Friday, November 30, 2012

Can Thailand adapt to climate change?

Bandid Nijathaworn in Thailand Business News: Flooding in Bangkok shut down global supply chains, torrential storms in Beijing and the Philippines took lives, and, most recently, the rare landfall of a hurricane in the US northeast caused immense and multifarious damage and suffering.

Natural disasters have always occurred, but in the 21st century to date, humanity is witnessing unprecedented climatic variations while hundreds of millions of people migrate to increasingly vulnerable coastal urban areas.

Construction of flood prevention walls along the rivers are aimed at replacing sandbag embankment used during the flood crisis last year. It’s clear – global challenges can be tackled, and the private and public sector are beginning to acknowledge the urgency in implementing solutions. The greatest hill to climb now is enabling the environment for investment in building resilient communities that will be ready to adapt to a changing world.

The World Bank reports that us$ 75 billion-us$ 100 billion annually will be needed for the next 40 years or more for developing countries to adapt to these challenges and prevent loss of life and jobs. The difference remaining after current allocation (about US$ 3.5 billion-US$ 9 billion, according to the OECD) is US$ 71.5 billion-US$ 91 billion.

The World Economic Forum Global Agenda Council on Climate Change is addressing these and other climate issues during the next two years and will bring the message of the urgent need to adapt to its wide network of business and government leaders. When the Council met in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, November 12-14, for the Summit on the Global Agenda 2012, it developed work plans for its three focus areas: adaptation metrics, climate smart investments, and communications and engagement...

Drought-stressed trees face race to adapt

CNN: Scientists have known for some time that climate change and the impacts of longer droughts and higher temperatures could pose a problem for forests. But many thought it would only affect a minority of trees, perhaps just those in extremely arid regions.

However, new research is showing that a large majority of tree species around the world are operating on the brink of collapse. If the predicted pace of climate change continues, many may not be able to adapt in time and large numbers could die-off.

The authors of the study, whose findings were published in the scientific journal Nature, looked at 226 different tree species from 81 sites around the world, covering the full range of climatic conditions, from Mediterranean-type arid to the tropical Amazon rainforest.

They found that 70% of the trees studied adapt closely to the local environment, whether arid or tropical, absorbing just enough water in order to survive, but leaving them highly vulnerable to minor shifts in rainfall and drought stress.

"We thought that in the dry areas, plants would have adapted to survive more than ones growing in the wet, but we found they were all equally vulnerable. It was a big surprise," says Steven Jansen, from Germany's Ulm University and co-author of the study.

In periods of drought, the vascular network (xylem) distributing water and nutrients around the tree develops air bubbles which hinder the passage of water. As drought stress increases, these blockages, or "embolisms," accumulate eventually causing the tree to dry out and die....

Tree rings shot by Arpingstone, public domain

The coastal conundrum: Balancing the costs of erosion vs. flooding

PhysOrg: A study, carried out by scientists from the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research and today awarded the 2012 Lloyd's Science of Risk prize for Climate Change research, shows how the benefits of protecting our coastline from erosion must be balanced against the impacts of coastal flooding.

Focussing on a 72km stretch of shoreline along the East Anglian coast, the team detail the interconnection between the two risks of erosion and flooding and show that in some cases, allowing natural erosion of coastlines could reduce the impact of flooding in surrounding areas associated with rising sea levels.

Richard Dawson, Professor of Earth Systems Engineering at Newcastle University, lead author of this study says the research – which will be further developed in a new book to be launched in Spring 2013 - highlights the trade-off between shoreline management policy and other priorities. "We know that sea levels are rising and will continue to do so over the 21st Century, what we don't know is by exactly how much, or how fast," he explains. "That means we need flexible strategies in place so that we are ready whatever the climate throws at us in the future. These strategies must be coordinated and recognise the large scale connectivity of coastal processes – such as the movement of sand along the coastline. "

Given pressures of rising sea levels and large coastal populations, coupled with increased pressure on finances, it seems unlikely we will be able to afford to protect every stretch of coastline. Land will be lost to the sea so we're going to have to make difficult decisions about what our priorities are." Coastal defences put in place by Victorian engineers over a century ago have re-shaped the UK coastline, artificially protecting some areas but at the expense of beaches in adjacent areas....

Wading birds at Living Coasts, Torquay, shot by Jeff Buck, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Mining saps a thirsty desert

Michelle Tolson in IPS: The Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold mine in the southern Gobi desert in Mongolia has become a symbol of a looming crisis: a limited water supply that could be exhausted within a decade, seriously threatening the lives and livelihoods of the local population.

Oyu Tolgoi is one of the largest copper deposits in the world and has attracted major investors over the years, from Robert Friedland of Ivanhoe Capital Corporation, to the mining giant Rio Tinto, which now holds a majority stake in the investment, while the Mongolian government controls just 34 percent of the project.

Now, local communities fear that returns on investments will take precedence over their own subsistence, while simultaneously heightening the region’s acute water shortage. A 2010 World Bank water assessment report for the southern Gobi region projected a “lifespan” for water resources based on the number of mining projects in the pipeline, as well as a study of the region’s growing population whose primary occupation is herding and rearing livestock.

...Subsistence herders must share a limited water supply with numerous mines. A 2009 World Bank report found that mining exploration licences cover 55 percent of this area. Omongovi province, for instance, “has 63 licences issued for extraction and 400 licences for exploration.”...

A desert landscape in Inner Mongolia, shot by Fir0002, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Pledges to fight global warming inadequate, US off track

Reuters: Major nations' policies are inadequate to limit global warming and the United States is off track even in carrying out its weak pledge to limit greenhouse gas emissions, a scientific scorecard showed on Friday.

The Climate Action Tracker report, issued on the sidelines of talks among almost 200 countries in Doha about climate change, said a toughening of policies was still possible to avert damaging floods, heat waves and rising seas.

Major emitters China, the United States, the European Union and Russia all got "inadequate" ratings for their plans to help limit global warming to an agreed U.N. ceiling of below 2 degrees Celsius (3.6F) above pre-industrial times, it said.

Adding up all national pledges and taking account of rising emissions, the world was headed for a warming of about 3.3 degrees Celsius (6F), it said.

"We are off track and the United States is not likely to meet its pledge," said Niklas Hoehne of research group Ecofys, which compiles the tracker with Climate Analytics and the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research....

Flag shot by Jnn13, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Migration not always a way to adapt

IRIN: As the impact of climate change unfolds, many have predicted forbidding scenarios of millions of impoverished people flooding into often affluent countries. Yet a ground-breaking study released on 28 November reveals a more nuanced relationship between climate variability and migration, which could provide insight into how events might transpire in the coming years.

The study, carried out by Care International and the UN University (UNU) in eight countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, reveals that in nearly all instances where rains have become too scarce for farming, people have migrated - but within the national borders.

The project also considered possible future scenarios in Tanzania, where even scarcer rains over the next 25 years were projected to double migration from vulnerable households.  The project’s researchers hope their findings will inform the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) talks, currently taking place in Doha, by persuading participants to speed up efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and develop effective policies to adapt to rising temperatures.

The three-year research project, Where the rain falls: climate change, hunger and human mobility, covered over 1,300 households and 2,000 individuals in Bangladesh, India, Ghana, Guatemala, Peru, Tanzania, Thailand and Vietnam. 

...It is one of the first empirical efforts to explore how poor households use migration as a risk management strategy to deal with climate stressors and food insecurity. The study also offers insight into how households adjust their behaviour in the face of these changes, which could inform how policymakers support rural communities....

Young people in Guatemala in 1980, shot by Infrogmation, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

IPCC focuses on natural disasters

The Peninsula (Qatar): Experts recommend avoiding risks in order to minimise the damage caused by climate change, which has stronger impact in underdeveloped regions that are not prepared.

These are some of the conclusions of the report completed by Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), with authors from 62 countries. The report on Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation, was the topic of discussion at the UN climate change conference yesterday.

Rajendra K Pachauri, Chairman of IPCC, said that the “increase in sea levels is not our only challenge”, adding that 95 percent of debt for natural disasters affects developing countries.

Maarten van Aalst, from Red Cross/Crescent Climate Centre, said that there are signs of extreme meteorological phenomena, which serve as warning and would avoid many damages. He added that there is need for stronger organisations to do things “smarter and better in the future”.

He talked about certain risk factors that should be taken into consideration, like cooling in public facilities or changes in infrastructure to cope with heat waves in Europe, given that research says that there is a likely increase in heat waves and warm days and nights across Europe.

He also referred to the growing number of hurricanes in US and Caribbean, listing risks like population growth, increasing property rules and higher storm surge with sea level rise. These issues can be addressed with better forecasting, stricter building codes and regional risk pooling...

Climate change, disaster risk: Asian action critical

Bindu N. Lohani in the Philippine Daily Inquirer: ... one thing is clear: Weather-related disasters are increasing in both frequency and intensity. Witness the string of severe recent floods across Asia—from Pakistan, to Thailand, to the Philippines—and Hurricane “Sandy” in the United States, which have vividly shown us how extreme weather events can bring entire countries to a virtual standstill. Volatile weather extremes are hitting Asia and the Pacific more often than any other region of the world.

This gives the Asia-Pacific region a huge stake in mitigating global temperature rise while adapting to already rising climate change impacts. Sixty percent of the region’s people rely on highly climate-sensitive farms, forests and fisheries for their livelihoods. Seven out of the 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change and disasters caused by natural hazards are in Asia and the Pacific. A decrease in fresh water availability can affect more than one billion Asian people by 2050.

The region has borne the brunt of the physical and economic damage of increased disasters. It accounted for 38 percent of global disaster-related economic losses between 1980 and 2009. People in the Asia-Pacific region are four times more likely to be affected by disasters than those in Africa, and 25 times more likely than those in Europe or North America.

A recent report of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) noted that storms and floods, in particular, are becoming endemic to the region, and their increasing frequency and severity can slash economic growth and development. And as we have seen time and again, it is the poorest and most vulnerable citizens who suffer the most. We cannot hope to bring an end to poverty without building resilience to climate change and these associated events....

True-colour satellite image showing flooding in Ayutthaya and Pathum Thani Provinces in Central Thailand (right), compared to before the flooding (left). Ayutthaya lies north of Thailand’s capital city of Bangkok, and the floods plaguing Thailand in October 2011 did not spare this historic city. From NASA

Unusual hurricane season produces more storms than expected

Property Casualty 360: Forecasters at Colorado State University are declaring this year’s Atlantic basin hurricane season to be an unusual one that had more activity than expected, but with virtually all of that activity coming in the form of weaker storms.

In a report issued today by the hurricane forecast team led by Phil Klotzbach and William Gray, the 2012 hurricane season, which officially ends tomorrow, “was one of the most unusual seasons on record with a significant number of weaker cyclones combined with a general lack of major hurricane activity….”

In August, the team issued an updated forecast calling for average activity: 14 named storms, six hurricanes and two major hurricanes. The season produced 19 named storms, 10 hurricanes and only one major hurricane.

The team notes that no major hurricanes made landfall in the United States this past season. A major hurricane is defined as a Category 3, 4, or 5 tropical cyclone on the Saffir-Simpson scale, with sustained winds of 111 mph and higher.

Despite its size, with a wind radius of close to 500 miles, Superstorm Sandy never reached major hurricane status. However, when it made landfall as a post-tropical storm it generated the lowest pressure ever recorded in the Northeast U.S. at 943 millibars, breaking the record set by the Great New England Hurricane or Long Island Express of 1938, the Colorado team says....

Hurricane Sandy in Marblehead, shot by The Brikes, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Renewed flooding threatens Niger capital

Terra Daily via AFP: Renewed flooding of the Niger river threatens Niger's capital Niamey and parts of the west of the country, local and regional authorities warned Thursday.

Previous floods in August and September claimed almost 70 lives across the impoverished west African country and made tens of thousands homeless.

"We will be inundated" as of December 5, Niamey governor Aichatou Kane Boulama told a press briefing. She stressed that the consequences would include the flooding of 400 hectares (988 acres), 40 of them in residential areas.

Water has already begun to swamp some low-lying parts of Niamey, Kane Boulama added, saying that "the most urgent thing is to rehouse families"...

Livestock grazing on an island in the River Niger, as seen off a bridge in Niger’s capital, Niamey. Shot by ILRI/Stevie Mann, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Satellites used to track global smog level

Space Daily via UPI: Israeli researchers say using a trio of NASA satellites has allowed them to measure levels of air pollution over the world's largest cities.

On-the-ground monitoring stations do not always provide the most accurate picture of global smog created by traffic, industry and other human activities, they said.

Using eight years of data collected by the satellites, the researchers at Tel Aviv University tracked pollution trends for 189 cities where the population exceeds 2 million.

More than 50 of these metropolitan areas, including New York, Tokyo and Mumbai, have populations that exceed 5 million.

The researchers used data gathered by three aerosol-monitoring satellites, called MODIS-Terra, MODIS-Aqua, and MISR, which NASA launched from 2000 through 2002....

Smog over China, from a NASA shot

New report warns developing cities to act now against a perfect storm of environmental risks

A press release from Atkins, the engineering consulting firm: A major new report ‘Future Proofing Cities’ published today by Atkins in a unique partnership with the Department for International Development (DFID) and University College London (UCL) assesses the risks to cities from climate hazards, resource scarcities, and damage to ecosystems and how they can act now to future proof themselves. Covering 129 cities totalling 350 million people in 20 countries, this report identifies practical measures that cities can take to manage these future risks.

Around 75% of the world’s population will live in cities within 40 years. Almost all of this population growth will happen in the developing world, with 4.6 billion people projected to live in already rapidly growing cities.How will these cities in the developing world cope socially, environmentally and economically with such accelerated urbanisation?

Future Proofing Cities assesses the risks from mega cities like Bangkok to smaller cities such as Zaria in Africa. It looks at their risk profile from climate hazards, resource scarcities, and damage to ecosystems and urges action now to future proof against these risks.

This report provides a fresh approach to the urgent issues arising from rapid urbanisation. It assesses the environmental risks facing cities in an integrated way and identifies more than 100 practical policy options that are most relevant and will be of most benefit to people living in different types of cities. It builds on the collective work on urbanisation by DFID, Atkins and UCL with forewords by the World Bank and Rockefeller Foundation.

The report is set against a growing awareness of the need for increased funding for infrastructure development in developing countries at the city level.This report provides an early warning for people living and working in these cities, while providing market intelligence for investors....

A slum in East Cipinang, near Jakarta, shot by by Jonathan McIntosh, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Namibia: Poor countries want fund for loss and damage

Irene Ihoaes in via New Era (Namibia): east Developed Countries (LDCs) are calling for the establishment of a fund to deal with the problem of loss and damage, as a result of climate change and global warming.

"We are looking for an international mechanism on loss and damage, although it is seen as part of the Cancun Adaptation Framework. It should be a form of compensation, there is no way you can run away from this," Pa Ousman Jarful, chairman of the LDC Group at the climate change negotiations told reporters on the sideline of the 18th session of the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Doha, Qatar.

The 18th Session of the UNFCCC and the 8th session of the Conference of Parties (COP) serving as the Meeting of the Parties to the Kyoto Protocol started on Monday November 26 and will run until December 07. Loss and damage, a new concept in climate change discourse refers to the negative effects of climate variability and climate change that people are not able to cope with or adapt to.

According to Jarful, loss and damage is a reality for many vulnerable communities, adding that failure to address that will compromise sustainable development and ensure affected countries that have contributed least to global greenhouse emissions will continue to suffer disproportionately. Each LDC at least needs US$3 billion to build resilience, while each of the countries had allocated funds themselves to deal with the problem.

Jarful is against loans for adaptation, stating that LDCs are not responsible for the loss and damage caused by climate change and need to be compensated and not just given loans. "Every country has to put institutional mechanisms in place to monitor funds that are coming in for adaptation. We have learnt from our mistakes, we have mainstream adaptation and climate change in our developmental plans," he added....

The Doha skyline, shot by Amjra, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

International NGOs launch child-centered climate change adaptation project in the Philippines

Philippine Information Agency: Save the Children, in partnership with Plan International and Institute for Sustainable Futures of the University of Technology Sydney, yesterday launched its 30-month "Child-Centered, Community-Based Climate Change Adaptation" project in Aurora .

William Azucena, Save the Children program manager, said “the project aims to prepare households on what to do and how to reduce risks of earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons and floods through a localized information, education and communication campaign that will make it comprehensible to children - who are the most vulnerable in times of disasters.”

It will cover 30 barangays from the municipalities of Baler, Maria Aurora, Dipaculao and Dinalungan benefitting over 9,500 kids and 1,900 households.

“Small grants will also be made available for child-centered and/or child-led local initiatives on climate change adaptation in partnership with schools, local government units and other community partners to ensure sustainability,” Azucena added....

Filipino children, US Navy photo

Sea levels rising more quickly than predicted, warn scientists

Emily Beament in the Independent (UK): Sea levels are rising faster than predicted as a result of climate change, scientists said today. Satellite measurements show sea levels rose 3.2mm a year between 1993 and 2011, 60% above the 2mm estimate in central projections made by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its most recent review of climate science.

A study published in the Institute of Physics (IOP) journal Environmental Research Letters said it was "very unlikely" the higher rate of sea level rise is due to natural variability such as temporary ice discharge from ice sheets.

Lead author Stefan Rahmstorf said: "This study shows once again that the IPCC is far from alarmist, but in fact has underestimated the problem of climate change. That applies not just for sea level rise but also to extreme events and the Arctic sea loss."

The researchers also warn that the rate of annual sea level rise may increase as global temperatures go up, a suggestion backed up by past sea level data and which leads to larger projections of future sea level rise than the IPCC predicts.

And they said the concern that the IPCC's estimates for future sea level rise are low is supported by the fact ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica are increasingly losing mass, while the panel's projections assume that Antarctica will gain enough ice to compensate for losses from Greenland....

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Thawing of permafrost expected to cause significant additional global warming, not yet accounted for in climate predictions

UN Environment Programme News Centre:  Permafrost covering almost a quarter of the northern hemisphere contains 1,700 gigatonnes of carbon, twice that currently in the atmosphere, and could significantly amplify global warming should thawing accelerate as expected, according to a new report released today by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP). Warming permafrost can also radically change ecosystems and cause costly infrastructural damage due to increasingly unstable ground, the report says.

"Policy Implications of Warming Permafrost" seeks to highlight the potential hazards of carbon dioxide and methane emissions from warming permafrost, which have not thus far been included in climate-prediction modelling. The science on the potential impacts of warming permafrost has only begun to enter the mainstream in the last few years, and as a truly "emerging issue" could not have been included in climate change modelling to date. The report recommends a special IPCC assessment on permafrost and the creation of national monitoring networks and adaptation plans as key steps to deal with potential impacts of this significant source of emissions, which may become a major factor in global warming.

"Permafrost is one of the keys to the planet's future because it contains large stores of frozen organic matter that, if thawed and released into the atmosphere, would amplify current global warming and propel us to a warmer world," said UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

"Its potential impact on the climate, ecosystems and infrastructure has been neglected for too long," he added. "This report seeks to communicate to climate-treaty negotiators, policy makers and the general public the implications of continuing to ignore the challenges of warming permafrost."

...Should the active layer increase in thickness due to warming, huge quantities of organic matter stored in the frozen soil would begin to thaw and decay, releasing large amounts of CO₂  and methane into the atmosphere....

A scientist standing in front of an ice-rich permafrost exposure on the coast of Herschel Island, Yukon Territory (photo: Michael Fritz, from the UNEP website).

UK floods: deadlock between insurers and government must be broken

James Meadway has a comment in the Guardian (UK): Severe floods have again pushed the question of environmental protection to the centre of political debate. A disaster for those affected, the floods have arrived just as talks between insurers and the government are on the verge of breakdown. A deal struck in 2000 to enable those living in flood-prone areas to continue to receive insurance expires next year. As yet it shows no signs of renewal. Insurers want guarantees from government that flood protection will be maintained. The government has hinted that the insurers are using the crisis to push for an unfair settlement. About 200,000 homes are at risk. They are the collateral damage of a collision between a government chasing short-term savings and an industry chasing short-term profits.

Flood defence expenditure has been cut by 25% since 2010, while 294 schemes that should have received funding since then have yet to be started. The costs apparently saved in cuts to flood defences are more than outweighed by the costs of repairing damage afterwards...

....If government has been recklessly short-sighted, the insurance companies are little better. The five biggest firms account for half the domestic market between them. The largest, Aviva, had revenues of £50bn last year. Floods are expensive for insurers. But these huge corporations are more than big enough to take the cost. Guarantees on government flood defence spending are, for them, little more than a means to protect profits – a public subsidy for their shareholders. Householders in high-risk areas still lose out, with reports of those attempting to renew their insurance in recent months being quoted hugely inflated prices.

The combination of the coalition's mindless commitment to austerity, and the insurance companies' scrabble for profits is producing a deadlock. Breaking it decisively would require two actions by government. The first is an immediate increase in flood defence spending in affected areas, as recommended by the Pitt review five years ago – briefly implemented, and then abandoned, by Cameron's government. The coalition's austerity plans have been a minor disaster, driving the economy back into recession over this year and hampering recovery. Extra expenditure, particularly on crucial infrastructure, is desperately needed. One estimate suggests that £500bn will be required over the next decade to replace creaking infrastructure....

The River Ouse flooding in Sussex in 2003, shot by Robin Webster, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK,  under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

“Intra-seasonal” variability of sea level affects forecasting and ecosystems

Virginia Institute of Marine Science: The effects of storm surge and sea-level rise have become topics of everyday conversation in the days and weeks following Hurricane Sandy’s catastrophic landfall along the mid-Atlantic coast.

Ongoing research by professor John Brubaker of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science is throwing light on another, less-familiar component of sea-level variability—the “intra-seasonal” changes that occupy the middle ground between rapid, storm-related surges in sea level and the long-term increase in sea level due to global climate change.

“These are cases when the water is just ‘running high,’” says Brubaker, ”but not from an obvious direct cause of a storm. It isn’t necessarily windy, it’s just an elevated water level without a clear cause.”

Intra-seasonal variability—which Brubaker says takes place on time-scales of 10 to 90 days and can add or detract a foot or more from the predicted tide—is likely due to shifts in oceanic currents and large-scale movements of water masses along the coast. It often goes unacknowledged in discussions of sea-level trends, but can play an important role in water-level forecasts, coastal activities, and ecosystem health.

“Intra-seasonal variability has significant impacts,” says Brubaker. “For instance, being aware of these non-tidal, non-storm anomalies is very important for forecasting. If you’re experiencing a relative high during the approach of a storm, with water levels already elevated by a foot or more above predicted tides, that could make a big difference in terms of storm surge and coastal flooding.” Indeed, graduate student Carissa Wilkerson, whom Brubaker co-advises, is studying how intra-seasonal anomalies combine with storm surge as part of her Master's research at VIMS....

Intra-seasonal variability can raise water levels a moderate amount over long periods (shown in the graph agove for 3 weeks). Hurricanes and nor'easters (e.g., Irene) generate higher, shorter peaks. Sandy was unusual in generating a storm surge that persisted through 5 tidal cycles. All data are from the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel. MLLW = Mean Lower Low Water. Graph compiled from NOAA tide-gauge data by Dr. John Brubaker.

Global irrigated area at record levels, but expansion slowing

KTIC Radio: In 2009, the most recent year for which global data are available from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 311 million hectares in the world was equipped for irrigation but only 84 percent of that area was actually being irrigated, according to new research conducted by the Worldwatch Institute for its Vital Signs Online service ( As of 2010, the countries with the largest irrigated areas were India (39 million hectares), China (19 million), and the United States (17 million), writes report author Judith Renner.

...The increasing availability of inexpensive individual pumps and well construction methods has led to a shift from public to private investment in irrigation, and from larger to smaller-scale systems. The takeoff in individual groundwater irrigation has been concentrated in India, China, and much of Southeast Asia. The idea of affordable and effective irrigation is attractive to poor farmers worldwide, with rewards of higher outputs and incomes and better diets.

"The option is often made even more appealing with offers of government subsidies for energy costs of running groundwater pumps and support prices of irrigated products," said Renner, a senior at Fordham University in New York. "In India's Gujarat state, for example, energy subsidies are structured so that farmers pay a flat rate, no matter how much electricity they use. But with rising numbers of farmers tapping groundwater resources, more and more aquifers are in danger of overuse."

If groundwater resources are overexploited, aquifers will be unable to recharge fast enough to keep pace with water withdrawals. It should be noted that not all aquifers are being pumped at unsustainable levels----in fact, 80 percent of aquifers worldwide could handle additional water withdrawals. One troubling aspect of groundwater withdrawals is that the world's major agricultural producers (particularly India, China, and the United States) are also the ones responsible for the highest levels of depletion....

A floating pumping station on the Nile River, shot by Rémih, Wikimedia Commons,  under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

A call for harder choices on climate change adaptation

University of Southampton news release: Uncertainty about how much the climate is changing is not a reason to delay preparing for the harmful impacts of climate change says Professor Robert Nicholls of the University of Southampton and colleagues at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, writing today in Nature Climate Change.

The costs of adapting to climate change, sea-level and flooding include the upfront expenses of upgrading infrastructure, installing early-warning systems, and effective organisations, as well as the costs of reducing risk, such as not building on flood plains.

Robert Nicholls, Professor of Coastal Engineering at the University of Southampton and the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, says: “Some impacts of climate change are now inevitable, so it is widely agreed that we must adapt. But selecting and futnding adaptation remains a challenge.”

Professor Nicholls and his co-authors describe two ways of assessing how much adaptation to climate change is enough by balancing the risk of climate change against the cost of adaptation. First they describe cost-benefit analysis where the cost of the adaptation has to be less than the benefit of risk reduction. Alternatively, decision makers can seek the most cost-effective way of maintaining a tolerable level of risk. This approach is easier for policymakers to understand, but thresholds of tolerable risk from climate change are not well defined.

The Thames Estuary Gateway is the only place in the UK where a level of protection against flooding is defined in law – a 1 in 1000 year standard of protection which needs to be maintained with rising sea levels. The authors conclude that adaptation decisions need exploration across a variety of different interpretations of risk, not a single answer.

“Adaptation decisions have further benefits. The tenfold increase in the Netherlands standard of flood protection proposed in 2008 has sent a message to global business that the Netherlands will be open in the future, come what may,” adds Professor Nicholls....

A ramshackle jetty in the foreground, the Thames Barrier in the background, shot by Sarah Charlesworth, Wikimedia Commons via Geograph UK, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Monday, November 26, 2012

California confronts a sea change

David Helvarg in the Los Angeles Times: Governors Andrew Cuomo of New York and Chris Christie of New Jersey don't need to wait on gridlocked Washington to confront future risks from climate-change intensified storms. They can instead look at how California is already moving forward on common-sense adaptations, and do it themselves. With 3.5 million Californians living within three feet of sea level, and the best available science projecting a 3- to 5-foot rise in sea level for the state by 2100, doing nothing would be irresponsible.

In Northern California, rising sea levels are projected to affect more than a quarter of a million people and threaten more than $60 billion in infrastructure in the San Francisco Bay/Delta region, putting power stations, water-treatment plants, roads, buildings and the San Francisco and Oakland airports (both built on filled wetlands) at risk. In Southern California, scientists point to the loss of 3,000 beachfront homes to major El Niño winter storms in the 1980s as suggestive of what climate change has in store.

...For starters, California is ahead of most states in its attempts to address the problem at its source by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. ... But climate change is happening, so adaptation, as well as prevention, is going to be essential.

A number of local and state efforts are underway. This year, the San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission, the state's original coastal protection group, amended its long-standing San Francisco Bay Plan to make sure projected sea-level rise is taken into account by any new project, such as a planned $1.5-billion development on Treasure Island in the middle of the bay.

After repeated flooding from winter storms in 2009-10 shut down the Great Highway along the city's share of the Pacific coast, the Army Corps of Engineers proposed pumping dredged sand onto the beach to shore it up and a city think tank suggested "planned retreat" — shrinking and rerouting the highway at a cost of $343 million — as the best long-term solution. While the options are reviewed, city workers continue armoring the southbound lanes with boulders....

The Newport Pier in Newport Beach, California, shot by Alienburrito, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Scientists pioneer method to predict environmental collapse

Terra Daily via SPX: Scientists at the University of Southampton are pioneering a technique to predict when an ecosystem is likely to collapse, which may also have potential for foretelling crises in agriculture, fisheries or even social systems.

The researchers have applied a mathematical model to a real world situation, the environmental collapse of a lake in China, to help prove a theory which suggests an ecosystem 'flickers', or fluctuates dramatically between healthy and unhealthy states, shortly before its eventual collapse.

Head of Geography at Southampton, Professor John Dearing explains: "We wanted to prove that this 'flickering' occurs just ahead of a dramatic change in a system - be it a social, ecological or climatic one - and that this method could potentially be used to predict future critical changes in other impacted systems in the world around us."

A team led by Dr Rong Wang extracted core samples from sediment at the bottom of Lake Erhai in Yunnan province, China and charted the levels and variation of fossilised algae (diatoms) over a 125-year period. Analysis of the core sample data showed the algae communities remained relatively stable up until about 30 years before the lake's collapse into a turbid or polluted state.

However, the core samples for these last three decades showed much fluctuation, indicating there had been numerous dramatic changes in the types and concentrations of algae present in the water - evidence of the 'flickering' before the lake's final definitive change of state. Rong Wang comments: "By using the algae as a measure of the lake's health, we have shown that its eco-system 'wobbled' before making a critical transition - in this instance, to a turbid state....

Géza Maróti's plan of Atlantis mock-up, around 1941 -- public domain

Lidar confirms Sandy’s dramatic coastal change impacts and future coastal vulnerability

US Geological Survey: The extent of Hurricane Sandy's wrath -- and the future coastal vulnerability of the region -- is clear in a new U.S. Geological Survey analysis of recently collected lidar coastal data. The research documented particularly dramatic impacts within the Fire Island National Seashore on Long Island, NY.

Lidar, or light detection and ranging, uses lasers to measure elevations in a specific distance/area. Researchers used the lidar data, collected during an airborne survey, to construct a high-resolution three-dimensional map of before- and after-storm conditions.  This information can help scientists and decision-makers identify the areas along the shore that have been made more vulnerable to future coastal hazards in the storm’s wake.

"Coastal dunes are our last line of natural defense from the onslaught of storms and rising seas," said USGS Director Marcia McNutt. "They are dynamic features that retreat from the battering of major storms like Sandy and rebuild in the aftermath; their natural cycle is inconsistent with immobile development."

USGS research oceanographer Hilary Stockdon said that the lidar data show that at Ocean Beach, for example, storm surge and waves associated with Sandy demolished protective dunes – and the structures built on top of them. "In the pre-storm elevation image of Ocean Beach, you can see houses that are sitting right on the sand dune," Stockdon said. "But in the post-storm elevation image, the high dune elevation is gone. The dune and the houses on it were completely washed away."

The pre- and post-storm ground conditions at Fire Island were similarly dramatic, USGS coastal geologist Cheryl Hapke said, noting that the USGS worked closely with the National Park Service to gather field data on the island....

The beach at Saltaire on Fire Island, pre-Sandy, shot by Mrshllmx, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Flood warnings issued in northern England and Wales

Martin Wainwright in the Guardian (UK): Northern England and Wales is expected to get a soaking on Monday as the latest round of torrential rainfall moves up across the country. Downpours of up to 40-50mm could fall in the next 24 hours as the rain reaches Lancashire and Cumbria initially and then crosses the Pennines, gaining in intensity.

Severe weather warnings have been issued for Yorkshire and north-east England at the lowest 'be aware' level, with a pocket of the more serious 'be alert' status in north and east Yorkshire during the afternoon.

The Environment Agency has 16 flood warnings and 39 flood alerts in north-east England and Yorkshire and one warning and 14 alerts in the north west, with 21 areas in the north-east and three in the north-west back to normal after previous warnings....

Climate change hits Africa

Sarah Bomkapre Kamara in Deutsche Welle: Africa is reeling from climate change. Floods, drought, famine, food shortages are buffeting the vulnerable continent, which lacks the resources to protect itself. A UN climate conference has just opened in Qatar.

Climate change is already hitting the continent hard. Floods in Nigeria, famine and drought in the Sahel, the shrinking of Lake Turkana are all just a preamble of what is to come if the continent does not act fast. As the two week UN climate conference gets underway in Doha, Qatar, the African UN regional group at these talks is hoping for a "second commitment" and funds that will help their countries adapt to climate change and its effects.

"African countries are looking forward to a commitment period that doesn't carry over excessive emission rise or hot air," Ruth Mhlanga, youth and solutions coordinator, Greenpeace Africa told DW's Africalink show.

This commitment is an extention of the Kyoto protocol of 1997 which binds developed nations to cut greenhouse gas emissions by an average 5.2 percent below 1990 levels between the years 2008 and 2012. The African UN regional group at the conference says failure to extend Kyoto would leave only national actions, with no legally binding U.N. framework.

A UN survey warns the world is on target for a rise in temperatures that will cause more floods, drought, heat waves and rising sea levels. Africa should prepare for the worst. "The average increase in temperature in Africa is likely to be higher than the average increase globally," Micheal Kliene, deputy executive director of IUFRO - The World's Network of Forest Science told DW....

On the road to Timbuktu in Mali, shot by Annabel Symington, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Dust Bowl reflections-- a Carbon Based original

One way to address climate change today is to fully appreciate yesterday's climate disasters. The recent broadcast of Ken Burns' documentary on the Dust Bowl is a starting point, if an often annoying one. Plaintive violins and banjos keep the nostalgia turned up high.  The personality-focused style of these shows often blunts general insights and muffle the sharp points that need to be kept in mind.   But at least the talking heads in "The Dust Bowl" were explicit in stating that the catastrophe was manmade, like today's climate change woes.

The story is a familiar blend of fragile prospertiy, delusional hope and harsh comeuppance. The Homestead Act after the Civil War lured growing numbers of farmers onto semiarid grasslands, with few trees and little water.  A period of higher than normal rainfall masked the consequences of this influx for a while.  Many Plains dwellers believed that the wetter weather was permanent. 

Policy choices played a destructive role in adding to the risks. "Rain follows the plow" was the dunderheaded motto used to promote the settlement.  Free or cheap land and price supports for wheat during World War I led to good years that attracted more immigrants. By this time, most residents were deeply attached to the land.

During these fat years, deep plowing destroyed the millions of acres of grasses that held the soil in place, and brought marginal land under cultivation. Fields were often left bare, without cover cropping despite the constant winds.  Topsoils dried up even before the drought returned, which was the prelude to the apocalyptic dust storms of the 1930s.

When the rain stopped and the dust storms came, most people in the area underestimated the dangers.  They said, "We've seen droughts before, we've seen dust storms before," even though the storms of the 1930s were larger and longer lasting. Moving away seemed unthinkable.   As the market for wheat collapsed and the drought worsened, most farmers were loath to see their own part in fomenting the disaster.  Just leave us alone, they said, and the rains will come back, and things will return to normal. 

But the drought got worse. One farmer lamented, "One of those years, we put our entire wheat crop in one wagon."  Children and the elderly sickened and died from "dust pneumonia."

The exodus from the Dust Bowl eventually picked up after more than five years of no money and no crops.  "A migration of the defeated," the narrator intoned, it dwarfed the 19th century US migrations, but it's largely gone from public notice. 

Several of witnesses summoned by Burns showed some insight into the problem. Bernard Lewis, a child at the time, said, "We always had hope that next year was going to be better... we learned slowly." These hopes were cruelly shredded in the years of depression and dust, only to return in a blink when conditions improved.

In the last few minutes of part two of the "The Dust Bowl," various interviewees acknowledged the need for humility and for staying mindful of the land's limits and needs.  But the script did little to explain the predictable market failures that  worsened tolerable natural cycles into outright catastrophe.

The government's response was a mixed bag. Short-term, the Works Progress Administration in 1935 launched projects that, though they were condemned as make work, nevertheless brought labor to the region and helped busted farmers. More scientific agriculture was brought to bear on the problem, with contour plowing and better erosion control replacing destructive land use habits of yore.  But the improvements were modest, and the government did little to slow down the the reintroduction of the same detrimental practices once the rains returned.   In the 1940s, overplanting and developing marginal land resumed quickly. Smaller dust storms returned in the 1950s, held somewhat in check by the new methods.

Roosevelt may have brought hope to the region, but the political calculus left no room for the most sustainable measure in the long term -- leave the land alone, and avoid development where there isn't the water to support it.  We see a similar pattern happening today in the planting of crops for biofuel, and in the Great Plains today, in pumping ancient groundwater from the Ogallala Aquifer. One of the speakers estimates that only twenty years of water remain -- and then it's back to the drought cycle.

After the Dot Com bust after 2000, the Onion ran a headline:  "Americans angrily demand new bubble to invest in."   Maybe it's human nature. But it's worth resisting. The bad ecological outcomes of climate change that threaten us today are potentially much worse than the Dust Bowl.

FSA; Dust Storm; "Farmer and sons walking in the face of a dust storm"; Cimarron County, Oklahoma. Shot by Arthur Rothstein in 1936. This image gets a few minutes of its own in the Ken Burns documentary

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Ghana to get $50 million for sustainable management of forests

Modern Ghana: Ghana and Burkina Faso have received endorsement of their far-reaching plans for sustainably managing their forest sectors as part of their goals for climate-resilient economic development.

The endorsements came from the Forest Investment Programme (FIP), one of the four programmes of the US $7.2 billion Climate Investment Funds (CIF), with support of the African Development Bank (AfDB) and other partners including the World Bank Group.

Under the Forest Investment Program (FIP), Burkina Faso was allocated US $30 million and Ghana was allocated US $50 million for sustainable management of their forests, through activities under programs for reducing deforestation and forest degradation and instituting sustainable forest management (REDD+), and including agro-forestry and sustainable agriculture.

...In Ghana, where timber exports account for nearly 20 per cent of the country's export base, forest cover has been reduced from 8.2 million to 4.9 million hectares over the last century. In response, Ghana is one of the first countries in Africa to institute a REDD+ strategy to address sustainability in its forest sector....

The Volta Region of Ghana, shot by Erik Kristensen, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Greenhouse gas emissions from drained wetlands equal to industrial sources

Red Orbit: Greenhouse gas emissions originating from drained wetlands are roughly equal to that given off by industrial factories, a team of Swedish researchers claim in a new study. Experts from the University of Gothenburg and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) were commissioned by the Swedish Environmental Protection Agency to analyze and compile a report about the amount of greenhouse gases given off by forests and agricultural fields on areas that once had been wetlands.

They discovered those forests and fields, which comprise as much as 10-percent of the country’s total surface area, become a “significant source of greenhouse emissions” once the wetlands have been drained, the university said in a statement released Friday.

“We note that drained wetlands which have been forested or used for agricultural purposes are a significant potential source of greenhouse gases of a magnitude that is at least comparable with the industrial sector’s greenhouse gas emissions in Sweden,” they said.

...“As long as wetlands remain wet, only methane is given off,” Dr. Kasimir Klemedtsson of the University of Gothenburg’s Department of Earth Sciences, said. “However, for more than a hundred years land has been drained for agriculture and forestry, producing large quantities both carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide.”...

A wetlands in Dalarna, Sweden, shot by Stefan Grünig, Privatarchiv, Wikiimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

'Black swans' and 'perfect storms' become lame excuses for bad risk management

Kelly Servick in Stanford University News: Elisabeth Paté-Cornell argues that a true 'black swan' - an event that is impossible to imagine because we've known nothing like it in the past - is extremely rare. The terms "black swan" and "perfect storm" have become part of the public vocabulary for describing disasters ranging from the 2008 meltdown in the financial sector to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. But according to Elisabeth Paté-Cornell, a Stanford professor of management science and engineering, people in government and industry are using these terms too liberally in the aftermath of a disaster as an excuse for poor planning.

Her research, published in the November issue of the journal Risk Analysis, suggests that other fields could borrow risk analysis strategies from engineering to make better management decisions, even in the case of once-in-a-blue-moon events where statistics are scant, unreliable or non-existent.

Paté-Cornell argues that a true "black swan" – an event that is impossible to imagine because we've known nothing like it in the past – is extremely rare. The AIDS virus is one of very few examples. Usually, there are important clues and warning signs of emerging hazards (e.g., a new flu virus) that can be monitored to guide quick risk management responses.

..."Risk analysis is not about predicting anything before it happens, it's just giving the probability of various scenarios," she said. She argues that systematically exploring those scenarios can help companies and regulators make smarter decisions before an event in the face of uncertainty.

An engineering risk analyst thinks in terms of systems, their functional components and their dependencies, Paté-Cornell said. ....Paté-Cornell says that a systematic approach is also relevant to human aspects of risk analysis.

....Paté-Cornell has found that human errors, far from being unpredictable, are often rooted in the way an organization is managed. "We look at how the management has trained, informed and given incentives to people to do what they do and assign risk based on those assessments," she said.

...."Lots of people don't like probability because they don't understand it," she said, "and they think if they don't have hard statistics, they cannot do a risk analysis." In fact, we generally do a system-based risk analysis because we do not have reliable statistics about the performance of the whole system.

Two black swans, shot by fir0002 |, Wikimedia Commons, under the following Creative Commons license: Attribution NonCommercial Unported 3.0

Friday, November 23, 2012

Scientists suggest raising coastline something to consider in era of global warming

Bruce Smith in Go Upstate via the Associated Press: People along the coast have a few options in an era of global warming expected to bring more frequent, intense storms and the kind of devastation recently seen with Superstorm Sandy: They can move back from the shore, elevate buildings or build levees to keep the floods at bay. But a pair of scientists at Georgia Tech and Clemson suggest another alternative, although it sounds a bit like science fiction. Their research shows it is possible to raise the coastline itself.

Leonid Germanovich of Georgia Tech and Lawrence Murdoch of Clemson, both environmental engineers, have worked out the math and are proposing a method of flood protection they call SIRGE, or solid injection for raising ground elevation.

The idea is relatively straightforward. They envision injecting sediment-laden slurry into hydraulic fractures in the ground. If repeated in adjacent areas and over a wide area, it works to push up the surface of the earth. They suggest a series of pumps and wells to force the material underground.

The proposal, and the extensive scientific equations that accompany it, were published in 2010 in the prestigious Proceedings of the Royal Society. The Society, dating to the 1660s, is the national academy of science in the United Kingdom and has 1,400 fellows worldwide.

After a 1900 hurricane devastated Galveston, Texas, killing an estimated 8,000 people, the city rebuilt after the ground level was raised as much as 17 feet. "It's been shown with the Galveston example, if you can increase elevations, that is your best bet in safeguarding areas against flood," Murdoch said....

Damage in 2008 from Hurricane Ike in Galveston, Texas, via FEMA

Nile dam project a hydropower hope, but regional sore point

E.G. Woldegebriel in AlertNet: Ethiopia has begun construction of a 6,000 megawatt (MW) hydroelectric dam on the Blue Nile river, a move that has been greeted enthusiastically by many Ethiopians but that is causing concern in the downstream nations of Sudan and Egypt.

The project, which is scheduled to take six and a half years to complete, is being managed by the state-owned power utility company, Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCo). The dam is being built about 900 km (560 miles) north-east of the capital, Addis Ababa, and just 40 km (25 miles) from the Sudanese border.

Ethiopia’s government hopes to capitalize on the energy potential of a river that is revered by the Ethiopian population but that until now has not been significantly exploited to feed the country’s growing need for electric power. 

Ethiopia is the source of the Blue Nile, and its territory contributes up to 86 percent of the river’s water. The Blue Nile in turn is responsible for more than half of the water in the Nile, the world’s longest river system. The other main source, the White Nile, originates on the Ugandan side of Lake Victoria.

...Despite its popularity among Ethiopia’s population, the dam project has caused consternation in neighbouring Sudan as well as in Egypt, both downstream countries that rely upon the Nile for almost all their water and fear the dam will cause a reduction in water available to them. The new dam will eventually create a lake containing more than 60 billion cubic metres of water, twice as much as Lake Tana, Ethiopia’s largest body of water. There are also concerns about the potential environmental impact of the dam...

The Blue Nile flowing through Khartoum, via NASA

Bangladesh has to face climate change with own resources

Shafiqul Islam Jibon in the Financial Express: Climate aid to Bangladesh could be lower than the actual commitment, made by the world's richest countries in Copenhagen in 2009, experts said.

The wealthier nations then promised to provide US$30 billion to the developing countries by the end of 2012, and said this should be "new and additional" finance, balanced between support for adaptation and mitigation activities.

But so far, only $23.6 billion of the promised fund has been committed. Only 20 per cent of the finance has been allocated to projects that will help poor nations adapt to a changing climate.

Former caretaker government adviser Dr Hossain Zillur Rahman Friday told the FE, "Bangladesh should not rely on the foreign aid to fight against climate change."...

A tea garden in Bangladesh, shot by NAHID, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.5 Generic license

Project to leave oil in ground under Yasuní park reaches $300 million

John Vidal in the Guardian (UK): More than $300m (£188m) has been promised to stop the exploitation of 846m barrels of oil below the Yasuní national park in Ecuador, one of the world's most biologically rich areas of rainforest, new figures show. Ecuador's idea to leave the oil in the soil under the Ishpingo-Tambococha-Tiputini (ITT) area of the park and ask the world to compensate it with half its monetary value was hailed as a revolutionary, if idealistic, new conservation idea when it was first proposed in 2007.

But critics doubted whether raising the $3.6bn needed in 13 years would be possible, and accused Ecuador of holding the world, literally, over a barrel.

However, figures released by the UN Development Programme-run Yasuní-ITT initiative shows that while most wealthy governments have declined to contribute, foundations, individuals and cash-strapped regional authorities in austerity-hit Europe have pledged or given over $300m since 2011, when the fundraising drive began in earnest.

Germany has offered $50m over three years, and Chile, Colombia, Georgia and Turkey have given token amounts. In addition, 10 regions of Europe have contributed $150-250,000 each, along with corporations including Coca Cola, airlines, banks and Brazilian, US and Russian foundations. A Puerto Rican musician gave $50,000.

But while only $64m has been formally deposited, the papers show $187m has been promised by countries including Belgium, Brazil, France, Lebanon, Indonesia, Turkey, Spain and Qatar. Some is likely to come via debt swaps and "technical agreements" as well as contracts and agreements with companies....

A view in the Yasuni natinonal park, shot by Geoff Gallice, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

Climate change evident across Europe, confirming urgent need for adaptation

Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research: Climate change is affecting all regions in Europe, causing a wide range of impacts on society and the environment. Further impacts are expected in the future, potentially causing high damage costs, according to the latest assessment published by the European Environment Agency today.

The report, ‘Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2012’ finds that higher average temperatures have been observed across Europe as well as decreasing precipitation in southern regions and increasing precipitation in northern Europe.

The report, ‘Climate change, impacts and vulnerability in Europe 2012’ finds that higher average temperatures have been observed across Europe as well as decreasing precipitation in southern regions and increasing precipitation in northern Europe. The Greenland ice sheet, Arctic sea ice and many glaciers across Europe are melting, snow cover has decreased and most permafrost soils have warmed.

Extreme weather events such as heat waves, floods and droughts have caused rising damage costs across Europe in recent years. While more evidence is needed to discern the part played by climate change in this trend, growing human activity in hazard-prone areas has been a key factor. Future climate change is expected to add to this vulnerability, as extreme weather events are expected to become more intense and frequent. If European societies do not adapt, damage costs are expected to continue to rise, according to the report.

Some regions will be less able to adapt to climate change than others, in part due to economic disparities across Europe, the report says. The effects of climate change could deepen these inequalities. Jacqueline McGlade, EEA Executive Director said: “Climate change is a reality around the world, and the extent and speed of change is becoming ever more evident. This means that every part of the economy, including households, needs to adapt as well as reduce emissions.”...

Thursday, November 22, 2012

US roads, airports unready for extreme weather

Joan Lowy in the San Francisco Chronicle via the Associated Press: The nation's lifelines — its roads, airports, railways and transit systems — are getting hammered by extreme weather beyond what their builders imagined, leaving states and cities searching for ways to brace for more catastrophes like Superstorm Sandy.

Even as they prepare for a new normal of intense rain, historic floods and record heat waves, some transportation planners find it too politically sensitive to say aloud the source of their weather worries: climate change.

Political differences are on the minds of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, whose advice on the design and maintenance of roads and bridges is closely followed by states. The association recently changed the name of its Climate Change Steering Committee to the less controversial Sustainable Transportation, Energy Infrastructure and Climate Solutions Steering Committee.

Still, there is a recognition that the association's guidance will need to be updated to reflect the new realities of global warming. "There is a whole series of standards that are going to have to be revisited in light of the change in climate that is coming at us," said John Horsley, the association's executive director.

In the latest and most severe example, Superstorm Sandy inflicted the worst damage to the New York subway system in its 108-year history, halted Amtrak and commuter train service to the city for days, and forced cancellation of thousands of airline flights at airports in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia....

Tail nicked by the wind.... The Space Shuttle Enterprise damaged, at the aircraft carrier Enterprise, not far from the old headquarters of Carbon Based, shot by or Rondiel, Wikiimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

Australia approves plan to save vital river system

Space Daily via AFP: Australia approved an "historic" plan Thursday to save an ailing river system vital to the nation's food bowl by returning the equivalent of five Sydney Harbour's worth of water to the network each year.

Environment Minister Tony Burke said he signed into law the final draft of a water reform plan for the Murray-Darling Basin, a river network sprawling for one million square kilometres (400,000 square miles) across five Australian states.

The scheme will see 2,750 gigalitres of water, equivalent to five Sydney Harbours, returned annually as environmental flows to the system -- short of the 4,000 gigalitres sought by conservationists but more than wanted by farmers.

Burke said the figure could reach 3,200 gigalitres with infrastructure improvements to which the government had committed Aus$1.77 billion (US$1.83 billion). Two million tonnes of salt -- enough to fill the Melbourne Cricket Ground -- would also be flushed out every year under the plan, which he described as "historic".

"The foundation and reason for the reform is unequivocally and unapologetically to restore the system to health," Burke told reporters "Consistent over-allocation and mismanagement (have) seriously degraded the health of the system."...

Menindee Lakes in NSW from 16,000 feet, part of the Murray-Darling system, shot by Tim Keegan, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic license

Indonesia's forests under renewed threat

Thin Lei Win in AlertNet: Indonesia’s dwindling forests and an ambitious plan by the country’s president to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the world’s third largest emitter are under threat due to the struggle between national and local governments for authority over precious forest land, environmental activists told AlertNet.

In February, Indonesia’s Constitution Court struck down a controversial clause of the Forestry Law, saying it was unconstitutional for the central government to designate forest zones without proper mapping, after six plaintiffs, including five district heads (known as “bupatis”) from Central Kalimantan, a province in the Indonesian portion of Borneo, asked for a review of the law.

This has left everyone wondering what would happen to millions of hectares of land that have been designated as forest zone but have not been mapped. Currently, only 14.2 million of some 130 million hectares are adequately mapped.

Among the questions being asked are: Are these areas now considered non-forest zones and will local governments be able to issue licenses at will to companies to turn them into mines and palm oil plantations? Would that lead to further degradation of forests and increased social conflict in a sector not noted for its transparency as the government busies itself trying to map millions of hectares of land?

Is this another nail in the coffin for Indonesia’s tropical rainforests, the world’s third-largest, which President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has vowed to save in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions, which drive climate change?...

A forest bridge in Sumatra, around 1915. From the Tropenmuseum Collection via Wikimedia Commons