Category: Defence

UCCRTF supports a water resources study for New Clark City

UCCRTF supports a water resources study for New Clark City

New Clark City (NCC), an upcoming mixed-use township managed by the Bases Conversion and Development Authority (BCDA), is being developed with the vision of becoming a leading example of an environmentally sustainable, smart, and disaster-resilient city.

To realize this ambition, efficient and sustainable use of water resources is key. To this end, a Water Resources Study was prepared with the main objective of assessing groundwater and surface water availability within and near NCC.

The study, conducted by the Geoscience Foundation Inc. for BCDA, will feed into resource planning that will ensure there is sufficient water to serve NCC, which has an area of approximately 9,450 hectares and is located about 120 kilometers (km) north of Manila.

Sustainability is at the heart of the study. It proposes that NCC makes use of groundwater, surface water, and other water sources like reservoirs, wastewater recycling, and rainwater harvesting, to avoid resource depletion. The use of surface water, in particular, will ensure that deep aquifers are not exhausted, and resources can be sustainably maintained.

The study, supported by the Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF), is linked to the ADB Transaction Advisory Services of the Office of Public-Private Partnership for NCC, which looks at the structuring and tendering of infrastructure packages. In 2017 to 2018, UCCRTF financed – through the request of BCDA – the review of the NCC master plan, conduct of the River Study and recommendations, and the development of the Resilience Framework.

Climate change is also a major consideration in the study, as climate projections indicate a 10% increase in precipitation levels during rainy season and a 10% decrease during the dry season by 2036. Enough water should be stored in water tanks and reservoirs during the rainy season so that this can be used in the summer or dry season.

NCC_Water_Drilling_edited.png
Image: Well drilling near NNC.
Credit: Marie Grace Patadlas, ADB Consultant

The two major rivers of NCC

The two major rivers in the NCC are the Cutcut and Bangot Rivers. The Bangot River is situated at the northern edge of NCC and is a tributary of the O’Donnell River. The confluence with the O’Donnell River is located about 1 km north from the Philippine Army Camp. To ensure the sustainable use of the Bangot and Cutcut Rivers, a water resources monitoring program will be established through the installation of depth gauge meters that will track changes in the river flows.

Based on the study, the water quality for the two rivers were found to be satisfactory and well within the prescribed limits even for Class AA water quality guidelines for drinking water supply. However, primary treatment, including disinfection, is required for the water to be distributed for drinking. Once this is developed, these rivers can produce about 32 million liters per day, which is sufficient for a medium-sized city.

Water rights for the two rivers were also applied with the National Water Resources Board on behalf of BCDA and are awaiting deliberations. The results of the study were incorporated into the “NCC 50-year Water Resources Masterplan”, the roadmap for NCC’s resilient water supply system. The plan is seen to be financially viable and is expected to yield economic benefits through increased water usage efficiency and greater equity in access to water, without comprising environmental sustainability and ensuring water availability for future usage.

Presenting the study to stakeholders

​On water reuse, the study indicated that this will only be suitable for non-potable uses such as for agriculture, aquifer recharge, aquaculture, firefighting, flushing of toilets, industrial cooling, parks and golf course watering, formation of wetlands for wildlife habitats, and recreational impoundments. As an alternative water source, the O’Donnell River is also being considered in case the use of Bangot River is not feasible. This will form part of the water development plan for NCC’s main water source in future phases.

As for wastewater management, the study recognizes that constructed wetlands and ponds through a series of bio-retention and bio-remediation systems will help reduce and control the amount of pollutants – such as fertilizers, pesticides, and sediment – that enter the waterways from open space run-off. A centralized sewerage treatment plant is being planned for NCC, and it will service the main development areas covering the National Government Administrative Center and the area handled by real estate firm Filinvest Land. However, given that the construction of the plant may take up to three years, the use of modular treatment plants, which can be immediately installed and can easily be expanded, will be considered as an interim solution.

​Further review, vetting, and discussions with BCDA need to be made to align the recommendations with the NCC master plan given that there are ongoing developments in the area. Specifically, BCDA, locators, and water concessionaire need to discuss and establish projections that will shape the longer-term water policies and water infrastructure projects in the NCC.


This article was originally posted on the ADB’s Livable Cities blog site.
Cover photo by patrickroque01 / WikimediaCommons / CC by 4.0
The state of UCCRTF-supported cities during the pandemic

The state of UCCRTF-supported cities during the pandemic

The COVID-19 outbreak has dramatically changed the shape of daily life in cities around the world. The cities in which the Urban Climate Change Resilience Trust Fund (UCCRTF) operates are no exception.

​Economic activity has slowed considerably during lockdown and the planning and construction of infrastructure projects face delays as municipal governments tackle the immediate health crisis. So, what has life been like inside cities supported by UCCRTF? What lessons might the response to the COVID-19 crisis hold for building resilience to other shocks and stresses such as climate change?

​The city resilience officers of UCCRTF, who have been working on climate change resilience projects in many secondary cities across South and Southeast Asia, share how the pandemic has impacted their cities

SP2CRO_2.png
Image: Thanh Van, UCCRTF CRO in Vietnam

Summer season has arrived in Viet Nam and temperatures are rising. Reflecting on recent months, Hanoi citizens are very proud of what has been done to combat COVID-19. By the end of April, the Vietnamese Government recorded only 270 confirmed cases, of which 223 have recovered and returned home. Since that time there have been no further deaths, as of June 17th 2020.

The relatively low number compared to neighboring countries is largely due to the swift and effective prevention and control measures that the government put in place since the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC) in January and cases in Hanoi in early March.

Viet Nam suspended entry of all foreigners from 22 March and mandatory health declarations became required at all international borders for Vietnamese nationals arriving from abroad. Authorities also suspended schools and canceled festivals nationwide. The most challenging time for many was the 22 days of lockdown from April 1 to 22. Everyone was asked to stay at home and stop all unessential activities.

People remain worried about the possibility of the virus spreading through the poorer areas of the cities, where living conditions are crowded. In Hue and Hoi An City, most people rely on tourism and other related business activities. They work in restaurants, hotels, tourism services, or small businesses such as street vendors or lottery ticket sellers. During the lockdown, the ban on gatherings meant many businesses had to close, many people lost their income and jobs.

To support these vulnerable groups, the government provided a support package of about VND 62 trillion ($2.7 billion) for around 20 million severely affected people for three months between April and June. In addition, free rice distribution centers were set up in Hanoi, HCMC, Danang, Hue, and other provinces to help poor people and those affected by the coronavirus.

While the country works toward a socioeconomic recovery, the immediate response to the crisis will focus on food production and manufacturing to support labor markets. As early as 4 May, tens of millions of students from preschool to high school in 63 provinces and cities returned to school, taking another step towards returning to some semblance of normal life.

Free Rice ATM in Hanoi for Poor effected
In Hanoi, rice is distributed for free to help with the daily needs of low-income groups (photo by Thanh Van)

The whole country has been declared as an ‘Infection Risk Area’ under Section 11 of the Bangladesh Infectious Disease (Prevention, Control and Elimination) Act, 2018. As of 17th June, 98,489 cases of COVID-19 have been identified and the number of deaths has risen to 1,305.   The highest number of COVID-19 cases is recorded in the older parts of Dhaka City.

All offices remain closed to prevent the spread of the disease. The army is currently carrying out street campaigns to enforce social distancing. People in infected areas must stay at home unless absolutely necessary. A daily curfew is enforced from 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.

The office of the Prime Minister issued an order assigning officials to each of the 64 districts in the country to supervise and coordinate a large-scale relief distribution program for vulnerable citizens.

The Asian Development Bank (ADB) approved an emergency grant of $300,000 to the Bangladesh Government to help respond to the crisis. In collaboration with Directorate General of Health Services, this grant will be used to procure personal protective equipment such as face masks, safety googles, aprons, thermometers, and biohazard bags.

49775431843_1a755daf7b_o.jpg
Passengers wearing protective masks try to board on a launch at the Sadarghat terminal in Dhaka, Bangladesh (photo by ADB).

All the UCCRTF-funded cities remain under partial or complete lockdown, which is delaying progress on urban development, planning, and infrastructure programs. More importantly, cities are facing an additional challenge as the country approaches cyclone season. The combined COVID-19 and large-scale climate impacts will be difficult to manage as the responses to COVID (such as to stay inside and to maintain social distancing) are in contrast to the recommended response to cyclones, which may require people to leave their homes or congregate together in protective shelters.

​Recently, on 20 May, Bangladesh faced Super Cyclone Amphan, which made landfall in the southwestern part of the country causing serious damage to property. The UCCRTF-supported city of Patuakhali was badly affected. The government evacuated an estimated 2.4 million people from coastal districts, although observing social distancing was challenging. As an immediate measure, schools were used for more space in addition to regular cyclone shelters.

​A 3- to 4-meter tidal surge that accompanied the cyclone, however, destroyed crops and sources of drinking water.

​Relief efforts are currently underway in coordination with local administrations. According to the Bagerhat district administration, Amphan caused $50 million in direct damages with around 349 houses partially damaged and 374 houses completely destroyed. The total number of people affected by the cyclone in Bangladesh is estimated at 5,331.

SP3CRO_6.png
A health center near Peshawar is open round-the-clock and offers assistance to mothers and their children, in additional to general consultations (photo by Mallika Panorat, European Union).

​At present, only emergency services are available in all public and private hospitals, which have recently re-opened after being closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Schools are still closed and only some offer classes online. There are also severe travel restrictions. The lockdown has affected every part of life in Pakistan’s cities.

The huge reduction in traffic has led to big improvements in air quality in major cities. While there is no data covering small cities backed by UCCRTF, the Pakistan Environmental Protection Agency has reported that the air quality index in Lahore has fallen from 496 parts per million (ppm) in January to 37 ppm in April. Similarly, for Islamabad, average concentrations of nitrogen dioxide and sulphur dioxide are below the permissible limits of National Environmental Quality Standards, and concentrations of fine particulates (PM2.5) are also within permissible limits.

SP3CRO_5.png
Image: Tassadaq Shah UCCRTF CRO in Pakistan.

Currently, the UCCTRF-supported cities in Pakistan are not coping with other shocks and stresses from natural or human-induced hazards. However, since the cities are vulnerable to urban flooding and earthquakes, they are still at risk. The monsoon season is also drawing near (expected to start in July), which could compound the challenges faced by the cities. They will have to cope with flood management alongside COVID-19. While government officials, including national, provincial, and district disaster management authorities, are focused on COVID-19 response, this may well mean that there is less capacity to prepare for the upcoming flooding season. 


This article was originally posted on the Asian Development Bank’s Livable Cities blog.
Cover photo by Thijs Degenkamp on Unsplash.
Financing increased for early warning systems in Small Island Developing States

Financing increased for early warning systems in Small Island Developing States

Key nations have announced US$ 4.8 million in funding for the delivery of early warning systems and services to reduce loss of life from severe weather events in the Pacific region. The announcement was made 10 June 2020 during the 11th Steering Committee Meeting of the Climate Risk & Early Warning Systems (CREWS) initiative by its Member States, the governments of Australia, Canada, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Switzerland and the United Kingdom.

The CREWS initiative was established in 2015 at the United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) as a financial mechanism to save lives and livelihoods through the expansion of early warning systems and services in Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States. Its three Implementing Partners are the World Meteorological Organization, the World Bank Group / Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery and the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction.

Filipe Lucio of WMO indicated at the meeting that the funds would allow the island countries in the region to detect, monitor and forecast severe high-impact weather events. Additional services to be developed include access to longer-term seasonal predictions and operational early warning and response plans that ensure the most vulnerable people in the communities receive warnings.

CREWS Member States also approved the allocation of funds to support countries to monitor the effectiveness of their national early warning systems. Additionally, the preparations of another US$ 4 million project, covering the South West Indian Ocean that includes the countries of Comoros, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique and Seychelles was initiated for funding in the near future.

To date, the CREWS Trust Fund has delivered over US$ 43 million in project funding and mobilized an additional US$ 270 million from public funds of other development partners – realizing accelerated life-saving action and maximized finance effectiveness.

In 2019, CREWS support was scaled up to 44 least developed countries and small island developing states. Through this work, more than 10 million people in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities now have access to better early warning services.

  • In Afghanistan, 3D printers are being used to build automatic weather stations, bringing early warning services to rural communities.
  • In Burkina Faso, more than 1,100 rural farmers received 130 weather forecasts in 2019, broadcast via local radio stations.
  • In Fiji, nearly one million people now have advance flash flood warnings, creating increased security and saving lives.
  • In Niger, more than 600 women were trained in early warning services and have now created women-led WhatsApp groups to amplify advance warnings throughout their communities.
  • Across the Caribbean, national emergency management offices, national hydromet offices, national gender bureaux, sectorial ministries, and non-governmental groups including women organizations are now working together to bridge the gender divide in access to early warning systems.

This article was accessed via PreventionWeb. Read the original article here.
Cover photo of Fiji highway from Pexels.
Bangladesh has saved thousands of lives from a devastating cyclone – here’s how

Bangladesh has saved thousands of lives from a devastating cyclone – here’s how

By Ilan Kelman and Bayes Ahmed

The Atlantic and Caribbean hurricane season has just begun, with the world worried about the prospect of providing humanitarian relief in the context of a pandemic and lockdowns. But Bangladesh recently experienced one of the most powerful Bay of Bengal cyclones on record and saved thousands of lives through forecasting, warning, and evacuation.

This is in stark contrast to the November 1970 cyclone, which killed around 500,000 people in Bangladesh (then East Pakistan), making it one of the deadliest known storms in human history. Around 11,000 died in a 1985 cyclone, and one in 1991 killed 140,000. More recent strikes, such as Cyclone Sidr in 2007 and Cyclone Alia in 2009, had over 3,400 deaths and about 190 deaths respectively.

All these far exceeded the recent Cyclone Amphan’s total of 26 deaths so far. Understanding the generally declining death toll offers lessons on how the rest of the world could prepare better for such events. Part of it is forecasting, warning, and evacuation.

But another part is local action, which we research. Much of this science is participatory, directed by the people who are vulnerable in order to balance and meld local and external ideas and approaches.

From vulnerability to resilience

Cyclone Amphan made landfall in Bangladesh on May 20 2020. It inundated over 4,000 sq km of land and destroyed homes, polders (low-lying areas of land surrounded by dikes or levees), embankments, roads, electricity poles, mobile phone towers, bridges and culverts, with the exact costs still being tallied. Many agricultural fields and fish farms were overwhelmed by the saltwater storm surge.

The low death toll can be largely attributed to Bangladesh’s long-term efforts to reduce vulnerabilities, including at the local level, which is always the key in preventing disasters. In 1970, the country had only 42 cyclone shelters, whereas now over 12,000 functionally active cyclone shelters dot the coastline, serving nearly 5 million people.

A diverse system of warning messages tailored to local needs keeps people informed about evacuation, ranging from social media to people on bicycles with megaphones. Training in school means that the announcements are trusted and the population knows how to react and why.

Bangladesh has invested in constructing numerous polders to reduce the force of storm surges, although water retention has sometimes damaged agriculture and infrastructure. Local leaders, organisations, and authorities collaborate to implement tidal river management and nature-based approaches such as mangroves. This helps to deal with storm surge and rainfall, as well as reduced freshwater due to India’s Farakka Barrage, built across the Ganges River to keep the water in India since the 1970s.

We assessed one local programme funded and supported by the British and Swedish Red Cross for implementation by the Bangladesh Red Crescent. This “Vulnerability to Resilience” programme ran between 2013 and 2016 in the coastal villages of Pashurbunia and Nowapara in Kalapara Upazila in Patuakhali district.

This was the first time that people there had been involved in such resilience-building work. They installed flood-resistant tubewells, raised latrines above expected flood levels, trained for improved hygiene and first aid, distributed safety equipment, improved local early warning and evacuation systems, and were trained as local volunteers to continue these activities.

Cyclone Amphan affected areas in Shyamnagar Upazila, Satkhira District, Bangladesh. © Taifur Rahman, HMBD Foundation, Bangladesh, Author provided

Diverse and alternative livelihood opportunities were also promoted. Household-level businesses and shops were encouraged, alongside local markets for the products.

This included people growing and selling garden vegetables and rice, producing crafts through quilting and sewing, rearing cattle for milk and beef, and investing in ducks, chickens, and aquaculture for fish. If any one of these livelihoods is interrupted or ruined, then people would still have options for earning income.

These initiatives are clearly not about cyclones only and move far beyond forecasting, warning, and evacuation. They improve livelihoods, living conditions, community interaction, health, and safety irrespective of a storm. Our calculations immediately after the programme demonstrated that every dollar invested in the programme produced a quick payback of almost five times that amount through enhanced income and local activities.

Local success

The real test, though, remains what happens during a hazard. Three weeks after the programme ended, Cyclone Roanu ripped through the south coast of Bangladesh on May 21, 2016. Pashurbunia and Nowapara reported successful warning and evacuation, no casualties, livelihoods with limited interruption, and a water supply and latrines that functioned afterwards.

Similar success is now repeated with Amphan. Despite the cyclone’s devastation, the people are alive and are returning home to rebuild. In Pashurbunia and Nowapara, seven kilometres of polder length were destroyed while the villages and agricultural lands were inundated.

The local population is repairing the damaged polders, houses, and latrines while restoring the drinking water supply and resuming their livelihoods. This is mainly through self-help, without much external assistance so far. It is not easy, but much better than before.

It required nearly 50 years from the 1970 calamity to achieve this state of disaster risk reduction and readiness. Plenty of work remains since Bangladesh faces many other hazards, including human-caused climate change, sea-level rise, earthquakes, and landslides. The country is also coping with one of the largest current refugee crises following genocide against the Rohingya.

Any cyclone could change the fatality trend. But Bangladesh’s efforts to date, from the national to the local level, show what any location experiencing tropical cyclones could and should do.


This article was originally posted on The Conversation.
Cover photo by Cpl. Peter Miller from Wikimedia Commons.
Letting rivers run wild could reduce UK flooding – new research

Letting rivers run wild could reduce UK flooding – new research

By Neil Entwistle and George Heritage

The UK government currently spends £2.6 billion on flood defences in England, and that amount is set to double by 2026. Flooding in February 2020 showed how that’s likely to be a good investment, as climate change drives warmer and wetter weather each winter. But when it comes to managing rivers to prevent flooding in towns and cities downstream, we’re often our own worst enemy.

After the second world war, Britain embarked on a mission to reconstruct its rivers. Workers cut ditches to drain moorland, making it suitable for livestock farming. Looping rivers which once wound lazily through floodplains – flooding these areas once every two years or so – were straightened into rigid channels. River beds were dredged to deepen them and banks excavated to make them steeper, an unnatural situation that takes routine management to maintain.

The idea behind all of this was to reduce flooding by increasing the speed at which water moves downstream. But this also increased the power of rivers to move sediment. Gravels and cobbles dash along these modified and heavily managed rivers, accumulating where the water slows down, as it moves through towns and cities. Here, the river bed swells as sediment piles up, increasing local flood risk.

Flooding in Carlisle, December 2015. Environment Agency geomatics group, Author provided

Over 60% of the UK’s watercourses have been transformed in this way, changing the fundamental character of many British rivers – and the natural processes that would usually govern them – over just a few generations. In a new study, we found that doing nothing is often a better course of action for reducing flooding than these heavy handed attempts to mechanically alter rivers.

Going with the flow

We studied the River Caldew in Cumbria, which has caused three major floods in nearby Carlisle since 2010. Satellite data showed that straightening, deepening and embanking was common along the river between 2005 and 2016. Very little sediment was spotted in the river and across the floodplain, suggesting that almost all of it was being funnelled downstream towards Carlisle.

During this time, the channel through the city was widened in the hope that this would cause flood water to spread out and lose energy. But this only increased the problem of sediment building up within the river, creating a shallower channel through Carlisle that’s prone to overflowing.

A stretch of the Caldew near Mosedale in 2003. The channel is fairly rigid and surrounded by managed grassland. Google Earth, Author provided

Outside of the city, in parts where maintenance has been relaxed, the river has begun to return to a more natural state. Multiple “wandering” channels can now be seen alongside wide areas of deposited gravel. This is encouraging, as it suggests that the main river and its floodplain are reconnecting, allowing the sediment it transports to fall out of the channel and collect upstream.

We found that rivers which are allowed to behave more naturally are better at locking up sediment upstream, rather than letting it accumulate in unnaturally high quantities in flood-prone towns and cities. If more rivers are allowed to behave naturally and develop this way, it could help reduce future flooding.

The Caldew at Cummersdale in 2018. Note the variety of vegetation and increased gravel. Google Earth, Author provided

This hands-off approach to managing rivers is also much cheaper than hard engineering and brings a wealth of environmental benefits with it. The wandering channel system that’s evolving on the River Caldew has the greatest variety of features and habitats across the entire watercourse.

There are gravel bars, deep pools, floodplain wetlands, ponds and river cliffs. This diversity provides greater spawning habitat for fish, and cooler refuges for their fry. The open water habitats benefit amphibians, the trees and shrubs help kingfisher hunt and sand martins can nest in the river cliffs. Beetles and spiders scurry in the shingle, earning this wilder stretch of the Caldew a designation as a site of special scientific interest.

The last 75 years have seen many UK rivers change beyond recognition. The way we manage them in future must look very different. Relaxing our iron grip and allowing natural processes to flourish on rivers once more could be our best hope for reducing flooding, while reviving lost ecosystems rich in native wildlife.


This article was originally posted on The Conversation.

Cover photo from Wikimedia Commons.

Press Release: 12-step technical guidance document integrates NbS into project development

Press Release: 12-step technical guidance document integrates NbS into project development

The IDB, in collaboration with Acclimatise, are launching a 12-step technical guidance document to integrate NbS into project development.

A fresh-off-the-press IDB technical guidance document will help LAC-based project developers prepare bankable Nature-based Solutions (NbS) projects that provide a substitute, compliment or safeguard to conventional ‘gray’ infrastructure projects.

Nature based Solutions (NbS) can play a central role in meeting the rising demand for infrastructure, and strengthening the resilience of infrastructure assets. They offer a cost-effective approach to enhance resilience, while providing a range of social and environmental benefits (e.g. recreational opportunities, habitat for biodiversity). In this context, NbS refer to activities associated with the protection, management, enhancement, and restoration of nature and implemented to deliver climate resilient infrastructure. This could refer to re-forestation activities for erosion control, coral reef restoration for coastal protection, and green space creation for stormwater runoff control in densely populated urban areas.

There is a high awareness of the benefits and services that NbS can provide, yet significantly less implementation within the Latin American and Caribbean (LAC) context. Their potential remains largely untapped due to a number of barriers that prevent mainstreaming NbS into project development. Some of these barriers are upstream, for example, the lack of NbS incorporation into infrastructure policy and planning documents, or a lack of financial instruments to finance NbS. Other barriers are further downstream: these include, the challenges of defining the business case and accessing finance and funding, and the lack of adequate data, methods, and tools to incorporate NbS into project development.

In tackling some of these downstream challenges, the IDB, in collaboration with Acclimatise, have released a 12-step technical guidance document to integrate NbS into project development. The Guidance is targeted to planners, engineers, architects, contractors and operators interested in preparing bankable climate resilient projects that incorporate NbS either as a substitute, complement or safeguard to conventional infrastructure projects.

How was the guidance developed?

Figure 1: The twelve step process, and two cross-cutting themes, for integrating NbS into project development

In September 2019, the IDB convened a workshop with a range of LAC-based project developers and international experts with experience in NbS implementation (e.g. Deltares, World Bank, World Resources Institute, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers). As LAC as a whole is early stages of NbS implementation, the IDB considered it opportune to leverage lessons learned from other parts of the world where NbS is more mainstream in project development, for example the Netherlands. At the workshop, the NbS experts iterated a preliminary technical guidance document that was drafted based on a review of LAC and international literature. The experts iterated the early stage draft and helped answer important questions such as ‘is this how it works in practice?’ ‘what steps or processes still need to be incorporated in this document?’, ‘what are the important LAC-specific elements that must be included?’.

The NbS experts shared their experiences and insights which were incorporated in the document, both at the workshop and throughout an extensive review in the months after.  The end product is the result of a participatory process incorporating multiple iterations with field experts, and should be considered a reference (or “go-to”) document for project developers interested in developing NbS projects in LAC, and globally.

The Techincal Guidance Document is available in English and in Spanish and can be accessed here*

*link to be provided when available


Cover photo by Matthew T Rader on Unsplash
As sea levels rise, are we ready to live behind giant walls?

As sea levels rise, are we ready to live behind giant walls?

By Hannah Cloke

Climate change, it’s fair to say, is complicated. And it’s big. One of the main challenges of responding effectively is simply getting your head around the scale of the problem.

This is not unique in the study of the physical world, of course. Scientists and economists spend a lot of time simplifying the complex real world into simpler, smaller parts, to find out how it all works. It’s one of the reasons we create “models” – mini versions of reality in which we can play, change variables, and see what happens.

We love it when we can find something out about the real world and present it in a form that is understood by other people. In environmental research, this sometimes comes in the form of the cost-benefit analysis that is understood by politicians and money-managers everywhere: spend this much cash now to make (or save) more money later.

A new study by European Commission scientists, now published in the journal Nature Communications, is a classic of this type. It looks at the costs of protecting coastal communities from climate change. The authors underline that our coasts will suffer from sea levels that are predicted to rise as much as one metre by the end of the century, as well as from more intense storms.

Much of the Netherlands, including Amsterdam, is already below sea level. This map shows the country without its dykes. wiki

Of all the many varied impacts in a warming planet, sea level rise is one of the most straightforward to predict, although it will not affect everywhere the same and so some communities will be more at risk than others. We can be quite confident that the sea level is rising due to climate change, because sea water expands as it warms and because extra water is flowing from melting glaciers and ice sheets.

As the oceans warm, the sea levels rise bit by bit – and if ice sheets on Antarctica or Greenland collapse and water currently locked up is released, then sea levels will rise very suddenly, and by a lot. It will be expensive to deal with these impacts, and this new research shows by quite how much in Europe. Given the costs of flooded coastal cities, the European Commission scientists suggest that it would save money in the long run to build improved sea defences around 70% of the continent’s coastline.

There are other options

Do we really want to live in a world in which we all live behind huge walls? Is this the only way to adapt? Many of us have trapped ourselves in places that will no longer be safe, and in some places building large defences is the only option. Certainly London will not survive without the next-generation Thames barrier.

People use sandbags to plug a leak in a dyke after heavy rains. Vinncent Jannink / EPA

But there are other options in other places, and we can “defend” in different ways. Nature-based solutions such as recreating dunes or marshland or retreating from coastal zones are possibilities that we should consider wherever we can.

These solutions work with natural processes and have loads of other benefits for wildlife and humans, as well as removing some of the worst issues of “hard” coastal defences such as the way concrete walls can simply displace erosion further along the coast to places which are not defended. But it would be unrealistic to think that these are options everywhere.

There may even be other more cost-effective ways to reduce the risk. This is certainly the case for river flooding, where, by using our best weather and river models, we can now predict in advance when and where they will flood and take early action to avoid damage.

The Seine River floods to the west of Paris in January 2018. Yoan Valat

But we’re still working hard at making these forecasts better and it remains very difficult to forecast floods. We have a long way to go until we’ve mastered the science, but it is only through combining methods – forecasting, natural-solutions, some hard defences and so on – that we will survive the watery future that awaits.

The cost of climate change even in this one small part of the world and for this one impact area is eyewatering. We have a choice. The first option would be to accept business as usual and pay to treat the symptoms. This will mean building enormous sea walls to deal with increased floods, and paying for disaster recovery operations.

The preferable alternative is to take a more nuanced approach. We know the climate is changing, and we will need a combination of more concrete, clever natural solutions, and better flood forecasts to prepare for what’s ahead. But by showing the sheer scale of the “hard” defences that would be needed on their own to keep Europeans safe, this new paper represents more scientific evidence that cutting emissions now, and mitigating the worst impacts, is the best future we can hope for.


This article originally appeared on The Conversation.
Cover photo by Richard Allaway on Flickr.
Use COVID-19 recovery to build climate resilience urges UK Committee on Climate Change

Use COVID-19 recovery to build climate resilience urges UK Committee on Climate Change

By Will Bugler

The UK Government’s independent advisors on climate change have written to the Prime Minster and First Ministers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, to encourage them to put climate change at the heart of post-COVID-19 recovery efforts. Published last week, the Committee on Climate Change’s (CCC) letters set out six key principles to rebuild the nation following the COVID-19 pandemic whilst delivering a stronger, cleaner and more resilient economy.

The Committee calls for immediate action to support reskilling, retraining and research to ensure that the UK can recover from the economic shock of COVID-19 and the lockdown measures that accompany it. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to climate change must be integral to the UK’s recovery package, the Committee says.

“The COVID-19 crisis has shown the importance of planning well for the risks the country faces. Recovery means investing in new jobs, cleaner air and improved health. The actions needed to tackle climate change are central to rebuilding our economy.” Said CCC Chairman, Lord Deben. “The Government must prioritise actions that reduce climate risks and avoid measures that lock-in higher emissions.”

The COVID-19 crisis demonstrates clearly, the significant threats posed by global-scale systemic risks. Climate change increases the likelihood that the world will face similar whole-system risks in the future. The CCC explicitly points out that building resilience to climate change is needed when considering how to rebuild the economy and society in the wake of COVID-19.

Chair of the CCC’s Adaptation Committee, Baroness Brown of Cambridge, said that the pandemic demonstrates the need of global co-operation to tackle systemic risk. “As President of next year’s pivotal COP26 climate summit, the UK now finds itself in a unique position to ramp-up climate action at home and supercharge the international response to climate change abroad.” She said. “The risks we face as a globalised society are now in sharp focus – for their part, UK leaders must act decisively on a climate resilient recovery, and do so together.”

The letter encourages governments in all UK nations should prioritise actions to recover from the pandemic based on six resilience principles. These are:

  1. Use climate investments to support economic recovery and jobs. The CCC has previously identified a detailed set of investments to reduce emissions and manage the social, environmental and economic impacts of climate change. Many are labour-intensive, spread across the UK and ready to roll out as part of a targeted and timely stimulus package.
  2. Lead a shift towards positive, long-term behaviours. The Government can lead the way to new social norms that benefit wellbeing, improve productivity and reduce emissions. This includes actions to support home-working, remote medical consultations and improve safety for cyclists.
  3. Tackle the wider ‘resilience deficit’ on climate change. Strong policies are needed to reduce the UK’s vulnerability to the destructive risks of climate change and to avoid a disorderly transition to Net Zero. They must be implemented alongside the response to COVID-19 and will bring benefits to health, well-being and national security.
  4. Embed fairness as a core principle. The benefits of acting on climate change must be shared widely, and the costs must not burden those who are least able to pay, or whose livelihoods are most at risk as the economy changes. Lost or threatened jobs of today should be replaced by those created by the new, resilient economy.
  5. Ensure the recovery does not lock-in greenhouse gas emissions or increased risk. As it kick-starts the economy, the Government should avoid locking-in higher emissions or increased vulnerability to climate change in the longer-term. Support for carbon-intensive sectors should be contingent on them taking real and lasting action on climate change, and all new investments need to be resilient to future climate risks.
  6. Strengthen incentives to reduce emissions when considering tax changes. Revenue could be raised by setting or raising carbon prices for sectors of the economy which do not bear the full costs of emitting greenhouse gases. Low global oil prices provide an opportunity to increase carbon taxes without hurting consumers.

The Committee’s letter details the steps that Governments can take as a priority, emerging from these six overarching principles.


Cover photo by John Cameron on Unsplash.
Building Climate Resilience to Extreme Heat During COVID-19

Building Climate Resilience to Extreme Heat During COVID-19

By Anjali Jaiswal, Kim Knowlton, Vijay Limaye

This blog originally appeared on the NRDC website.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, the coronavirus pandemic puts a spotlight on climate change and health. Temperatures are already rising to 40°C (104°F) while the countries’ 1.3 billion people remain on lockdown. Government officials and health care professionals in India are actively diligently working to contain the spread of COVID-19 while also initiating efforts to protect communities from imminent heat waves through Heat Action Plans and Cool Roofs. NRDC and partners that are leading this work have recently been selected as finalists for the prestigious 2020 Ashden Awards, which recognize pioneering sustainability solutions.

India’s 2020 Heat Season

Brutally hot weather is a major health threat in India and many other parts of the world. Climate change is fueling more frequent, intense, and longer heat waves. The COVID-19 emergency worsens the response to heat-related illness since hospitals and urban health centers are already stressed. In response to this mounting threat, cities and regions across India are taking concrete actions to build resilience and better prepare and protect communities.

Heat is not merely an inconvenience; it kills. Symptoms of heat-related illness include vomiting, headaches, dehydration, and diarrhea. Staff in hospitals, businesses, and municipal buildings often struggle to keep communities cool and healthy. The number of high-temperature days in India has increased over the past fifty years, and especially since the 1990s, in highly-populated cities, such as Mumbai and New Delhi.

The India Meteorological Department (IMD) and National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) are already working to prepare and respond to anticipated heatwaves. NDMA is also charged as the central agency responsible for COVID-19 response, making the burden of this season even heavier. For the 2020 heat season, IMD’s seasonal forecast shows the heat wave conditions are likely to be severe. NDMA has already activated the network of state disaster response agencies and city leaders to prepare for the soaring temperatures, including an updated list of Do’s and Don’t’s.

Heat Action Plans and Cool Roof Program

NRDC and a broad set of partners, including the Public Health Foundation of India – Indian Institute of Public Health-Gandhinagar (PHFI-IIPH-G) work with government leaders and key experts across India and internationally to develop, launch, and implement heat action plans. Heat action plans are a comprehensive plans for building climate resilience to extreme heat events through public awareness and community outreach; early warning system and interagency coordination; capacity building among health care professionals; and reducing heat exposure and promoting adaptive measures.

A peer-reviewed and published study found that Ahmedabad, one of India’s largest cities, avoided an estimated 1,190 deaths each year after implementing the country’s first Heat Action Plan. The Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan was originally released in 2013 and developed by NRDC, IIPH-G and partners. Heat Action Plans have since expanded to over 23 states and over 100 cities and districts through the leadership of NDMA.

An important component of heat action plans includes cool roofs. Cool roofs reflect sunlight and absorb less heat. Depending on the setting, cool roofs can help keep indoor temperatures lower by 2 to 5°C (3.6 – 9°F) as compared to traditional roofs. They are cost effective solutions that work to protect vulnerable groups and slum communities.

Cities, states and the national government are taking steps to protect communities and save energy costs, through cool roof programs. For example, Ahmedabad has started a cool roofs program for over 15,000 buildings as part of its heat action plan this year, focusing on slum households and city-owned buildings. Building on its initial pilot program two year ago, Hyderabad now has a draft statewide policy as part of its building efficiency program. The national government is working towards sustainable cooling for all with the India Cooling Action Plan, which includes promotion of passive cooling techniques such as cool roofs and energy efficiency programs for buildings, air conditioners and fans.

Ashden Cool Cities Award Finalist

The Ahmedabad Heat Action Plan, along with its cool roofs program, is among the two finalists up for the award in the Cool Cities category, as highlighted in the Ashden blog earlier this month. We are honored to share the nomination with a women-led architecture firm ECOnsult, keeping farm workers in the Egyptian desert cool.

The Ashden Cool Cities Award, sponsored by K-CEP and Climateworks, emphasized the link between the COVID-19 pandemic and the climate crisis because “those already disadvantaged are most at risk”. That is why the Ashden finalists include organizations helping the most vulnerable. Ashen also highlights another link between the two emergencies and theme for the finalist: “How all of us, whatever our wealth or status, can come together to create change that benefits everyone.”

NRDC is deeply humbled to share the Ashden nomination with the many partners who contribute to effective Heat Action Plans and Cool Roofs Programs. We congratulate all of our partners and their unique roles.

Many cities, states and institutions around India also contributed to the effectiveness of Heat Action Plans, including public and private hospitals, urban health centers, link works, 108 ambulance response services and more. Several international experts also contributed to the Heat Action Plans and Cool Roofs, including deep expertise from the University of WashingtonMount Sinai Icahn School of Public Health, and Georgia Tech Institute of Technology, as well as, NYC Cool RoofsNational Ocean and Atmospheric AgencyGlobal Heat Health Information NetworkIndo-US Science and Technology Forum, the Climate Development and Knowledge Network, among others.

As climate change continues to fuel brutal heat waves worldwide, effective public health response strategies are more important than ever before. Drawing on the strengths of government leadership, efficient interagency coordination, scientific expertise, robust communication programs, effective community engagement, strong action on heat preparedness can deliver lifesaving benefits. In discussing the commonality between the coronavirus emergency and climate crisis, Shloka Nath with TataTrusts recently reminded us, “The only boat that is going to save us, is the boat we build together.”


Cover photo from Climate Visuals.
Managed retreat: Moving 1 million US homes out of flood zone could save $1 trillion dollars

Managed retreat: Moving 1 million US homes out of flood zone could save $1 trillion dollars

By Will Bugler

A US-government study has found that the country could save $1 trillion dollars by removing around a million homes from flood-prone areas. The report indicates that government schemes to buy and demolish homes at high risk of repeated flooding, moving residents to higher ground, should be expanded. The report notes that climate change will drive flood risk to real estate even higher in the coming decades and warns that without action financial losses will climb substantially.

The report says that buyout programmes are essential to minimise exposure to flood risk. However, existing schemes operated by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) are hampered due to funding shortages and the reluctance of homeowners to move.

“Flooding is the country’s biggest risk, and we just have all of these homes in the floodplain that keep getting repetitive losses,” said Keith Porter, one of the study’s authors and a structural engineering researcher at the University of Colorado. “We never should have been building in the floodplain in the first place. It’s time to solve that problem.”

According to the report, while a nationwide buyout programme would cost around $180 billion, it could save around nine times that amount – $1.6 trillion – over a 100-year period. Savings would accrue thanks to reduced costs to public disaster programmes and avoiding property damage reducing pay-outs through federally subsidised flood insurance schemes.

The report found that moving properties out of the flood zone through a buyout scheme was by far the most cost-effective way to reduce risk, saving $6.50 for every $1 spent. Other flood related protection measures such as levees and home adaptations still represented value, but were much more costly, saving $2 for every $1 spent.

The findings are important, as federal agencies consider the best course of action to reduce climate risks, faced with mounting costs from properties that are flooded repeatedly. FEMA’s National Flood Insurance Program ensures that homeowners that would otherwise be refused flood insurance can continue to insure their properties. However, “repetitive-loss properties” (those that flood repeatedly, year after year) are becoming increasingly burdensome to the programme. The government has resisted cutting funding for the flood insurance programme, as that would increase premium pay-outs considerably, or leave homes uninsurable.

A copy of the report can be found here.


Cover photo by Sandra Seitamaa on Unsplash