotton, sugarcane and mango. A rapid decline in soil moisture and higher levels of surface water evaporation are contributing factors.

Ghulam Rasul, director-general of the PMD, says the findings demand an adaptation response from the government with a focus on early-warning systems.

Rasul observes that March and April used to be cool to mild months, which helped the soil to retain moisture.

“It is startling to observe March becoming warmer every year. The high temperatures we used to record in the peak summer months (June and July) about eight years ago are now being recorded in March,” he tells SciDev.Net.

In June 2015, more than 1,200 people died of heat-related illnesses in the southern port city of Karachi when temperatures soared to 49 degrees Celsius. In May 2010, the city of Mohenjo Daro, also in southern Pakistan recorded 53.5 degrees Celsius, the highest ever recorded in Asia.

Nasim says various adaptation measures, such as building the capacity of individuals and communities to respond to heat stress during heat waves, and campaigns to raise heat-health awareness, are imperative.

This piece was produced by SciDev.Net’s Asia & Pacific desk. This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.

Cover photo by Kamran Ali/Wikimedia (CC BY-SA 3.0): Vegetable and Fruit Market of Layyah at twilight. 2007.
Global warming could be causing tropical storms to ‘slow down and last longer’

Global warming could be causing tropical storms to ‘slow down and last longer’

By Daisy Dunne

Rising global temperatures could be causing tropical storms to slow down, allowing them more time to unleash heavy rainfall once making landfall, a new study suggests.

The research, published in Nature, finds the speed at which they travel across the Earth has slowed by an average of 10% over the past 70 years, with the speed of storms originating in the Western North Pacific falling by 30%.

A “notable example” of this effect was seen during Hurricane Harvey, which “stalled” over Houston, releasing 100cm of rain in just three days, the study author tells Carbon Brief.

Although the new study finds a link between temperature rise and storm slowdown, it is possible that natural climate variability has also played a role in the downturn, the author adds.

However, the new analysis does not consider a range of factors affecting the forward speed of tropical storms, including the time of year and local weather conditions, another scientist tells Carbon Brief.

Slowing storms

Climate change can worsen the intensity of tropical storms (such as hurricanes, typhoons and cyclones) in several ways, including by making record rainfall more likely and by causing sea levels to rise, which can raise the risk of storm surges.

The new research looks at how warming could influence the “translation speed” of tropical storms – the speed at which they move across the Earth.

Storms travel as they are carried along global atmospheric circulation patterns – a worldwide system of winds which transport heat from the equator towards the poles.

Climate change is expected to weaken the world’s circulatory winds, which could, in turn, lead to a slowing of the speed at which tropical storms move forwards, says study author Prof James Kossin, an atmospheric scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Center for Weather and Climate. He tells Carbon Brief:

“Tropical cyclones are moving more slowly over the past 70 years or so. The slowing is seen in every ocean basin, except the Northern Indian Ocean. This is having impacts on local rainfall amounts. It could also be impacting coastal storm surge and wind damage.”

As storms slow, they can last for longer over one area, releasing large amounts of intense rainfall. This could pose a threat if storms stall above areas vulnerable to flooding, such as large urban areas, says Kossin. A “notable example” of this effect occurred during Hurricane Harvey, he says in his research paper:

“The unprecedented rainfall totals associated with the ‘stall’ of Hurricane Harvey over Texas in 2017 provide a notable example of the relationship between regional rainfall amounts and tropical-cyclone translation speed.”

Data deluge

For the study, Kossin analysed tropical storm data taken from NOAA’s International Best Track Archive for Climate Stewardship (IBTrACS). “Best-track data” includes information of tropical storm intensity, position and wind structure. The findings suggest that the forward speed of hurricanes fell by an average of 10% between 1949 and 2016.

However, the change in storm-forward speed varied widely from region to region.

The charts below show changes in storm-forward speed in (from top left to bottom right) the North Atlantic, Western North Pacific, Eastern North Pacific, Northern Indian, Southern Hemisphere (less than 100 degrees longitude) and Southern Hemisphere (more than 100 degrees longitude) over the 70-year period. Changes in speed are shown over land (black line) and sea (dotted line).

Changes to the forward speed of tropical storms from 1949-2016 in (from top left to bottom right) the North Atlantic, Western North Pacific, Eastern North Pacific, Northern Indian, Southern Hemisphere (less than 100 degrees longitude) and Southern Hemisphere (more than 100 degrees longitude) over the 70-year period. Changes in speed are shown over land (black line) and sea (dotted line). Source: Kossin et al. (2018)

The charts show how the largest reductions in speed have occured in the Western North Pacific – where the speed of tropical storms fell by 30% – and the North Atlantic, where speeds fell by 20%. In the Australian region, the speed of tropical storms slowed by 19% – although the statistical significance of this result is “marginal”, Kossin says.

However, storms originating in Eastern North Pacific and Northern India do not appear to have slowed over the study period. This could be down to natural climate factors, such as changing ocean currents, Kossin says.

Human fingerprint?

Although the analysis finds a link between falling storm speed and temperature rise, it does not constitute a “single attribution study”, Kossin notes in his research paper.

Attribution studies attempt to work out to what extent climate change could have influenced the likelihood of an extreme weather event, when other factors, such as natural climate variability, are also considered.

However, this analysis does not attempt to tease apart the impacts of human-caused climate change and natural variability, says Kossin:

“The human-caused factors would be things such as anthropogenic global warming, changes in air pollution, land-use change, ozone depletion, but mostly anthropogenic global warming. The natural factors would be just the internal variability of the planet, for example, naturally varying ocean currents.”

Due to this, it is “far from clear that global climate change has anything to do with the changes being identified” in the study, says Prof Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Colorado, who was not involved with the research. He tells Carbon Brief:

“There are some major decadal variations in play. In the Pacific, there is the Pacific Decadal Oscillation.”

The Pacific Decadal Oscillation (PDO) is a recurring climatic event that affects vast areas of the Pacific Ocean. It has “positive” and “negative” phases, which can each last 20-30 years.

Storms on the horizon

The findings provide a “significant scientific advance” in the world’s understanding of how climate change could influence tropical storms, says Dr Shuai Wang, an atmospheric physicist from Imperial College London, who was not involved in the study. He tells Carbon Brief:

“Tropical cyclones are one of Mother Nature’s most devastating hazards. Based on the findings in this article, it is likely – or very likely – that the motion of tropical cyclones has slowed down.”

However, the analysis has not taken into consideration several factors that may have influenced changes to storm-forward speed over the past 70 years, says Trenberth:

“The month of the storm matters. The translation speed is expected to be different in July, September and November. This should have been taken into account. The track and speed of a storm is heavily dependent on the weather patterns in play: the distribution of anticyclones, and cyclones, cold fronts, jet streams, troughs of low pressure and so forth. There is no evidence that these are changing, on the contrary, the expectation even 50 years from now is that the changes will be imperceptible.”

Kossin, J. P. (2018) A global slowdown of tropical-cyclone translation speed, Nature,

This article was orginally published on Carbon Brief and is shared under a Creative Commons license.

Cover image by David M. Roth/NOAA WPC: Enlarged rainfall graphic for Hurricane Harvey in Southeast Texas.
Low awareness of climate risks hampering resilience of critical infrastructure sectors claims new study

Low awareness of climate risks hampering resilience of critical infrastructure sectors claims new study

Low levels of awareness of climate risks and the availability of climate services are significant barriers to climate adaptation in the electricity sector, according to new research from Germany. However, the research also finds that the underlying market opportunity for climate services remains strong.

Damage to a critical infrastructure, its destruction or disruption by for example natural disasters, will have a significant negative impact on the security of the EU and the well-being of its citizens. Focussing on the German electricity sector, the report found that stakeholders in the sector claimed to need seasonal forecasts and decadal predictions, the latter aligning closely with energy companies’ time frames for strategic planning. However, despite this, there is currently a low level of demand for climate services from the sector.

The report found that four major barriers prevented the uptake of climate services:

  1. low awareness of the climate-related risks,
  2. low awareness of the benefits climate services can provide,
  3. mismatches between the required and the available timescales and spatial resolution of data and
  4. a lack of trust in the reliability of data.

In order to overcome these hurdles, the report recommends that considerable work needs to be done in the first instance to increase the visibility of the climate services industry and how it can contribute to the climate resilience of key sectors. It proposes that a ‘Climate Service Provider Store’ is created to provide information about where appropriate climate service providers are available.

Additionally, the case study recommends that work continues to ensure that seasonal and decadal forecast become ever-more accurate and that regional cooperation between industry networks and climate services providers are strengthened.

The case study was led by the non-profit research organization HZG under the MArket Research for a Climate Services Observatory (MARCO) programme of which Acclimatise is a proud partner. MARCO, a 2-year project coordinated by European Climate-KIC, hopes that research such as this will help to remove the barriers to the growth of the climate services industry across Europe.

Download the full case study “Critical Energy Infrastructureshere.

Download an infographic highlighting the key findings of the case study here.

Cover photo from pxhere (public domain).
Record heat means hurricanes gain ferocity faster

Record heat means hurricanes gain ferocity faster

By Tim Radford

Hurricane forces are accelerating, and devastating floods can be linked to warmer oceans. But climate change is not the only factor. Hurricanes are becoming more violent, more rapidly, than they did 30 years ago. The cause may be entirely natural, scientists say.

But Hurricane Harvey, which in 2017 assaulted the Gulf of Mexico and dumped unprecedented quantities of rain to cause devastating floods in Texas, happened because the waters of the Gulf were warmer than at any time on record. And they were warmer because of human-driven climate change, according to a second study.

Both studies examine the intricate machinery of a natural phenomenon, the tropical cyclone. Researchers from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory looked at how fast four of 2017’s hurricanes – Harvey, Irma, Jose and Maria – intensified: episodes in which maximum wind speed rose by at least 25 knots, which is more than 46 kilometres per hour, within a 24-hour period. They report in Geophysical Research Letters that they combed through 30 years of satellite data from 1986 to 2015 to find a pattern.

“As climate change continues, we can expect more supercharged storms like Harvey”

Researchers have repeatedly warned that hurricane hazard must increase with global warming, driven by profligate human combustion of fossil fuels that dump greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Hurricanes will hit higher latitudes and deliver more damage within the Gulf of Mexico. But climate change is only part of the answer.

The latest study did not find that storms were intensifying rapidly more often than usual. But the researchers did find that when a storm grew at speed, it became much more powerful within a 24-hour period than such storms did 30 years ago: wind speeds had gained 3.8 knots or seven kilometres an hour for each of the three decades.

And although hurricanes are driven by the warmth of the upper ocean, the researchers decided that rather than overall ocean warming, in this case the biggest factor was a natural cycle called the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation, which in its present phase tends to make ocean waters warmer in the central and eastern Atlantic – the spawning ground for Irma, Jose and Maria.

Warmest on record

But when Harvey hammered the Texas coast in August 2017, the waters of the Gulf of Mexico were warmer than they had ever been. And scientists from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) report in the journal Earth’s Future that they calculated the rate of evaporation as the hurricane winds raced over the water and compared it with the levels of precipitation over the city of Houston.

To make a hurricane happen at all, ocean temperatures need to reach 26°C. When Harvey gathered its strength and its moisture, the Gulf waters had tipped 30°C.

“We show, for the first time, that the volume of rain over land corresponds to the amount of water evaporated from the unusually warm ocean,” said Kevin Trenberth, a senior scientist with NCAR. “As climate change continues, we can expect more supercharged storms like Harvey.”

This article was originally published on Climate News Network.

Cover photo by NASA (CC BY 2.0): Hurricane Matthew Hits Haiti.
Researchers highlight importance of public health in climate litigation

Researchers highlight importance of public health in climate litigation

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

Climate litigation offers citizens a way to force governments and companies to cut carbon emissions or even pay for damages caused by climate change impacts. It is, however, a relatively new frontier in the world of climate action and much research is currently going into it. In this context, researchers from George Washington University analysed the role of health concerns in climate litigation and found health may be critical for successful climate lawsuits.

Health impacts, according to the researchers, could be considered as a damage and be a more powerful argument than, say, property damages. On the one hand, burning fossil fuels can increase instances of respiratory diseases like asthma and bronchitis, and also heart diseases. On the other hand, climate change caused by the burning of fossil fuels can lead to hotter temperatures which will worsen air pollution, increase the risk of heat strokes, dehydration, and death, and widen the areas in which mosquitoes spread diseases like dengue and West Nile virus.

Of 900 court decisions related to climate change and coal-fired power plants and analysed by the researchers, only 16 percent considered health. In interviews with scientists, advocates, and legal experts, the team found that while litigants who bring up health in climate lawsuits are not more likely to win them than those who don’t, health considerations can strengthen climate lawsuits in two ways:

  1. Plaintiffs might gain standing if they are able to demonstrate that their health deteriorated as a result of, in this case, air pollution. Meaning, a connection between the defendant’s actions (polluting the air) and the consequences suffered by the plaintiff (respiratory disease) was demonstrated to the court.
  2. Lawsuits that argue around public health and have compelling human stories play well in court as they are easier to grasp than stories about future climate impacts and climate science.

Lead author Sabrina McCormick says, “many experts believe that climate change is the biggest threat to public health in the 21st century, and the courts have been and will continue to be a central avenue for the development of climate-related policy in the United States.”

This paper comes just a few months after ClientEarth released a report warning governments and business of increasing instances of litigation for failing to prevent foreseeable climate-related harm as event attribution studies become more effective at quantifying the link between greenhouse gas emissions and extreme weather events. The combination of attribution science and arguments for public health could prove to be a powerful combination in front of courts which are seeing rapidly increasing numbers of climate lawsuits.

Access Sabrina McCormick, Samuel J. Simmens, Robert Glicksman, LeRoy Paddock, Daniel Kim, Brittany Whited, “The Role of Health in Climate Litigation”, American Journal of Public Health 108, no. S2 (April 1, 2018): pp. S104-S108.

Cover photo by Anna Sullivan on Unsplash
Using ‘foresight’ to mobilise joint action in climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction

Using ‘foresight’ to mobilise joint action in climate adaptation and disaster risk reduction

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

The European research project PLACARD (PLAtform for Climate Adaptation and Risk reDuction) has released a new report exploring how foresight can help integrate climate change adaptation (CCA) and disaster risk reduction (DRR).

The PLACARD project aims to establish a coordination and knowledge exchange platform to support the dialogue between the CCA and DRR communities. As part of that effort, this new report promotes the cooperative use of foresight methods to improve the integration of CCA and DRR in research, policy, and practice.

Figure 1: Schematic representation showing how CCA and DRR overlap. (Source: PLACARD)

Foresight is described as a “systematic, participatory, future intelligence gathering and medium- to long-term vision-building process to inform present-day decisions and mobilise joint actions.”

It helps decision-makers explore and anticipate future developments through a range of forward-looking approaches. It is a process to think about, debate and shape the future in a participatory, inclusive, and action-oriented manner exploring common long-term visions, and desired future conditions.

Figure 2: The multiple roles of foresight (Source: PLACARD based on JRC For-LEARN)

While they often might not be explicitly called that, foresight methods are already commonly used in CCA and DRR, for example the Adaptation Pathways approach, which presents “a sequence of possible actions after a tipping point,” and offers a series of ‘pathways’ in the form of adaptation or decision trees. Another very common practice is the SWOT analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats analysis), which helps categorise internal and external factors that might influence organisations. However, these methods are usually applied to either DRR or CCA rather than using them as a mechanism to integrate the two, which is what PLACARD’s new report proposes.

Given that both communities are used to the methods, the aim would be to encourage the use of foresight to look both at DRR and CCA together. As the authors explain, “for DRR this would imply the consideration of a longer time horizon and more attention to preventive responses, for CCA it would stimulate the consideration of the relevance of long-term changes for short-term changes and weather events which are more relevant for policy and practice.”

PLACARD identifies a number of ways in which foresight might improve future-thinking in a joint CCA-DRR policy context:

  • Enhance the effectiveness of participatory processes, cooperation and dialogue
  • Produce salient knowledge and capacity building that is relevant for future decision making and policy support
  • Facilitate the understanding of issues and concepts such as complexity, uncertainty, non-linearity, wildcards and surprises
  • Generate levers that build flexibility into policy measures and across policy areas
  • Address different time scales simultaneously, for example, connect long-term CCA prevention with short-term DRR preparedness
  • Be used in the context of trust building and the development of shared values
  • Allow for the use of a holistic perspective in connecting different policy areas.

This report summarises PLACARD’s initial work on foresight and will be followed up by a series of webinars and workshops in 2018 which will help develop and identify more specific foresight methods to integrate CCA and DRR.

Find out more about the report in PLACARD’s website and download the full document by clicking here.

PLACARD is funded by the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 research & innovation programme. Grant agreement No. 653255

Cover photo by Peter Kasprzyk on Unsplash.


Climate change is slowing Atlantic currents that help keep Europe warm

Climate change is slowing Atlantic currents that help keep Europe warm

By Peter T. Spooner, UCL

The ocean currents that help warm the Atlantic coasts of Europe and North America have significantly slowed since the 1800s and are at their weakest in 1600 years, according to new research my colleagues and I have conducted. As we’ve set out in a new study in Nature, the weakening of this ocean circulation system may have begun naturally but is probably being continued by climate change related to greenhouse gas emissions.

This circulation is a key player in the Earth’s climate system and a large or abrupt slowdown could have global repercussions. It could cause sea levels on the US east coast to rise, alter European weather patterns or rain patterns more globally, and hurt marine wildlife.

We know that at the end of the last major ice age, rapid fluctuations in the circulation led to extreme climate shifts on a global scale. An exaggerated (but terrifying) example of such a sudden event was portrayed in the 2004 blockbuster film The Day After Tomorrow.

The recent weakening we have found was likely driven by warming in the north Atlantic and the addition of freshwater from increased rainfall and melting ice. It has been predicted many times but, until now, just how much weakening has already occurred has largely remained a mystery. The extent of the changes we have discovered comes as a surprise to many, including myself, and points to significant changes in the future.

The circulation system in question is known as the “Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation” (AMOC). The AMOC is like a giant conveyor belt of water. It transports warm, salty water to the north Atlantic where it gets very cold and sinks. Once in the deep ocean the water flows back southwards and then all around the world’s oceans. This conveyor belt is one of the most important transporters of heat in the climate system and includes the Gulf Stream, known for keeping western Europe warm.

Climate models have consistently predicted that the AMOC will slow down due to greenhouse gas warming and associated changes in the water cycle. Because of these predictions – and the possibility of abrupt climate changes – scientists have monitored the AMOC since 2004 with instruments strung out across the Atlantic at key locations. But to really test the model predictions and work out how climate change is affecting the conveyor we have needed much longer records.

Looking for patterns

To create these records, our research group – led by University College London’s Dr David Thornalley – used the idea that a change in the AMOC has a unique pattern of impact on the ocean. When the AMOC gets weaker, the north-eastern Atlantic Ocean cools and parts of the western Atlantic get warmer by a specific amount. We can look for this pattern in past records of ocean temperature to trace what the circulation was like in the past.

Another study in the same issue of Nature, led by researchers at the University of Potsdam in Germany, used historical observations of temperature to check the fingerprint. They found that the AMOC had reduced in strength by around 15% since 1950, pointing to the role of human-made greenhouse gas emissions as the primary cause.

In our paper, which also forms part of the EU ATLAS project, we found the same fingerprint. But instead of using historical observations we used our expertise in past climate research to go back much further in time. We did this by combining known records of the remains of tiny marine creatures found in deep-sea mud. Temperature can be worked out by looking at the amounts of different species and the chemical compositions of their skeletons.

We were also able to directly measure the past deep ocean current speeds by looking at the mud itself. Larger grains of mud imply faster currents, while smaller grains mean the currents were weaker. Both techniques point to a weakening of the AMOC since about 1850, again by about 15% to 20%. Importantly, the modern weakening is very different to anything seen over the last 1,600 years, pointing to a combination of natural and human drivers.

The difference in timing of the start of the AMOC weakening in the two studies will require more scientific attention. Despite this difference, both of the new studies raise important questions regarding whether climate models simulate the historical changes in ocean circulation, and whether we need to revisit some of our future projections.

The ConversationHowever, each additional long record makes it easier to evaluate how well the models simulate this key element of the climate system. In fact, evaluating models against these long records may be a crucial step if we hope to accurately predict possible extreme AMOC events and their climate impacts.

Peter T. Spooner, Research Associate in Paleoceanography, UCL. This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Cover photo by NASA (public domain).
Extreme weather risk higher if Paris goals aren’t met – Adaptation and resilience more important than ever

Extreme weather risk higher if Paris goals aren’t met – Adaptation and resilience more important than ever

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

A new study finds that individual country commitments are not enough to reach the Paris Agreement goal of keeping the climate change induced global temperature increase “well below 2 degrees Celsius.” Rather, 2 to 3 degrees of warming are expected, increasing the risk of extreme weather even more.

Researchers from Stanford University, Columbia University, and Dartmouth College estimated the probability of hot, wet, and dry extreme events happening under two scenarios: global temperature increase of 1.5 to 2 degrees Celsius if countries achieve the Paris Agreement aspirations, and 2 to 3 degrees if they meet current commitments.

“The really big increases in record-setting event probability are reduced if the world achieves the aspirational targets rather than the actual commitments,” said Noah Diffenbaugh, Kara J Foundation Professor of Earth System Science at Stanford’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences. “At the same time, even if those aspirational targets are reached, we still will be living in a climate that has substantially greater probability of unprecedented events than the one we’re in now.”

The striking difference between the two scenarios came as a surprise for the researchers, even though temperature increases were very likely to increase the likelihood of extreme events. The commitment scenario shows a fivefold increase in probability of record-breaking warm nights over approximately 50 percent of Europe, and more than 25 percent of East Asia and a greater than threefold increase in record-breaking wet days over more than 35 percent of North America, Europe and East Asia. Meeting the Paris Agreement aspirations could substantially reduce the risk of increasing extreme events.

However, even the aspirational scenario shows an increase of record-setting events, and the same researchers have already linked several extreme weather events of the past years to climate change, including the 2012-2017 California drought and the catastrophic flooding in northern India in June 2013.

The study does not just highlight the importance of curbing emissions, it also provides additional evidence that historical probabilities often do not apply anymore. This has significant implications for the consideration of climate risks in infrastructure projects, but also financial disclosure, and development planning.

We can use this kind of research to make decisions that both build resilience now and help us be prepared for the climate that we will face in the future.

“Damages from extreme weather and climate events have been increasing, and 2017 was the costliest year on record,” Diffenbaugh said. “These rising costs are one of many signs that we are not prepared for today’s climate, let alone for another degree of global warming.”

“But the good news is that we don’t have to wait and play catch-up,” Diffenbaugh added. “Instead, we can use this kind of research to make decisions that both build resilience now and help us be prepared for the climate that we will face in the future.”

Access the full study by clicking here. Noah S. Diffenbaugh, Deepti Singh, and Justin S. Mankin. Unprecedented climate events: Historical changes, aspirational targets, and national commitments. Science Advances, 14 Feb 2018 DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao3354

Cover photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash.