New report: Hydromet Gap Report 2021

New report: Hydromet Gap Report 2021

A new report from the leaders of the Alliance for Hydromet Development provides insight into how far we have to go to tap the benefits of effective weather and climate services and presents the challenges of the complex global and local undertaking required. Additionally, the report highlights priority actions to scale up support to developing countries to strengthen their capacity.

Investments in improved weather forecasts, early warnings and climate information are vital to build resilience to extreme weather. According to the report, only 40 percent of countries currently have effective warning systems in place, and large gaps remain in the vital underpinning observations data upon which these services depend, particularly in Least Developed Countries (LDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS). Such investments are highly important and create a triple dividend that includes: first, avoided losses – reliable and accurate early warning systems save lives and assets worth at least ten times their cost; second, optimized production; and third, improved long-term strategic response to climate change.

The report was launched on 8 July 2021 by leaders of the Alliance for Hydromet Development at a high-level event on the hydromet solutions needed for effective climate action and sustainable development.

Download the report here.

Fashioning a climate resilient cotton sector

Fashioning a climate resilient cotton sector

By Charlene Collison and Ulrike Stein

Why understanding the climate threat to cotton is essential for preparing a cross-sector response.

As the Cotton 2040 initiative publishes two new studies highlighting the potentially drastic impacts the climate crisis could have on cotton production in India and globally, Forum for the Future’s Charlene Collison and Ulrike Stein explore the urgent need for businesses to move beyond mitigation efforts and firmly shift their focus on adaptation measures in order to create a climate-resilient cotton sector.

The climate crisis will impact every detail of our lives, right down to the clothes we wear, the towels we use and the sheets we sleep on. The future of cotton, the world’s most widely produced natural fibre, will be affected, often dramatically, by changes in the climate.

Indeed, climate breakdown is arguably the biggest and most complex of the many pressing social and environmental challenges threatening the cotton sector’s future resilience. Rising temperatures, changes to water availability and extreme weather events are already affecting crop production around the world, while the sector itself of course also contributes to climate change.

However, most industry-wide conversations and plans don’t address the scale of change that the climate crisis will force upon the industry, and the world. Importantly, a key barrier has been the lack of information on the potential climate impacts on the cotton sector. The Cotton 2040 initiative aims to change this.

Tackling the information gap: two new studies

Cotton 2040 is a multi-stakeholder initiative facilitating the shift to a sustainable global cotton industry which:

  • is resilient in a changing climate;
  • uses business models that support sustainable production and livelihoods;
  • and where sustainably produced cotton is the norm. 

As part of its Planning for Climate Adaptation workstream, climate-risk specialists Acclimatise (part of Willis Tower Watson’s Climate and Resilience Hub) have conducted two unique new studies, using a worst-case climate scenario.

The reports have today been published alongside an interactive Climate Risk Explorer Tool. Armed with information, the industry is better placed to agree on priority areas for joined-up, informed and responsible action.

The world’s first Global Analysis of Climate Risks to cotton growing regions provides a high-level analysis of physical climate risks across all major global cotton-growing regions for the 2040s.

Key findings include that, by the 2040s, all global cotton-growing regions will be exposed to increased risk from at least one climate hazard, with half of all cotton-growing regions facing high or very high climate risk exposure to at least one climate hazard. All six highest cotton-producing countries – India, USA, China, Brazil, Pakistan and Turkey – are exposed to increased climate risk, particularly from wildfire, drought and extreme rainfall. 

A Climate Risk and Vulnerability Assessment of cotton growing regions in India considered a total of 41 climate hazard, and socio-economic indicators to assess the risk to cotton cultivation as well as cotton processing in 13 districts across three of India’s major cotton-growing states: Gujarat, Maharashtra and Telangana.

Key findings include that, by 2040, all cotton-growing regions across India will be subject to greater heat stress than under present-day conditions. The study also highlighted that common areas of vulnerability across all districts include multidimensional poverty, low female work participation rates, low male and female literacy rates, and limited access to banking services, technology and information.

The 12 climate indicators covered are: growing season length, heat stress, total rainfall during the growing season, extreme rainfall events, long-term drought, short-term drought, fluvial flooding, coastal flooding, strong winds, storms, wildfire and landslides.

What do these findings mean for the cotton sector?

Firstly, mitigation efforts alone just won’t be enough. The Net Zero commitments made by countries and some companies don’t stack up to what’s needed to keep global heating within 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels. A certain level of chronic and acute climate hazards is now baked in, and we must look beyond mitigation to adaptation.

Secondly, the environmental and social impacts of climate change are going to impact every single link in the cotton and wider textile value chain. And those who are already the most vulnerable, will be affected the most. Therefore, these impacts cannot be tackled in isolation.

Thirdly, resource scarcity or unequal distribution could potentially trigger societal disruption, possibly leading to conflict or even war. This will not only impact production, but also the transportation and distribution of goods. We cannot presume that current supply chains will continue as a viable or predictable part of the future.

How should the sector respond?

Preparing for the changes ahead requires a response that goes beyond incremental solutions to fundamental changes. The findings call for nothing less than a collective re-imagination of where, how and why cotton is produced, and transformation of the cotton value chain to be sustainable, resilient and just. This will require three key things:

1)Resetting ambition: looking beyond mitigation to also focus on adaptation

Organisations across the cotton value chain need to make bold commitments and take urgent action to decarbonise their organisations and supply chains through their mitigation plans, in order to limit global warming to 1.5°C. And at the same time, the focus needs to shift to also developing robust adaptation plans to be prepared for the effects of the climate crisis.

2)Ensuring just transitions: climate justice must be at the heart of the sector’s response

Investing in climate justice and socio-economic resilience is investing in climate resilience. Already vulnerable members and parts of the cotton value chain will come under even greater pressure and stress. The climate crisis will only add to the sector’s deeply entrenched environmental, social and economic challenges. For the around 350 million people whose livelihoods are linked to cotton growing and processing, and especially for the millions of smallholder farmers and their communities, the potential implications are tragic.

3)Building capacity for more systemic mindsets and joined-up thinking

A systemic threat requires systemic solutions. If we are to respond proportionately to the impacts of climate change, we must focus on more than changes in the weather. We need to find ways to build environmental and social resilience into supply chains, and also halt the downward spiral of the most vulnerable.

Building sector wide conversations on climate change adaptation and resilience

Navigating planning for these multiple potential futures – the one we must aim for through mitigation efforts, and the ones we must nonetheless be prepared for through adaptation planning – is the critical challenge that the cotton sector is facing.

The Cotton 2040 initiative urges people and organisations from across the cotton industry to use this data and analysis to think radically about the future of cotton. But we particularly call for the findings to be used as a resource to make decisions together about how the industry needs to work, from how cotton is produced, transported, and used; to strategies, business models, financing and more.

We invite you to join us on this mission.

Join us. Over 2021 and 2022, Cotton 2040 will be working with cotton producers, brands and retailers and industry initiatives to develop a common understanding across the cotton system as to how climate change is likely to impact key stakeholders and regions, and agree on a shared set of priorities for urgent as well as long-term action across the cotton sector. Stakeholders interested in joining the conversation are invited to contact Hannah Cunneen.

Convened by Forum for the Future and supported by Laudes Foundation, Acclimatise, Anthesis and the World Resources Institute (WRI), Cotton 2040 brings together existing initiatives in the cotton sector to align around critical issues for – and accelerate the transition to – long term sustainability. To access the reports, supporting resources and the interactive Climate Risk Explorer tool, visit

Half of all cotton growing regions face severe climate risks by 2040 if carbon emissions continue to soar

Half of all cotton growing regions face severe climate risks by 2040 if carbon emissions continue to soar

The first-ever global analysis of climate risks to global cotton production reveals that runaway climate change could expose half of all global cotton growing regions to high risks from temperature increases, changes to rainfall patterns and extreme weather events by 2040.

Titled “Adapting to climate change – physical risk assessment for global cotton production”, the analysis was commissioned by the Cotton 2040 initiative, which is facilitated by international sustainability non-profit Forum for the Future and supported by Laudes Foundation. The analysis was conducted by Cotton 2040 partner and climate-risk specialists Acclimatise, part of Willis Tower Watson’s Climate and Resilience Hub.

Under a worst-case climate scenario, the analysis highlights that all global cotton growing regions will be exposed to increased risk from at least one climate hazard by 2040. While this increase ranges from very low to very high risk, half of the world’s cotton growing regions will face drastic changes with high or very high-risk exposure to at least one climate hazard. Other key findings include:

  • All six highest cotton-producing countries – India, USA, China, Brazil, Pakistan and Turkey – are exposed to increased climate risk, particularly from wildfire, drought and extreme rainfall.
  • The highest climate risk overall is projected for two regions of the world; north western Africa, including northern Sudan and Egypt, and western and southern Asia.
  • Some regions are set to face high or very high exposure to up to seven climate hazards
  • Cotton exposure to heat stress (defined as temperatures above 40°C) will be an increased risk across 75% of cotton growing regions, with the risk being high or very high across <5% of regions.
  • 40% of global cotton growing regions are projected to experience a decrease in growing season as temperatures increase beyond the optimum temperature range for cotton growing.
  • Water scarcity and extremes in rainfall, from insufficient in some regions to extreme and more intense in others, will present increased risk for the world’s most productive cotton growing regions. This will add extra pressure to a fibre already under scrutiny for its water footprint, affecting yields and potentially threatening to cause conflict and societal unrest.
  • Exposure to increased risk from drought will impact ~50% of cotton.
  • 20% of the world’s cotton growing regions will be exposed to increased risk from fluvial flooding by 2040, and 30% of cotton growing regions will be exposed to increased risk from landslides.
  • All cotton growing regions will be exposed to increased risk from wildfires.
  • 60% of cotton will be exposed to increased risk from damaging wind speeds, and up to 10% will be exposed to increased risk from storms.

Cotton has a market worth of about $12 bn [1], makes up about 31% of all raw material used in the global textile market with a yearly economic impact of over $600 billion [2] and supports the livelihoods of around 350 million who cultivate or process cotton. Approximately 90% of farmers grow cotton on less than 2 hectares (ha) of land and are located in developing countries, mainly in Central and West Asia, Southeast Asia, and Africa [3].

The global analysis is complemented by an in-depth analysis of physical climate risks and socio-economic vulnerabilities to the cotton value chain in India. This highlights that climate impacts extend beyond direct impacts to cotton production, affecting the entire value chain, including workers involved in harvesting and processing, as well as supply chains.


[1] and [2] Khan, M.A., Wahid, A., Ahmad, M., Tahir, M.T., Ahmed, M., Ahmad, S. and Hasanuzzaman, M., 2020. World Cotton Production and Consumption: An Overview. In Cotton Production and Uses (pp. 1-7). Springer, Singapore. Available from:

[3] Vivek Voora, Cristina Larrea, and Steffany Bermudez, 2020. Global Market Report: Cotton. International Institute for Sustainable Development. Available from 

About Cotton 2040

Convened by Forum for the Future with support from Laudes Foundation, Cotton 2040 is a multi-stakeholder initiative to facilitate the shift to a sustainable global cotton industry which is resilient in a changing climate; which uses business models that support sustainable production and livelihoods; and where sustainably produced cotton is the norm. Find out more:

This global analysis is one of two reports published as part of the Cotton 2040 Climate Adaptation workstream. An additional study provides in-depth analysis of physical climate risks and socio-economic vulnerabilities to the cotton value chain in India. Both reports, alongside an interactive climate impacts map and supporting resources are available at Over the next 18 months, Cotton 2040 will bring the sector together to dive deeper into the data, understand implications and identify potential industry responses.

The European Investment Bank is launching a project to increase the Climate Resilience of their Investment Projects

The European Investment Bank is launching a project to increase the Climate Resilience of their Investment Projects

The European Investment Bank (EIB), the bank of the European Union and a leader among international finance institutions in the climate change realm, has commissioned Willis Tower Watson, together with AFRY, the Finnish Meteorological Institute and adelphi to undertake a project titled “Climate Resilience in Investment Projects”. This project aims to build resilience to climate change for EIB projects and increase support for investment in adaptation.

More precisely, the project aims to increase the knowledge, skills and tools required to make projects more resilient to climate change and to identify a larger portfolio of adaptation opportunities in support of the EIB Climate Strategy and the Paris Agreement.

The project has two components:

Component 1: capacity building on climate resilience, and;

Component 2: climate risk management in investment projects.

The project began in May 2021 and will last for two years. The first component will develop the EIB’s capacity on climate resilience and support climate risk assessments at the project level. The second component will support the assessment of physical climate risks and the identification of adaptation measures at the project level.

For more information, please contact Cinzia Losenno at

Cover photo by Brad Knight on Unsplash.
Webinar: Cottoning on to climate change

Webinar: Cottoning on to climate change

Date: Wednesday 14 July 2021

Time: 12:30-2:00pm BST / 7:30-9:00am EST / 5-6:30pm IST / 7:30-9:00pm SGT / 9:00-10:30pm AEST

Register here

Global warming could reach 1.5ºC as early as 2030. And yet, despite the Paris Agreement and the ambitious decarbonisation pledges and targets being set by countries and corporates around the world, we are faced with decades of unavoidable climate change. This will have profound effects on agricultural systems, farming communities and supply chains. Preparing today for the changes that will occur tomorrow is essential if we are to limit the impacts of climate change on society.

Climate change is set to pose significant risks to cotton – the most widely produced natural fibre. But what exactly are the potential environmental and social-economic impacts of climate change on key cotton growing regions and the wider industry? What are the implications for producers, brands & retailers, cotton standards and the investor community? And how can the sector come together to use this information to develop responses that not only deliver rapid decarbonisation, but which also build resilience and address climate justice issues? 

Drawing on the first ever global analysis of physical climate risks across global cotton growing regions for the 2040s conducted for the Cotton 2040 initiative (to be published in late June), we will share the key findings and data from the research to help participants understand how climate change is likely to impact key cotton growing regions and the supply chains. We will explore with producers and industry actors what these findings mean for their organisations, and what’s needed to respond to the challenge. 

This webinar will be followed by a series of geography-specific industry workshops in autumn, when Cotton 2040 will bring the sector together to dive deeper into the data, understand implications and identify potential industry responses. 

Join Us

Join this webinar to understand and discuss:

  • Why staying below 1.5C warming is so critical and what urgent adaptation planning needs to happen alongside climate change mitigation, in order to build resilience;
  • What will be the environmental and social impacts of climate change on global cotton production? 
  • How might climate change affect cotton producers, apparel brands, retailers and cotton standards? 
  • What is the role of industry stakeholders in driving rapid decarbonisation, building resilience, and ensuring a just transition?
  • How can you get involved in creating a future-fit and just cotton sector?                                                                                   


  • Host: Dr Sally Uren, Chief Executive Officer, Forum for the Future
  • Iain Watt, Climate Strategist
  • Erin Owain, Lead Associate – Climate and Resilience Hub, and Alastair Baglee, Director, Corporates – Climate & Resilience Hub, Willis Tower Watson
  • Charlene Collison, Associate Director, Sustainable Value Chains & Livelihoods, Forum for the Future

Further speakers representing the cotton value chain will be announced shortly.

Severe storms from tropics reach Europe once every five years on average – new research

Severe storms from tropics reach Europe once every five years on average – new research

By Alexander Baker

An unusual and devastating storm struck Ireland in the early hours of October 16, 2017. Record-breaking gusts of up to 119mph left 360,000 homes without electricity and, sadly, three people lost their lives. The storm continued north-eastwards, causing power outages and damage across the UK and Scandinavia over a two-day period.

That storm, named Ophelia, was exceptional. Hurricanes and tropical storms typically originate in the warm waters of the deep tropics, but Hurricane Ophelia formed close to the Azores — an island chain 1,400km west of Portugal and more than 800km north of the Tropic of Cancer. A Category-3 hurricane at its peak, no major tropical storm on record has ever ventured so close to Europe.

Ophelia weakened, becoming an ex-hurricane, before it hit Europe. But with its spiral of clouds and an eye at its centre, it still resembled a tropical storm and had the intense winds and rainfall of one too. As a tropical-like storm, Ophelia is extraordinary among the weather systems which have reached the British Isles.

A year later, Storm Helene developed off the coast of West Africa and took a highly unusual shortcut to the UK, and Storm Leslie reached the Iberian Peninsula. In 2019, several tropical storms started out in an area of the tropical Atlantic known to scientists as the main development region, and eventually reached Europe as weak remnant storms, swept along by the jet stream.

Clearly, tropical storms and their impacts are not confined to the tropics. So, is the landfall of tropical-like storms across Europe a growing threat, and might climate change, as studies have suggested, be responsible? To answer this, we must start with a simpler question: how often do tropical-like storms actually reach western Europe?

Finding good data

Official records of hurricanes and tropical storms largely concern those threatening the US and are less reliable for Europe. Records only expanded to properly include Europe as recently as the early 1990s, and they become increasingly patchy the further back in time scientists look.

Before weather satellites, which track storm systems, meteorologists relied on measurements made from reconnaissance aircraft, involving dangerous and often impossible work, and from ships, which travel in lanes and can only observe a limited area. As a result, storms are missing from official records, and studies have shown many of the missing events likely formed in the eastern Atlantic — exactly where Ophelia, Helene and the tropical-like storms that threaten Europe originated.

Waves crash against the UK's Brighton Pier in a storm.
Storm Helene hit Britain in September 2018 with winds of up to 70 mph. Simon Dack News/Alamy Stock Photo

In a new study, we turned to global data sets provided by NASA, the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts, and other government agencies. These data sets combine all the available weather observations with state-of-the-art computer models, which use the laws of physics to help fill in the gaps. We searched these data sets using an algorithm that scours the data to find every tropical storm that reached Europe, including storms absent from official records.

Storm risk

Over the period 1979–2018, we found that, on average, one to two storms that reached Europe each year were initially tropical storms. Typically, they occurred in September and October, around the peak of the North Atlantic hurricane season. However, the characteristics and strengths of these storms has varied a lot.

Scientists have known for several decades that, when hurricanes and weaker tropical storms travel north, they transform into what we call extratropical storms — the kind Europe is used to seeing during winter. In fact, around half of all tropical storms do this, but, fortunately, most aren’t damaging.

Among the other half, however, we found that some, like Ophelia, keep their tropical shape and characteristics for longer before petering out. This is crucial. The tropical-like storms that make landfall are typically much stronger. Of all the storms reaching Europe from the tropics, one in ten kept its tropical characteristics and strength to landfall. That’s one every five years over the past four decades, according to our analysis.

So, over the last 40 years, storms which were initially tropical were not that unusual across Europe. Searching new data sets and using advanced algorithms has revealed they’re more common than many scientists previously thought. Fortunately, many weaken substantially before they reach European coastlines, but, as Ophelia demonstrated, that isn’t always so — and climate change may make weakening less likely in the future.

North Atlantic sea surface temperatures have increased by 1.5°C since 1870, and continued warming is expected to make future tropical storms more intense. Stronger tropical storms are not only more likely to reach Europe, but more likely to maintain their tropical intensity rather than weakening.

Comparing recent years with earlier decades, we found some evidence that this trend is already emerging. Storms with tropical origins have reached Europe more frequently since 2000 than during the 1980s and 1990s. This is intriguing, to say the least, but more analysis is needed to verify — and explain — these trends, as well as the varied storm threats Europe faces.

This article was originally posted on The Conversation.

Falling harvests could soon follow growing deserts

Falling harvests could soon follow growing deserts

By Tim Radford

A hotter world will mean more deserts and falling harvests − bad news for food producers and for all of us.

LONDON, 18 May, 2021 − By the end of the century falling harvests could jeopardise as much as a third of present levels if greenhouse gas emissions continue uncontrolled.

That is because climatic regions that right now and for most of human history have been home to reliable crops of grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables, and safe grazing for cattle, sheep, goats and so on, could become too hot, too dry, or too wet.

And these things could happen too quickly for farmers either to adapt, or crops to evolve. Land that had for generations been considered “safe climatic space” for food production could be shifted into new regimes by runaway global heating, according to a new study in the journal One Earth.

“Our research shows that rapid, out-of-control growth of greenhouse emissions may, by the end of the century, lead to more than a third of current global food production falling into conditions in which no food is produced today − that is, out of safe climatic space,” said Matti Kummu, of Aalto University in Finland.

“The good news is that only a fraction of food production would face as-of-yet unseen conditions if we collectively reduce emissions, so that warming would be limited to 1.5° to 2°Celsius.”

Very big If

In 2015, almost all the world’s nations met in Paris and agreed to act to contain global heating to “well below” 2°C above the average for most of human history by 2100.

Six years on, that promise now looks increasingly ambitious: despite declarations of good intent, the planet is heading for a temperature rise of 3°C or more by 2100. The Paris target of 1.5°C could be surpassed in the next two decades.

The One Earth study is yet another in a chain of findings that confirm that much of the worst possible consequences of global heating could be contained if − and only if − there is concerted and determined global co-operation to abandon fossil fuel use and to restore natural ecosystems.

Professor Kummu and his colleagues report that they examined ways of considering the complex problem of climate and food. Geographers have identified 38 zones marked by varying conditions of rainfall, temperature, frost, groundwater and other factors important in growing food or rearing livestock.

The researchers devised a standard of what they called “safe climatic space” and then considered the likely change in conditions for 27 plant crops and seven kinds of livestock by the years 2081to 2100, under two scenarios. In one of these, the world kept its promise and controlled warming to the Paris targets. In the other, it did not.

“The increase in desert areas is especially troubling because in these conditions barely anything can grow without irrigation”

And they found − an increasingly common finding − that climate change is likely to hit the poorest nations hardest: that is, those people who have contributed the least to global heating could once again become its first casualties.

Under the more ominous scenario, the areas of northern or boreal forests of Russia and North America would shrink, while the tropical dry forest zone would grow, along with the tropical and temperate desert zones. The Arctic tundra could all but disappear.

The areas hardest hit would be the Sahel in North Africa, and the Middle East, along with some of south and south-east Asia. Already-poor states such as Benin, Ghana and Guinea-Bissau in West Africa, Cambodia in Asia and Guyana and Suriname in South America would be worst hit if warming is not contained: up to 95% of food production would lose its “safe climatic space.”

In 52 of the 177 countries under study − and that includes Finland and most of Europe − food production would continue. Altogether 31% of crops and 34% of livestock could be affected worldwide. And one fifth of the world’s crop production and 18% of its livestock would be most under threat in those nations with the lowest resilience and fewest resources to absorb such shock.

“If we let emissions grow, the increase in desert areas is especially troubling because in these conditions barely anything can grow without irrigation,” said Professor Kummu. “By the end of this century, we could see more than 4 million square kilometres [1.5m sq miles] of new desert around the globe.” − Climate News Network

Cover image by Clément Bardot, via Wikimedia Commons
A generational historic struggle to regain our water

A generational historic struggle to regain our water

By Sharon Udasin

May 14, 2021 — Editor’s note: This story is part of a collaboration, Tapped Out: Power, justice and water in the West, in which eight Institute for Nonprofit News newsrooms — California Health Report and High Country News; SJV Water and the Center for Collaborative Investigative Journalism; Circle of Blue; Columbia Insight; Ensia; and New Mexico In Depth — spent more than three months reporting on water issues in the Western U.S. The result documents serious concerns including contamination, excessive groundwater pumping and environmental inequity — as well as solutions to the problems. It was made possible by a grant from The Water Desk, with support from Ensia and INN’s Amplify News Project.

A riverbed that has been parched since the end of the 19th century — a portion of the historic lifeblood of the Gila River Indian Community — is now coursing again with water, luring things like cattails and birds back to its shores.

“You add water and stuff just immediately starts coming back naturally. Birds have returned and it’s just such a different experience,” says Jason Hauter, an attorney and a Community member. “It’s amazing how much has returned.”

INN Tapped Out logo in white

The revival of this small segment of the 649-mile (1045-kilometer) Gila River, which has served the tribes that make up the Gila River Indian Community — the Akimel O’odham (Pima) and the Pee-Posh (Maricopa) — for roughly 2,000 years, was an added benefit of a grassroots infrastructure overhaul, known as “managed aquifer recharge,” or MAR, which aimed to restore the local groundwater basin. The MAR project has not only secured a water supply for local agriculture, but it has also generated a stable source of income and strengthened the Community’s ties to tradition.

“The land started to heal itself, reinvigorate itself,” says Governor Stephen Roe Lewis, who recently began his third term as leader of the Gila River Indian Community.

Hauter credits Lewis and his colleagues for ensuring that Community members have long-term access to their own resources while helping solve broader water supply problems in the region through innovative partnerships and exchanges with neighbors.

“They are very thoughtful about future generations, but they also recognize they live in this larger community and that you have to collaborate,” Hauter says. “Encouraging your neighbors to have good water practices, but also helping your neighbors, is good water policy.”

A Particularly Longstanding Claim to Water Rights

The ins and outs of water management and usage in the U.S. West are complex. In a region where every drop is important, questions about water — such as who gets what, how it’s moved from one place to another, and who pays for it — are vital to communities’ capacity to survive and thrive. These decisions are often based on century-plus-old legal doctrines that don’t always fit neatly into a modern, warming world — or address longstanding disregard for Native American tribal nations’ rights.

Western U.S. states adhere to legal doctrines called “prior appropriation” — sometimes referred to as “first in time, first in right” — linked to the mid-19th century Gold Rush and the Homestead Act, through which miners and farmers were able to claim and divert water sources for “beneficial use” — defined by activities such as irrigation, industry, power production and domestic use. A 1908 Supreme Court case ruled that the federal decision to establish Native American reservations inherently meant there would be sufficient water for those reservations. The priority date for water rights on these reservations therefore had to match the date of establishment, meaning that many tribal nations’ water rights took precedence over those of most existing users. During the past few decades, these nations have largely opted for settlements with the relevant federal, state and private bodies, rather than entering extensive and costly litigation to recover their water rights. 

These settlements allow tribal nations to take part in the competitive markets that have long ruled water in the West. These markets involve things like selling water rights, getting money for helping mitigate drought and accruing “credit” from the Arizona Water Banking Authority by storing water in underground basins administered by the Arizona Department of Water Resources. 

Governor Stephen Roe Lewis, leader of the Gila River Indian Community, stands in the dry bed of the Gila River, outside of Sacaton, Arizona. Photo © J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue
Governor Stephen Roe Lewis, leader of the Gila River Indian Community, stands in the dry bed of the Gila River, outside of Sacaton, Arizona. Photo © J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

One such pivotal settlement came in 2004: To resolve tribal water rights claims, Congress passed the Arizona Water Settlement Act, which allocates a set amount of water each year to the Gila River Indian Community, drawing that water budget from a variety of sources in Arizona. The Community had a particularly longstanding claim to water rights due to its two-millennia history of farming, curtailed when miners and white settlers began diverting water following the Civil War. The governor’s late father, Rodney Lewis, devoted his career as Gila River Tribal Attorney to fighting for a just water settlement.

“It was the theft of our water, so this was a generational historic struggle to regain our water,” Lewis says. “We were and we still are historically agriculturalists, farmers. Our lineage, our ancestors were the Huhugam. And the Huhugam civilization had pretty much cultivated the modern-day Phoenix area in central Arizona.”

“They were master builders,” he adds, referring to complex water systems and canals that he says rivaled those of the Nile Valley.

As more and more nations regain control of their water resources, they are securing a critical provision for the long-term financial prosperity of their people and protection of their lands.

Mutually Beneficial Partnerships

As often occurs in tribal water rights settlements, the 2004 agreement served to restore the Gila River Indian Community’s claims to the river and its tributaries without displacing the descendants “of those who committed the original sin,” says Hauter, a partner at the law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, which currently serves as outside counsel for the Community.

Toward that end, Hauter says, “really, what’s provided is an alternative supply.”

That alternative supply comes from the Central Arizona Project (CAP), an infrastructural behemoth that conveys about 1.5 million acre-feet (1.85 billion cubic meters; one acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons) of water from the Colorado River to central and southern Arizona each year. Serving as the single largest renewable water supply for the state of Arizona, the 336-mile (540-kilometer) system was authorized by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968, soon after which construction by the Bureau of Reclamation began. Three years later, the Central Arizona Water Conservation District ­— a multi-county water district — formed to repay the federal government for the project’s costs and oversee regional water supply.

The Central Arizona Project / Circle of Blue photo
The Central Arizona Project canal moves water from the Colorado River to interior Arizona. Photo © J. Carl Ganter / Circle of Blue

Through the 2004 settlement, the Gila River Indian Community has the single largest CAP entitlement — bigger than that of the city of Phoenix — at 311,800 acre-feet (385 million cubic meters), Hauter explains. Finding mutual benefit in helping quench the thirst of the surrounding region, the Community entered into various water exchanges and leases that delivered about 60,000 acre-feet (74 million cubic meters) to Phoenix and other municipalities annually and left about 250,000-acre-feet (308 million cubic meters) for its own purposes, according to Hauter.

But this sudden surplus from the CAP actually posed a problem.

Pumping water from the project, Community members understood, would eventually become prohibitive due to water transport and associated electricity costs. The Lower Colorado River Basin Development Fund, managed by the U.S. Department of Interior, covers the Fixed OM&R (operation, maintenance and replacement) for certain Arizona tribes with settlements, but funding is only projected to last until 2045, Hauter explains.

The Community was using only about 50,000 acre-feet (62 million cubic meters) for irrigation purposes, leaving about 200,000-acre-feet (247 million cubic meters) unused, Hauter says. Because any unused CAP water can be remarketed by the state, Arizonans began counting on the Community to not use its full share.  

With the legal guidance of Hauter and his team, the Community launched a strategic venture to store, share and sell much more of its CAP water in 2010.

The first such partnership occurred with former water supply rival the Salt River Project, the name of the utilities responsible for providing most of Phoenix’s water and power. Had the Community decided to enter litigation to recover its water rights, rather than settling, the Salt River Project could have faced enormous supply losses.

But the former rivals instead became partners, after identifying that the Salt River Project’s underground storage facility (USF), the Granite Reef Underground Storage Project, was an ideal place to store a portion of the CAP allocation the Gila River Indian Community was not currently using. The partnership has enabled the Salt River Project to withdraw water from storage — while maintaining a “safe yield,” or making sure any water that is taken from aquifers is replenished. In return, the Community has gained long-term storage credit, Hauter explains. Such storage credit enables the holder to bank CAP water and, when necessary, recover the water for future use.

The Community also stores water in groundwater savings facilities (GSF), including one operated by the Salt River Project and another south of the Gila River operated by the Maricopa Stanfield Drainage District. While a USF physically stores water in the aquifer through direct recharge, a GSF is an “indirect” recharge facility that uses CAP water instead of pumping local groundwater.

In what Hauter described as an “in lieu” agreement, the Community provides the operators of these GSF facilities with a renewable water supply — another portion of its CAP allocation — and so reduces the Salt River Project and Maricopa District’s need to extract groundwater. In return, the Community gets storage credit for the water that can remain in the ground.

“Everything We Needed Was at the River”

While these external collaborations bolstered the resilience of the Community, as well as that of the arid surrounding region, Gila River residents only really saw the revival of their long-lost local waterway when Community leaders launched a homegrown storage initiative. Recognizing the value in keeping some unused CAP resources at home, they chose to establish a network of managed aquifer recharge (MAR) sites. This type of underground storage allows for the free flow of water from a naturally permeable area, such as a streambed, into an aquifer, as opposed to “constructed recharge” sites that involve injecting water into percolation basins by means of a constructed device.

Image of local water cycle and groundwater basics

Creating a balance of water that’s taken from aquifers and water that replenishes aquifers is an important aspect of making sure water will be available when it‘s needed. Image from ”Getting down to facts: A Visual Guide to Water in the Pinal Active Management Area“, courtesy of Ashley Hullinger and the University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center.

In order to implement these plans, the Gila River Indian Community came to an agreement with Arizona to acquire state regulatory permits for the MAR projects, despite the fact that tribal nations have sovereign control over water management. As a result of this decision, the Community has been able to market long-term storage credits in a sort of environmentally friendly banking system that allows more groundwater to stay in the ground.

“They realized they could get multiple benefits from deciding to have their project permitted per the Arizona regulations,” says Sharon Megdal, director of The University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center. 

“They voluntarily chose to abide by the regulations for storage and recovery and therefore come under the whole credit accrual and accounting system,” she continues, stressing that not only can credits be used to recover water when needed in the future, but they can also be purchased by outside entities, which creates a revenue stream for the Community. “That’s really exciting.”

Managed Aquifer Recharge site #5 (MAR 5)
“You add water and stuff just immediately starts coming back naturally. … It’s amazing how much has returned,” says Jason Hauter. The “managed aquifer recharge,” or MAR, projects have allowed the Gila River Indian Community to achieve river and riparian restoration. Image courtesy of the Gila River Indian News

Three MAR facilities are already operating on the reservation today: MAR-5, the Olberg Dam underground storage facility, permitted in 2018; MAR-1B, the Cholla Mountain underground storage facility, permitted in 2020; and MAR-6B, a western and downstream expansion of MAR-5, which came online a few months ago. Construction of MAR-8, located downstream from MAR-5, will be complete in a few years, according to Hauter.

Hauter adds that it was only while planning the initial MAR-5 site that Community members envisioned the riparian restoration program that served “to recreate the river,” allowing cattails and other plants to blossom and enabling community members to create baskets and traditional medicines. Although the idea of restoring the river was secondary to the storage plans, Hauter says that its flow is intrinsic to the Community’s culture.

“The tangible benefit for most members is really having the river back to some degree,” Hauter adds. “It wasn’t something the settlement intended to accomplish, but the settlement gave the Community the tools to make it happen.”

Lewis and his father, who had already retired at the time, used those tools to see the first MAR site to fruition. The Lewises and their colleagues understood the benefit in adopting innovative methods for accumulating water at their future storage site.

Following the death of water rights attorney Rodney Lewis, his widow Willardene Lewis — a child welfare attorney and a writer, as well as the governor’s mother — published a poem about death and the Gila River. Click to expand. Image courtesy of the Gila River Indian News

“He truly saw the MAR-5 as a living testament to our historic tie to the Gila River,” the governor says, adding that his father considered the facility an opportunity to “return the flow of the river.”

With the revived river flow, the riparian habitat quickly began blossoming, including 50 documented species of birds within the first year of MAR-5’s operations, Lewis says. An interpretive trail now weaves through the once arid wetland, providing educational signposts and offering sacred cultural spaces for spiritual practice, Lewis explains. Elders are now taking advantage of the plants and silt available to engage in traditional basket weaving, medicine making and pottery, he adds.

“They still remember the river sometimes flowing and the smell of the water,” Lewis says.

In recent years, before the opening of the MAR-5 site, the channel filled with water only in particularly wet seasons involving floods or heavy snowpack upstream, according to Lewis.

“Everything we needed was at the river,” he adds. “That was our lifeblood.”

Continuing to Plan For a Drought-Ridden Future

In conjunction with the opening of the MAR facilities, the Community cemented a pivotal agreement in 2019 with the Central Arizona Groundwater Replenishment District (CAGRD), a groundwater replenishment entity operated by the Central Arizona Water Conservation District. Through this agreement, CAGRD leases 18,185 acre-feet (22 million cubic meters) of the Community’s CAP water and stores the majority of that water in the MAR sites, while receiving long-term storage credits in return from the Arizona Water Banking Authority. Only if the MAR facilities are full is CAGRD allowed to store the leased water elsewhere, Hauter explains.

Alongside the MAR projects, the Community has also been rehabilitating existing wells and building new ones in order to create a backup supply for agricultural use when Gila River flow is minimal. Well water is less expensive than CAP water, since wells can recharge naturally during storms — so much so that such events collectively add at least 100,000 acre-feet (123 million cubic meters) to the Community’s annual water supply, according to Hauter. The Community took additional steps to reroute its CAP supplies after the federal government and the seven Colorado River Basin States implemented their drought contingency plans, meant to elevate water levels in Lake Mead, in 2020. As part of that regional effort, Hauter explains, the Community is providing a total of at least 200,000 acre-feet (247 million cubic meters) of water to be stored in Lake Mead from 2020 to 2026, when the drought contingency plans expire. For its contribution, the Community gets money through the Arizona Water Bank and the Bureau of Reclamation.

Lake Mead water levels from 2000 to 2015
This animation shows a comparison of Lake Mead water levels from 2000 to 2015. The Gila River Indian Community is taking part in efforts to elevate water levels in the lake by contributing portions of its Central Arizona Project entitlement. Images by Joshua Stevens, using Landsat data from the U.S. Geological Survey, courtesy of NASA Earth Observatory (public domain)

Only through the Community’s creative collaborations and homegrown projects has so much of its CAP entitlement been able to help replenish Lake Mead, Hauter says. Today, the Community has reduced its CAP water usage for irrigation to 15,000 acre-feet (19 million cubic meters) per year, while its CAP water storage capacity in the MAR projects is up to about 40,000 acre-feet (49 million cubic meters) per year. After construction of MAR-8 is complete, total CAP water use for storage and irrigation will reach about 75,000 acre-feet (93 million cubic meters), Hauter says.

As the Community’s leaders continue to plan for a drought-ridden future, they are evaluating whether it will be necessary to use more of its CAP allocation for their own needs. At the moment, much of the reservation’s agriculture involves water-intensive crops like alfalfa, feed corn and cotton. An overhaul of the farming infrastructure, according to Hauter, would require “changing attitudes about how food is grown” and incorporating more efficient technologies, as well as encouraging farming among younger people.

Overall, Hauter says, “it’s an exciting future for the Community, and it will be interesting to see what happens in the next 20 or so years.”

Lewis is confident that the Community’s agricultural tradition will remain strong, particularly due to the younger generation’s concerns for social justice, equity and environmental issues.

“We want to provide opportunities for our community members to reengage in any way in our agricultural heritage,” he says. “We’ve always been innovators, going back to the Huhugam with their amazing engineering.”

In addition to the commercial company Gila River Farms, which is owned by the tribe and employs Community members, Lewis says that local family farms continue to thrive. Lewis also says that “there’s a big push” for young people to obtain degrees in agro-business, hydrology, water engineering and other relevant fields that will provide them with a livelihood while working for their Community — a place that has become even more special to them during the pandemic year.

“It’s a public health emergency that we’ve been going through,” Lewis adds. “But at the same time, I think this is an opportunity where you see a lot [of] our younger generation that are wanting to learn who it is to be from the Gila River Indian Community.”

“A Total Win-Win”

While the MAR projects and the larger water exchange deals serve to safeguard the Community’s water supplies, Hauter says he’s uncertain as to whether neighboring tribal nations could replicate this model. Other tribes, he explains, might have different agricultural interests or economic concerns, as well as varying geological and hydrological conditions.

In Megdal’s opinion, at least one aspect of the Community’s strategy could be replicable regardless of geography: the strategic accrual and marketing of long-term storage credits in permitted recharge facilities. The Gila River Indian Community has diversified its portfolio of storage credit and sales through “multiple vehicles,” she explains, including its MAR projects, the Salt River Project partnership, and its transfer of credits to CAGRD. 

“They are able to meet their objectives including having riparian benefits and river benefits and sell the credits — because the credits are then recovered elsewhere. … For them, it’s like a total win-win,” Megdal says, adding that she considers the Community’s achievements to be “a bellwether project.”

Already, she says, the Tucson-region Tohono O’odham Nation has begun selling some credits to CAGRD. Acknowledging that the two cases involve varying geological and legislative circumstances, Megdal stresses that the Gila River Indian Community has demonstrated the benefits of the storage and credit accrual system.

“These long-term storage credits are the most marketable part of the water system,” Megdal says. “It’s an emerging market, and the Gila River Indian Community has emerged as a key leader in that market.”

“I see this example of a tribal nation entering voluntarily into an intergovernmental agreement with the state so that all the parties can develop these mutually beneficial exchanges or marketing transactions in a voluntary way,” she adds. “It’s really a notable innovation.”

Editor’s note: This story is also part of a four-part series — “Hotter, Drier, Smarter: Managing Western Water in a Changing Climate” — about innovative approaches to water management in the U.S. West and Western tribal nations. The series is supported by a grant from the Water Desk at the University of Colorado Boulder and is included in our nearly year-long reporting project, “Troubled Waters,” which is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. You can find the other stories in the series, along with more drinking water reporting, here.  

Cover photo by Gila River India News.
Building resilience in the land of 3,000 collines: Rooting out drivers of climate fragility in Burundi

Building resilience in the land of 3,000 collines: Rooting out drivers of climate fragility in Burundi

By Juergen Voegele, Veronique Kabongo and Arame Tall

When you land in Bujumbura, Burundi, you are immediately struck by the verdant landscape. Everything is green. The peaceful city is surrounded by beautiful Lake Tanganyika, the deepest in Africa, with majestic hills to the north. Soon, one discovers that those steep hillsides, the nearly 3,000 or so “collines” of Burundi, are much more than an extraordinary landscape. They are home to a patchwork of communities organized around each colline. In many ways, they represent the beauty but also the pains of the people who live on it and from it. These collines hold the souls of ancestors and families lost during past conflicts, including the 1994 crisis. They tell the country’s story.

But this impressive majestic landscape is threatened by overuse and degraded resources which are further aggravated by climate change. Climate-related disasters—chiefly torrential rains, floods and landslides—have triggered 100% of the forced displacements in 2020 in Burundi according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, underscoring the urgency of action to address compounded risks from rising climate impacts, fragility, and displacement.

Multi-risk vulnerability in Burundi’s colline landscapes

Like many African countries, Burundi is set to bear the brunt of impacts from climate change that it was not responsible for creating.  Globally, Burundi has the lowest per capita Greenhouse Gas emissions, ranking last out of 188 countries and contributing only 0.01% to global emissions. Meanwhile, Burundi is extremely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and faces the burden of the impacts of global emissions, ranking 171 out of 181 countries in the Notre Dame Global Adaptation Index, which summarizes countries’ vulnerability to climate change.

Furthermore, each year, Burundi loses almost 38 million tons of soil and 4% of its gross domestic product (GDP) to land degradation. The coffee sector exemplifies people’s dependence on natural resources for their livelihoods: half of the country’s households live off the sector which brings 90% of the country’s foreign revenue. But in the last 40 years, severe soil erosion led to a two-thirds decrease in coffee production, pushing millions back into poverty.

Burundi’s collines are home to more than 90% of the country’s largely rural population, composed of mostly women and youth, who rely on agriculture and forestry for their livelihoods. They also are critical hubs of multi-risk vulnerability: 75% of court cases are linked to land disputes, and the recent massive return of refugees from neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania has been a source of increased conflict and violence. Poverty and conflict in Burundi are closely linked to resource dependence and climate fragility. Since 2015, the country has experienced unprecedented forced displacement: 131,000 internally-displaced people were counted in 2020, 83% of whom were driven by climate-related disasters and 17% caused by other socio-economic factors, according to the International Organization for Migration Displacement Tracking Matrix.

In Burundi’s context, climate change compounds pre-existing risks through rising rainfall and temperature variability, projected to worsen by 2030-50, with recurrent flooding, landslides and soil erosion already destroying livelihoods and exacerbating poverty. Past extreme weather events including severe floods in 2006 and 2007 and severe droughts between 1999 and 2000 and in 2005 accounted for losses exceeding 5% of the GDP, affecting more than two million Burundians. In addition, river flooding from Lake Tanganyika poses an increasing challenge. Batwa communities are particularly disenfranchised, and at the heart of multi-sector vulnerability, making community-driven development approaches critical in Burundi’s development context.

Climate change is the ultimate threat multiplier in fragile and conflict-affected states such as Burundi.  Institutions unprepared to face new environmental and climate risks, high levels of poverty, and agricultural-based economies make them particularly vulnerable.

The Bank’s response to build foundations of resilience in Burundi’s collines

The World Bank has been engaged in Burundi for many years and continues through a deliberate strategy to mainstream climate resilience across all sectors. A series of World Bank-financed projects have supported the government’s efforts to build resilient ecosystems and livelihoods.  The $4.2 million Coffee Landscapes Project transformed Burundi’s fragile environment by addressing the causes and consequences of land degradation. The approaches piloted were replicated and scaled up in the $55 million Coffee Competitiveness Project, the $30 million Landscape Restoration and Resilience Project and the $6 million Global Environment Facility Additional Financing. Together, they sustain the efforts by extending system-level landscape restoration, terracing works, and community livelihood resilience activities. These include land certification for vulnerable groups with 50% going to women farmers. A total of 192,117 hectares of degraded lands in 31 collines will be put under integrated landscape management practices by 2023.

However, 2,608 more collines are still degraded and will need to be restored to increase agricultural and pastoral productivity, and to build their resilience to current and future climate risks. The World Bank has committed to scale up activities nation-wide to cover all collines, starting with a study funded by PROGREEN, a global partnership promoting resilient landscapes. The new Burundi government has committed to invest more in driving out the root causes of degradation and fragility on all collines and lists climate change as one of its strategic priorities.

Figure 1: Scaling up Investment into Burundi’s Colline Landscapes

Source: The World Bank

This is mission possible, but it cannot be done alone. While the World Bank is mobilizing additional resources through its Prevention and Resilience Allocation, it is essential to crowd-in financial and technical partners, including United Nations’ agencies and other climate concessional financing.

Addressing climate risks in fragile states has the potential to enhance resilience and reduce sources of conflict, while generating growth and long-term sustainable development. To be effective, climate investments must recognize the interlinkages between climate and conflict risks. In Burundi as in every other country, these investments must also be rooted in strong political and institutional support to trigger the changes needed to make the “land of 3,000 collines” resilient.  

This article was originally posted on WorldBank Blogs.
Net Zero by 2050: What it will take to get there

Net Zero by 2050: What it will take to get there

By Mitchell Beer

Many countries say they will reach Net Zero by 2050, a huge cut in greenhouse gases by mid-century. Here’s how they can do it.

A longer version of this post originally appeared on The Energy Mix. Find the full story here.

LONDON, 21 May, 2021 − No new investment in oil, gas, or coal development, a massive increase in renewable energy adoption, speedy global phaseouts for new natural gas boilers and internal combustion vehicles, and a sharp focus on short-term action: the key elements of a blockbuster Net Zero by 2050 report released on 18 May by the International Energy Agency (IEA).

The more than 400 sectoral and technological targets in the report would be big news from any source. They’re particularly significant from the IEA, an agency that has received scathing criticism in the past for overstating the future importance of fossil fuels, consistently underestimating the uptake of renewable energy, and failing to align its “gold standard” energy projections with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement.

For years, the agency’s projections have been used to justify hundreds of billions of dollars in high-carbon investments, allowing multinational fossil companies to sustain the fantasy that demand for their product will increase through 2040 or beyond. But not any more.

“Beyond projects already committed as of 2021, there are no new oil and gas fields approved for development in our pathway, and no new coal mines or mine extensions are required,” the IEA writes. “The unwavering policy focus on climate change in the net-zero pathway results in a sharp decline in fossil fuel demand, meaning that the focus for oil and gas producers switches entirely to output − and emissions reductions − from the operation of existing assets.”

“It’s not a model result,” analyst Dave Jones of the clean energy think tank Ember told Bloomberg Green. “It’s a call to action.”

Massive change

“Big Oil and Gas has just lost a very powerful shield!” wrote Oil Change International senior campaigner David Tong.

By 2040, the IEA sees all coal- and oil-fired power plants phased out unless their emissions are abated by some form of carbon capture. Between 2020 and 2050, oil demand falls 75%, to 24 million barrels per day, gas demand falls 55%, and remaining oil production becomes “increasingly concentrated in a small number of low-cost producers.”

OPEC nations provide 52% of a “much-reduced global oil supply” in 2050 and see their per capita income from fossil production decline 75% by the 2030s.

“This is a huge shift from the IEA and highly consequential, given its scenarios are seen as a guide to the future, steering trillions of dollars in energy investment,” Kelly Trout, interim director of Oil Change International’s energy transitions and futures programme, wrote in an email.

“Oil and gas companies, investors, and IEA member states that have been using IEA scenarios to justify their choices and also say they’re committed to 1.5°C are in a tight spot. Will they follow the IEA’s guidance and stop licensing or financing new fossil fuel extraction, or be exposed as hypocrites?”

“ . . . the IEA still creates too much room for dirty fossil fuels and biofuels to linger . . .”

“It’s incredibly important that the IEA has gathered together the case for the benefits of making this transition,” Rocky Mountain Institute managing director James Newcomb told The Energy Mix. “The key elements they point to − 4% higher GDP by 2030, millions of net jobs created, two million fewer premature deaths per year by 2030, and universal energy access − those are all amazing parts of the story. We’re starting to see the multi-dimensional benefits in achieving an energy transition, and it’s exciting that the IEA is bringing us evidence to measure it.”

The report calls for a “historic surge” in renewable energy investment, with public and private finance tripling to US$4 trillion per year by 2030. “This will create millions of new jobs, significantly lift global economic growth, and achieve universal access to electricity and clean cooking worldwide by the end of the decade,” the agency writes.

But to get those short-term emission reductions, the IEA’s net-zero pathway “requires all governments to significantly strengthen and then successfully implement their energy and climate policies,” the IEA states.

“Commitments made to date fall far short of what is required,” with more countries pledging net-zero emissions but most of those promises “not yet underpinned by near-term policies and measures. Moreover, even if successfully fulfilled, the pledges to date would still leave around 22 billion tonnes of CO2 emissions worldwide in 2050,” enough to drive a devastating  2.1°C of average global warming by 2100.

“The scale and speed of the efforts demanded by this critical and formidable goal…make this perhaps the greatest challenge humankind has ever faced,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol.

Technological roadblock

“The way we see this scenario is that it’s a very, very narrow pathway,” added IEA chief energy modeller Laura Cozzi, “but it’s still feasible.”

In what some analysts see as a serious gap in the IEA’s thinking, the scenario relies increasingly on emerging technologies as the middle of the century approaches. “Most of the reductions in CO2 emissions through 2030 come from technologies already on the market today. But in 2050, almost half the reductions come from technologies that are currently at the demonstration or prototype phase,” the agency writes, in an unfortunate echo of US climate envoy John Kerry’s remarks to the BBC.

“Major innovation efforts must take place this decade in order to bring these new technologies to market in time,” the IEA writes.

“I strongly disagree with that,” replied Sven Teske, research director at Australia’s Institute for Sustainable Futures, in a statement to The Mix. “The main technologies to decarbonise the global energy system are market-ready, and are either already cost-competitive or will be within the next five to 10 years.”

The report shows global demand for critical metals like copper, cobalt, manganese and rare earth minerals growing almost seven-fold this decade, exceeding revenue from coal mining well before 2030. “This creates substantial new opportunities for mining companies,” the agency writes. “It also creates new energy security concerns, including price volatility and additional costs for transitions, if supply cannot keep up with burgeoning demand.”

Which points to serious issues for communities and organisations dealing with the often horrid environmental impacts and human rights records of extractive industries

Step by step

The report lays out the IEA’s pathway to zero in five-year chunks:

• In 2020, emissions stood at 33.9 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide or equivalent, with building retrofit rates below 1%, solar and wind delivering nearly 10% of the world’s power generation, electric vehicles accounting for 5% of global car sales, and fossil fuels providing nearly 80% of total energy supply.
• As of 2021, no new oil and gas projects, coal mines, or unabated coal power plants are approved for development, and global sales of fossil fuel boilers end by 2025.
• By 2025, emissions fall to 30.2 billion tonnes, all new buildings in advanced economies are zero-carbon-ready, solar and wind hit 20% of global power production, and the last unabated coal plants under construction are completed.
• By 2030, emissions fall to 21.1 gigatonnes, 60% of global car sales are electric, global coal demand has fallen 50% since 2020, solar and wind are adding 1,020 gigawatts of new capacity per year, and everyone in the world has access to energy.
• By 2035, emissions are down to 12.8 Gt, global fossil fuel use is down 50% since 2020, electricity generation in advanced economies has hit net-zero emissions, internal combustion cars are no longer available, and the model calls for four billion tonnes of carbon capture.
• By 2040, emissions stand at 6.3 Gt, oil demand is down 50% since 2020, all unabated coal- and oil-fired power plants have been phased out, half of all existing buildings have been retrofitted to zero-carbon-ready levels, about 90% of today’s heavy industrial equipment has been replaced as it reached the end of its investment cycle, half of aviation fuels are low-emission, and global electrolyzer capacity has reached 2,400 GW.
• In 2045, emissions fall to 2.5 billion tonnes, new energy technologies are widespread, and low-emission industries are flourishing. Half of global heating demand is met by heat pumps, and natural gas demand has fallen 50% since 2050.
• In 2050, the IEA sees emissions falling to zero, with more than 85% of buildings zero-carbon ready, nearly 70% of global power generation coming from solar and wind, more than 90% of heavy industry deemed low-emission, and 7.6 billion tonnes of carbon capture per year.

Follow the money

Perhaps the most profound impact of the IEA’s new analysis will be its message to investors with trillions of dollars at their disposal, many of whom look to the Paris-based agency for guidance on the future shape of global energy markets. The unmistakable signal is that “we’ll have ongoing investment in production, and especially in emissions control and reducing methane leakage, but no additional investment in new supply is required,” Rocky Mountain’s Newcomb said.

That shift was already understood by some investors, he added. But “it’s incredibly important that it’s out there in black and white in this report, and it will certainly have a wide impact as it works its way through the financial community.”

“You could say the IEA is catching up to and building on our message,” wrote Oil Change International’s Kelly Trout. And yet “the IEA still creates too much room for dirty fossil fuels and biofuels to linger.”

The report “notes that a faster shift to truly clean energy sources is possible if we prioritise more investment in them. So it’s not a question of what’s possible, but of the political will to make it happen.” − Climate News Network

Cover photo by Chris LeBoutillier on Unsplash