Tag Archives: Flooding

New seeds of hope for Nepal’s farmers

Growing concern: in Nepal, 50% of arable land is planted with rice Image: Sigismund von Dobschütz via Wikimedia Commons
Growing concern: in Nepal, 50% of arable land is planted with rice
Image: Sigismund von Dobschütz via Wikimedia Commons

By Om Astha Rai

Climate-resilient varieties of rice could help to protect crop yields from the ravages of droughts and floods caused by the increasingly erratic weather patterns in South Asia.

KATHMANDU, 30 July, 2014 − Farmers badly affected by changing weather patterns in South Asia now have the opportunity to improve food security by planting new varieties of rice capable of withstanding the impact of both severe droughts and floods.

This is particularly good news for countries such as Nepal, where around 65% of its more than 26 million people are involved in agriculture. Rice is the country’s most important crop, planted on more than 50% of its arable land.

And it comes at a time when new research using satellite imaging has highlighted the growing need to change agricultural practices in South Asia as higher average temperatures cause the reduction of crop yields on the Indo-Gangetic plain.

Scientists say the new seeds, developed by the International Rice Research Institute in the Philippines and approved by the Nepal Agricultural Research Council (NARC), are vital in order to deal with changing weather patterns − in particular, the increasingly erratic behaviour of the all-important South Asia monsoon.

“These new varieties can really change the future of the country’s farmers,” says Dr Dil Bahadur Gurung, NARC’s executive director. “The new rice can, in most cases, beat the effects of droughts and floods.

Reduce impact

“All these varieties have been tested in Nepal’s soil and climate over and over again. If all the country’s farmers replace their traditional varieties with these new ones, the impact of climate change on our agriculture could be reduced considerably.”

Local scientists say the timing of the South Asia monsoon − the only source of irrigation for the majority of Nepali farmers − is changing.

“Each year, we see the monsoon arriving later,” says Mani Ratna Shakya, a leading meteorologist in Nepal. “The duration of the monsoon is also getting shorter as each year passes.”

According to Nepal’s Meteorological Forecasting Division, the monsoon − which usually arrives in Nepal during the first week in June − came 10 days late this year.

Droughts are becoming more frequent. This year, the monsoon is generally judged to be very weak, leaving a vast area of arable land parched, particularly in western parts of Nepal. And often, when the rains eventually do arrive, they are torrential, causing flash floods.

So far, NARC has approved six drought-tolerant varieties of rice, under the name Sukkha − meaning dry.

“Ordinary rice varieties dry out and die in droughts,” says Hari Krishna Uprety, a paddy expert at NARC. “The new seeds survive droughts even in the early stage of growth. And uncertainty about the onset of monsoon has made these varieties even more important.”

Hari Krishna Uprety, NARC paddy expert, with new rice seed varieties Image: Om Astha Rai
Hari Krishna Uprety, NARC paddy expert,
with the new rice seed varieties
Image: Om Astha Rai

The new varieties still need water, of course, but they become more drought tolerant by being able to store energy during the early stages of their growth.

Two rice varieties capable of surviving flood conditions for up to two weeks have also been approved by NARC.

Erratic climate

Although the experts are backing the introduction of the new seeds in order to combat an increasingly erratic climate, persuading farmers to change their cultivation methods is a difficult task.

Farmers are often reluctant to replace traditional rice varieties, which in Nepal tend to be specific to each part of the country, depending on soil conditions, elevation, and other factors.

The new seeds are no more expensive than the traditional ones, and farmers even get a 30% discount on seeds approved by NARC, but a factor that could hamper uptake is that distribution is through the National Seed Company, which is not yet reaching out to farmers in every village.

But scientists warn that the new varieties must be planted – not only to combat changes in climate, but also to feed growing populations. – Climate News Network

• Om Astha Rai is a reporter with Nepalese national newspaper, Republica Daily.

Europe faces deadly cost for climate inaction

Smoke from Russian forest fires obscures the Sun in 2010 Image: Ximonic, Simo Räsänen via Wikimedia Commons

Smoke from Russian forest fires obscures the Sun in 2010
Image: Ximonic, Simo Räsänen via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford

A failure to act to reduce the impacts of climate change could cost Europe dear in lives lost and economic damage, according to a European Commission study.

LONDON, 13 July 2014 − Inaction over climate change costs lives. And in the case of European inaction, it is estimated that this could one day cost 200,000 lives a year.

That is the warning in a new European Commission (EC) study, which also says that failing to take the necessary action could burn 8,000 square kilometres of forest, and commit European taxpayers to at least €190 billion (US$259 bn) a year in economic losses.

Flood damage, too, could exceed €10bn a year by 2080, while the number of people affected by droughts could increase sevenfold, and coastal damage from sea level rise could treble.

The study weighs the bleak consequences of inaction. Scientists considered what would happen if the politicians and players on the continent worked with international partners to constrain global warming to a 2°C rise, or alternatively took no action and allowed global temperatures to soar to 3.5°C. They analysed the impact of climate change in agriculture, river floods, coasts, tourism, energy, droughts, forest fires, transport infrastructure and human health.

All involved in the research emphasised that their projections were conservative – that is, they were underestimates – and imagined a planet 60 years from now that was occupied by its present population, at its present state of economic growth. In a more populated, more developed world, the losses would be hugely greater.

Probable underestimates

The biggest and most obvious cost was to human health: premature death – from heat stress or other climate-related impacts – would account for €120 billion; coastal losses would claim €42 billion and agriculture €18bn. The worst-hit regions would be southern and south central Europe, which would bear 70% of the burden; northern Europe would experience the lowest.

If the world keeps temperature rise to the current international target of 2°C, there will still be huge costs, but the constraint would knock at least €60 billion off the overall bill. It would save lives too,  reducing the notional premature death toll by 23,000, and would burn only about 4,000 square kilometres of forest.

Calculations such as these − which are aids to political and economic planners, and intended to spur forthcoming political action − are uncheckable, but they are also almost certainly underestimates. They take no account of losses of, for example, biodiversity, on which it is impossible to place a value, and they do not include the consequences of catastrophic tipping points, such as the melting of Arctic ice.

Connie Hedegaard, the EC’s Commissioner for Climate Action, said: “No action is clearly the most expensive solution of all. Why pay for the damages when we can invest in reducing our climate impacts and becoming a competitive low-carbon economy?

“Taking action and taking a decision on the 2030 climate and energy framework  in October will bring us just there, and make Europe ready for the fight against climate change.” – Climate News Network

South Asia slow to act on water threats

The Ganges river delta in Bangladesh and India Image NASA World Wind via Wikimedia Commons
Satellite image of the vast Ganges river delta in Bangladesh and India
Image: NASA World Wind via Wikimedia Commons

By Nivedita Khandekar

A study of the five countries sharing and relying on the Indian sub-continent’s great rivers shows that Bangladesh is the only one that is taking climate change seriously.

NEW DELHI, 7 July, 2014: Even before this year’s delayed and inadequate monsoon recently brought some relief to the Indian sub-continent, researchers discovered widespread concern by local experts that their governments are mismanaging the water supplies on which a billion people depend for survival, and giving insufficient attention to climate change.

A new report, Attitudes to Water in South Asia, explores domestic water management and transboundary water issues in five countries – Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. It focuses on two river systems, the Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna and the Indus-Kabul basins, which are vital to the lives of a vast population.

Chatham House – the home of the Royal Institute of International Affairs − worked on the report with India’s Observer Research Foundation, and similar partner organisations in the other four countries. Their findings are based on evidence from almost 500 interviews conducted in the five countries in 2013 with a range of water experts, government officials, policy-makers and decision-makers from NGOs and the private sector.

Observing that water is “highly politicised in the region, with strong links to food security and the livelihoods of the large proportion of the population dependent on agriculture”, the report underscores the relation between the domestic mismanagement of water in each country and the failure to address transboundary water relations.

Few agreements

“In spite of the shared river system and the interdependencies, South Asian governments have signed few bilateral water agreements and no regional ones,” the report says. “Those transboundary water treaties that do exist face criticism on a number of grounds: for time periods too short to too long; and for their lack of provision for environmental factors or new challenges, such as climate change.”.

Yet the ability of countries in South Asia to deal with the possible effects of climate change will be in part determined by their ability to manage water, and also how they deal with weather events such as floods and droughts.

“The majority . . .  expressed concern that their governments
were giving the issue of climate change insufficient attention”

While many respondents across the region felt that other immediate concerns were more pressing, the majority of those interviewed expressed concern that their governments were giving the issue of climate change insufficient attention,” said Gareth Price, a senior research fellow at Chatham House and lead author of the report.

For instance, in Afghanistan, even where respondents had some knowledge of the body responsible for setting government-wide policy on climate change, they were equally certain that the amount of practical action on ground was virtually zero.

In Bangladesh, where most respondents were acutely aware of climate change and its possible effects, many said their government was doing better. There was a general consensus that ministers had made climate change a priority by setting aside funds for adaptation and mitigation.

However, Afghani and Bangladeshi respondents noted the lack of availability of important policy documents − currently available only in English − in local languages..

And Indian respondents felt that climate change was not a major priority for the government, although it was widely recognised that it could wreak havoc on the country.

“Inadequate water storage leaving farmers vulnerable to the vagaries of weather suggest an urgent need for appropriate investment in such facilities in order to not just increase agriculture production, but also to ensure farmers have an option to adjust to changing climate,” the report says.

Food security

Climate change could also have a big impact on the transboundary water relations, the report warns. Some respondents from India and Bangladesh feared that a variation in the timing and intensity of monsoons could affect agricultural production and weaken food security, “driving tension between the two countries over access to water in a dry period”.

Interviewees from Nepal perceived climate change as a “future threat”, in comparison with immediate challenges and the need to increase access to water and electricity. Most respondents felt that Nepal’s approach was “inadequate” and pointed out the gap between national plans and local implementation.

Pakistani respondents believed their country’s approach to climate change lacked “urgency”. They particularly pointed out that a Ministry of Climate Change had recently been reduced to a mere division of another ministry, and had had its funding slashed by 62%.

Brink of cataclysm

The report quoted a climate change expert working with the Pakistan government, who said his country stood on the brink of an environmental cataclysm, with the seasonal monsoon shifting away from traditional catchment areas towards Afghanistan. “This trend, reinforced by climate change, [has]increased the likelihood of extraordinary rainfall patterns, cloudbursts, and flash floods,” he said.

The researchers’ recommendations Include: improving domestic water management, and rainwater harvesting; enhancing data collection, data sharing and discussions between the five countries, particularly in relation to floods and droughts, and the management of watersheds and river basins; easing water demand through less water-intensive crops and irrigation methods.

They also stress that existing treaties should be revisited, ensuring that they address technological advances, environmental factors and climate change. – Climate News Network

  • Nivedita Khandekar is a journalist based in New Delhi, focusing on environmental and developmental issues. She has worked at the Press Trust of India, India’s premier news agency, and the Hindustan Times, one of the leading national daily newspapers in India. Her journalistic achievements include a national award for environmental reporting, an award for reporting on health issues, and a Rural Reporting Fellowship.

Nepal wins hearts and minds with biogas boom

 Sunita Bote operates a small biogas plant in her Nepalese village Image: Om Rastha Rai

Sunita Bote tends her own biogas plant in Nepal’s first model biogas village
Image: Om Astha Rai

By Om Astha Rai

Villagers in Nepal are increasingly being persuaded that small biogas installations using human waste to provide fuel are not only desirable but are also helping to reduce deforestation of the Himalayas and carbon emissions. 

KATHMANDU, 2 July, 2014 − Sunita Bote, a 30-year-old housewife from the small village of Kumroj in eastern Nepal, was far from convinced when energy specialists from the capital city, Kathmandu, talked about the benefits of constructing a small biogas plant near her house.

“At first, I shuddered at the thought of connecting my cooking stove with a toilet’s septic tank,” Sunita recalls.

But she was eventually persuaded – and now realises the multiple benefits of the biogas system. The plant not only produces enough energy for cooking for her family of seven, it also gets rid of both human and animal waste.

“It is no longer seems disgusting to me,” Sunita says. “Instead, it has eased my household chores.”

Most of Sunita’s neighbours feel the same way, and Kumroj has now been named by the government as Nepal’s first model biogas village, with more than 80% of households having their own biogas installations.

Frequent blackouts

Nepal, a landlocked country of just over 26 million people, has big energy problems. Its cities and towns, reliant on imported fossil fuels for energy, suffer frequent electricity blackouts due to ageing infrastructure and shortages of funds.

With its mountain ranges and many rivers, there is great potential for hydropower, but tight budgets mean there has as yet been little investment in these big, capital-intensive projects.

However, the energy outlook is slowly changing. Instead of building big hydropower plants, local groups − helped by NGOs and outside funders − are constructing micro hydro projects all over the country. So far, more than 1,000 such plants have been built. There has also been investment in developing solar power.

Meanwhile, thousands of biogas projects are being put in place in backyards and fields throughout the country.

Fuel needs

According to the Alternative Energy Promotion Centre (AEPC), a government agency responsible for promoting renewable energy, there are now more than 300,000 biogas plants providing for the fuel needs of nearly 6% of Nepal’s households.

“At first, people were wary about getting energy from their toilet septic tanks,” says Professor Govinda Pokharel, vice-chairman of the government’s National Planning Commission and, until recently, a director of AEPC.

“In some cases, those who installed biogas plants
were even ostracised by their neighbours”

“It was human faeces that caused the trouble. People, especially those who were not educated and were living in remote villages, were against the idea of using their faeces for cooking food. In some cases, those who installed biogas plants were even ostracised by their neighbours. But attitudes have changed. When animal dung is mixed with human faeces, greater power is generated.”

Traditionally, wood has been the main source of fuel for cooking and heating. But deforestation – with the resulting landslides and floods – has been a big problem.

Trees saved

The Biogas Sector Programme, a Kathmandu-based organisation that promotes the use of biogas, says every biogas plant can save 1.25 trees each year, That means that, due to biogas, nearly 400,000 trees a year throughout the country are saved from being chopped down.

Biogas not only replaces wood for fuel, it can also help reduce carbon emissions. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) calculates that a standard biogas plant saves greenhouse gas emissions of between three and five tons each year, compared with other energy sources such as wood.

The AEPC says that Nepal, through the use of biogas and by not cutting tree cover, is helping to reduce the country’s overall emissions by more than one million tons a year. “It may not be a huge contribution at the global level, but it is not negligible either,” Prof Pokharel says.

There are plans to install at least 26,000 biogas plants around the country each year. “The more we install, the more we save trees,” Prof Pokharel says, “And the saving of each tree is important in combating climate change.” – Climate News Network

• Om Astha Rai is a reporter with Nepalese national newspaper, Republica Daily.

Climate puts US at risk of multi-billion bill

Overheating: US crops such as cotton face a %20 drop in yield Image: Wars via Wikinmedia Commons
Overheated economy: US crops such as cotton face a 20% drop in yield
Image: Wars via Wikimedia Commons

By Alex Kirby

A study of the possible cost of climate change to the US economy warns government and business that billions of dollars could be at risk through damage to property, reduced harvests and workers incapacitated by extreme heat.

LONDON, 29 June, 2014 − The sheer economic cost of climate change to Americans could be far greater than many realise, an influential study says.

The study was commissioned by the Risky Business Project, a research organisation chaired by a bi-partisan panel and supported by several former US Treasury Secretaries.

It expects climate change to have varied impacts across different regions and industries. Rising sea levels, it says, could destroy many billion dollars’ worth of coastal properties by 2050, and warming temperatures, especially in the south, south-west and mid-west, could cut the productivity of people working outdoors by 3%.

Without a change in crops, harvests in these regions could fall by 14%. But further north, in states such as North Dakota and Montana, winter temperatures will probably rise, reducing frost and cold-related deaths and lengthening the growing season for some crops.

Kate Gordon, executive director of the Risky Business Project, said : “We still live in a single integrated national economy, so just because it’s not hot where you are doesn’t mean you won’t feel the heat of climate change.”

Michael Bloomberg, a former mayor of New York, said: “Damages from storms, flooding, and heat waves are already costing local economies billions of dollars. We saw that firsthand in New York City with Hurricane Sandy.

Costs of inaction

“With the oceans rising and the climate changing, the Risky Business report details the costs of inaction in ways that are easy to understand in dollars and cents − and impossible to ignore.”

Hank Paulson, a former Treasury Secretary and co-chair of the Risky Business Project, said the report shows us that “our economy is vulnerable to an overwhelming number of risks from climate change.

“But if we act immediately, we can still avoid most of the worst impacts of climate change and significantly reduce the odds of catastrophic outcomes. But the investments we’re making today will determine our economic future.”

In a section on short-term climate threats, the authors say: “The American economy is already beginning to feel the effects of climate change. These impacts will likely grow materially over the next 5 to 25 years…”

“Just because it’s not hot where you are doesn’t mean
you won’t feel the heat of climate change”

They say there is a 1-in-20 chance of yield losses of more than 20% in corn, wheat, soya and cotton crops over that timespan.

On energy, they say changes in temperature driven by greenhouse gases will probably mean a need to build roughly 200 average coal-fired or natural gas-fired power plants between 2020 and 2045, costing up to $12 billion per year.

Climate impacts, the report says, are unusual because future risks are directly tied to present decisions. By failing to lower greenhouse gas emissions today, decision-makers put in place processes that increase overall risks tomorrow.

By 2050, on present trends, $66bn-$106bn worth of existing coastal property will probably be below sea level nationwide, with $238-$507bn worth by 2100.

By mid-century, the average American will probably see 27 to 50 days over 95°F (35°C) each year − two to more than three times the average annual number of such days seen over the last 30 years. By the end of the century, this number will probably average 45 to 96 days over 95°F each year.

But the study says that the south-west, south-east, and upper mid-west will probably see several months of 95°F days annually.

Human threshold

In the longer term, extreme heat during parts of the year could pass the threshold at which the human body can no longer maintain a normal core temperature without air conditioning. At these times, anyone who has to work outdoors, or without access to air conditioning, will face severe health risks and possible death.

The authors say they hope it will become standard practice for the American business and investment community to factor climate change into its decision-making process. They say: “We are already seeing this response from the agricultural and national security sectors; we are starting to see it from the bond markets and utilities as well.

“But business still tends to respond only to the extent that these risks intersect with core short-term financial and planning decisions.”

And the authors warn the government: “We also know that the private sector does not operate in a vacuum, and that the economy runs most smoothly when government sets a consistent policy and a regulatory framework within which business has the freedom to operate.

“Right now, cities and businesses are scrambling to adapt to a changing climate without sufficient federal government support…” − Climate News Network

Satellite zooms in on crucial carbon questions

 

Data booster: an artist's impression of the OCO-2 satellite in orbit. Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Data booster: an artist’s impression of the OCO-2 satellite in orbit
Image: NASA/JPL-Caltech

By Tim Radford

The ability of scientists to make accurate predictions about future effects of CO2 will be boosted by vital data from a US satellite being launched to take a detailed inventory of the planet’s sinks and sources of carbon.

LONDON, 28 June, 2014 − The US space agency NASA is about to send up a satellite that will provide vital data for predicting future effects of CO2 by taking the measure of the planetary carbon budget.

OCO-2, more formally known as Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2, is planned for launch on July 1 and will circle the globe, taking an inventory of those places on the planet that absorb carbon from the atmosphere (the sinks) and those places that release it into the atmosphere (the sources).

Although the satellite’s acronymic name pleasingly evokes CO2, the carbon dioxide greenhouse gas that is now at higher levels in the atmosphere than at any time in the last 800,000 years, this is pure accident. The first attempt to launch an orbiting carbon observatory came to grief when the satellite failed to separate from the launch rocket. OCO-2 is the second attempt.

Future build-up

“Knowing what parts of Earth are helping to remove carbon from our atmosphere will help us understand whether they can keep on doing so in future,” said the project scientist Michael Gunson, of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. “Quantifying these sinks now will help us predict how fast CO2 will build up in the future.”

Carbon dioxide exists in the atmosphere only in trace amounts: 400 parts per million. But humans are adding 40 billion tons of the gas a year by burning fossil fuel, destroying forests and quarrying lime for cement.

Less than half of this total stays there: the rest is taken up by forests on land and by algae in the oceans. But quite how much, for how long, and how predictably, remains a puzzle.

Climate scientists need to know more about sinks and sources to make more accurate predictions. And governments, planners and foresters need to know more about the ways the forest world absorbs and emits carbon dioxide.

The new satellite will use onboard spectrometers to take hundreds of thousands of measurements every day to answer these complex questions of supply and demand. Researchers are also likely to match the data with other studies of the planet’s changing forests.

Scientists at Ludwig Maximilian University in Munich − where records show that average temperatures have risen by 1.5°C in the last century − have been observing at ground level, to measure changes in the growing season.

There are around 16,000 species in the Munich Botanical Garden, and researchers have measured changes in leaf-out times for 500 species to establish why the characteristic forests of the region are likely to change with warming temperatures. The answer is that some species burst into leaf when daylight reaches a certain number of hours, while some respond to temperature.

This will put central European species − such as beech, which buds when there are 13 hours of daylight, whether the spring has arrived early or not − at a disadvantage. Southern species, which respond instead to rising temperatures, will gain a growing advantage.

Inexorable change

Meanwhile, in the US, foresters have begun to resign themselves to inexorable change in the iconic forests of Minnesota.

A report by the US Forest Service warns that, in the next 100 years, the evergreen white spruce and balsam fir and cool-climate deciduous trees, such as tamarack and quaking aspen, could give way to black cherry, eastern white pine, sugar maple and white oak.

As temperatures rise, researchers expect to see longer growing seasons, increases in heavy precipitation, more flooding and erosion, more drought stress, increasing risks of forest fire, and many more invasive pest species.

“Our assessment gives forest managers in Minnesota the best possible science on the effects of climate change so they can make climate- informed decisions about management today,” said Stephen Handler, the report’s lead author. – Climate News Network

May days’ heat sets up record El Niño

 

Flooding in California during the “El Niño of the century” in 1998 Image: Dave Gatley/FEMA via Wikimedia Commons
Flooding in California during the “El Niño of the century” in 1998
Image: Dave Gatley/FEMA via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford

Scientists believe that soaring global temperatures during an unusually hot month of May may have created the ideal conditions to provide a warm welcome for an El Niño weather phenomenon that will break records

LONDON, 20 June, 2014 − Last month was the third warmest May since NASA satellites began taking the temperature of the planet 35 years ago, and was also the warmest May that did not fall within an El Niño Pacific warming event – which could mean a record-breaking appearance this year by the fearsome “Child”.

Scientists in the US says the global average was 0.33°C warmer than the seasonal norms for the month. The warmest May ever was in 1998 during the “El Niño of the century”, when global average temperatures rose by 0.56°C, and the second warmest at 0.45°C was in 2010, another El Niño year.

So if indications are correct that an El Niño event is taking shape in the Pacific right now off the equatorial coast of South America, then it could become a record-setter − even if it isn’t a very spectacular event − just because it will get a warmer start, according to John Christy, professor of atmospheric science at the University of Alabama in Huntsville, US.

Temperature patterns

An El Niño (Spanish for The Child, because it was first observed by Peruvian fishermen around Christmas) is a shift in the temperature patterns of the Pacific, as a blister of equatorial ocean heat moves eastwards. It is a natural cyclic event that tends to reverse the prevailing Pacific weather patterns, often damagingly, and is not connected with climate change  although its effects could be made worse by climate change.

“The long-term baseline temperature is about three tenths of a degree warmer than it was when the big El Niño of 1997-1998 began, and that event set the one month record,” Christy said. “With the baseline so much warmer, this upcoming El Niño won’t have very far to go to break that 0.66°C record. That isn’t to say it will, but even an average-sized warming event will have a chance to get close to that level.”

Meanwhile, according to new research in Nature Climate Change, people in the northern hemisphere can also expect warmer temperatures in autumn and winter – in spite of last winter’s spectacular ice storms in the US north-east that shut down cities from the Atlantic to the Midwest, and where − to the joy of headline writers − the town of Hell in Michigan froze over.

Extremes of cold

The report’s author, James Screen, Natural Environment Research Council research fellow at the University of Exeter, UK, says that even though there will be extremes of cold, these will be less frequent and less severe. The Arctic is warming, and a study of autumn and winter temperature variations shows that variability in the temperate zone overall has in fact decreased.

“Autumn and winter days are becoming warmer on average, and less variable from day to day,” Dr Screen said. “Both factors reduce the chance of extremely cold days.

“Cold days tend to occur when the wind is blowing from the north, bringing Arctic air south into the mid-latitudes. Because the Arctic air is warming so rapidly, these cold days are now less cold than they were in the past.” – Climate News Network

Help needed now for climate refugees

 

Somalis displaced by drought in 2011 queue to register at a refugee camp in Ethiopia Image: Cate Turton/DFID via Wikimedia Commons
Somalis displaced by drought in 2011 queue at a refugee camp in Ethiopia
Image: Cate Turton/DFID via Wikimedia Commons

By Paul Brown

Governments worldwide are warned of the need to draw up plans urgently to avoid conflict and insecurity by helping populations who are being forced to move because of climate change

 

LONDON, 11 June − Hundreds of thousands of people are already migrating because of climate change, and countries urgently need adaption plans to resettle populations and avoid conflict.

Sea level rise, violent storms and more gradual disasters such as droughts will cause more unplanned mass population movements − either temporary or permanent − and governments need to manage this by planning in advance to protect vulnerable people, says a new report.

The report, by the United Nations University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security, warns that unplanned movements will lead to conflict and insecurity. Governments need to act regionally to anticipate and facilitate the movement of people.

Ideally, for the displaced families, this would mean providing access to land and housing. They would need financial services, health, education, water and sanitation. They would also need jobs and the ability to cover the costs of living and food security.

Move to survive

Economic and environmental factors sometimes combine to cause migration, with people anticipating that they may have to move to survive. This can lead to people moving individually to seek a new life − like many of those currently crossing the Mediterranean to Europe from North Africa − or to whole family groups looking for new lands.

Some countries already faced with voluntary or forced migration because of climate change are involved in relocating populations and are working internationally to find new homes in other countries for their people. This planning allows displaced people to live and work abroad with dignity, rather than be refugees.

An example is Kiribati in the Pacific, where displaced islanders have been trained for new jobs – for example, nursing − in countries such as Australia. Other new jobs include seafaring, teaching and policing. This enables family members to work abroad and support those relatives still at home who want to remain in their islands for as long as possible.

The report studied the national adaption programmes of 50 countries affected by climate change, and which fear that populations will have to move because of climate change. They include low-lying countries such as Bangladesh, a number of Pacific and Caribbean island nations, and dry African countries. The adaptation programmes are available from the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change.

The Nansen Initiative, launched in 2012 by the governments of Norway and Switzerland, is a project designed to study how to help people who are displaced across international borders by the effects of climate change.

The Initiative is in the process of looking at regions particularly affected by climate change that already have problems with migration. These are the Pacific, Central America, the “Greater Horn of Africa”, and South-East Asia and South Asia. The report concludes that all of the Pacific region island countries are already affected by slow and sudden-onset natural hazards, including cyclones, floods and drought.

Dry Corridor

A recent meeting held in Costa Rica heard that, as well as sudden natural disasters, changes in the rainfall pattern have led to what is known as the “Dry Corridor”. Participants discussed the plight of the indigenous people of Kuna, in Panama, where 65,000 individuals were relocated from their low-lying islands to higher ground.

In the Greater Horn of Africa region, climate change is expected to increase the already significant migration of populations caused by droughts and floods. Hundreds of thousands of people were displaced within Somalia or across the borders to Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti during the 2010-2011 droughts.

The report concludes that in addition to finding land, homes and jobs for the newcomers so they can support their families, they need to be made part of the community. Planned relocation efforts should be aimed at integration of the newcomers into existing political structures and giving them some participation in decision making about their own futures. The plight of the old and vulnerable, children and women must be considered.

The need is to avoid conflict within families, with authorities and host communities. Efforts should be made to avoid loss of cultural and spiritual identity and traditional knowledge. This will avoid the need for further migration and displacements.− Climate News Network

El Niño blows hot and cold

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

A mud slide caused devastation in northern California after El Niño strick in 1998 Image: Dave Gatley/FEMA via Wikimedia Commons

Devastation caused by a mud slide after El Niño storms struck northern California  in 1998
Image: Dave Gatley/FEMA via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford

Analysis of historic data about the mysterious El Niño, which periodically unleashes such devastating weather events, reveals that it has a bad local side, an even worse global side − and scientists warn that another storm may be brewing

LONDON, 26 May − El Niño, the mysterious meteorological phenomenon that periodically upsets global weather patterns, bringing catastrophic flooding to the arid lands of North and South America, and forest fires to South-east Asia, turns out to be more complicated than anyone had thought.

Sandra Banholzer and Simon Donner, environmental scientists at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, report in Geophysical Research Letters  that some El Niño events don’t turn up the planetary thermostat, and may even contribute to the apparent and much-debated slowdown in the rates of increase in global warming.

An El Niño – Spanish for “The Child”, and given that name by Peruvian fishermen because they observed it around Christmas – is a blister or bubble of ocean surface heat that migrates from the western Pacific to the east, halting or even reversing the prevailing Pacific trade winds, with disconcerting consequences on both sides of the Pacific and Indian Oceans.

The blister analogy is physical, rather than metaphorical. As ocean temperatures rise, so does the volume, and the sea levels can be 45cms higher than the surrounding, cooler ocean.

Hottest years

But recent studies, say the new report’s two authors, have shown that there may be “different flavours” or types of El Niño. The traditional or eastern equatorial Pacific type is the one that everybody knows about (it made 1998 one of the hottest years ever recorded, and triggered tempests, floods, ice storms, droughts, harvest failures and bushfires around the world). But if an El Niño only gets as far as the central Pacific, it’s a different story, and the effects are more local.

The finding also lends a little extra authority to the forecasts that Australia, which had its hottest ever temperatures in 2013, will see more and worse extremes of heat.

The two authors looked at three sets of data to match long-term changes in global temperatures to the pattern of “hot” and “cold” El Niño events. “Historical analysis,” they say, in the deadpan language of a scientific paper, “indicated that slowdowns in the rate of global warming since the late 1800s may be related to decadal variability in the frequency of different types of El Niño events.”

Meanwhile, Nasa scientists have warned that another traditional El Niño may be on the way. They think so because of data gathered by a satellite called Jason-2, which monitors changes in sea surface height (because pressure, temperature and volume are related, sea surface height becomes another way of taking the ocean’s surface temperature).

“A pattern of sea surface heights and temperatures has formed that reminds me of the way the Pacific looked in the spring of 1997,” says Bill Patzert, of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Pasadena, US. “That turned out to be the precursor of a big El Niño.”

Tentative warning

The warning is tentative because it is based only on ripples of change in sea level travelling across the Pacific from Australia to South America. These are linked to changes in the trade winds, and tend to happen from time to time during the southern hemisphere winter. They normally last only a few days, but if they last for months, then an El Niño develops.

For the moment, there is no certainty that one will develop, and nor is there yet any indication of the knock-on effects on global weather patterns.

But although the phenomenon has nothing to do with global warming – it happens anyway, and climatologists have traced evidence of El Niño events back for more than 2000 years – global warming may have something to do with it.

In January, Australian scientists warned that rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere could increase the frequency of the most severe El Niño events. – Climate News Network

Migrating cyclones pose new threat

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

A washed out section of New York's Rockwell subway track after Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012 Image: Leonard Wiggins/MTA New York City Transit via Wikimedia Commons

Washed out track on New York’s Rockaway subway line after Hurricane Sandy hit in 2012
Image: Leonard Wiggins/MTA New York City Transit via Wikimedia Commons

By Tim Radford

The world’s most destructive storms are on the move – putting at risk coastal areas that would not expect to be hit by violent hurricanes or typhoons.

LONDON, 20 May − Tropical cyclones – hurricanes in the Caribbean, typhoons in the South China Sea – are moving further north and south, threatening to create new havoc in unsuspecting coastal areas.

New research published in the journal Nature reveals that, on average, the storms have been migrating towards the poles at the rate of 53 kilometres a decade in the northern hemisphere, and 62 kilometres in the southern.

This means that landfalls that in the past that would not have expected violent storms will become increasingly at risk − “with obvious effects on coastal residents and infrastructure”, the paper says.

Jim Kossin, an atmospheric research scientist at the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and colleagues looked at data for the last 30 years and measured the latitudes as which storms reached their peak intensity. They found an uneven but measurable shift of around half a degree of latitude every 10 years.

The news makes sense, as researchers have previously identified a steady “expansion” of the tropics as a result of global warming.

More hostile

“We’ve identified changes in the environment in which the deep tropics have become more hostile to the formation and intensification of tropical cyclones, and the higher latitudes have become less hostile,” Dr Kossin said. “This seems to be driving the poleward migration of storm intensity.”

Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and co-author of the report, said: “The trend is statistically significant at a pretty high level.”

Another of the report’s authors, Gabriel Vecchi, also of NOAA, said: “Now we see this clear trend, it is crucial that we understand what caused it – so we can understand what is likely to occur in the years and decades to come.”

There seems to be an ideal ocean surface temperature of between 28°C and 30°C at which tropical cyclones are most likely to happen. As temperate seas begin to warm, the hazard zone widens.

Not prepared

The superstorm Hurricane Sandy, which devastated New York in 2012, slammed into a coast not prepared either for the force of the wind or for the storm surge that washed through the coastal structures.

But storms are capricious, and notoriously hard to map accurately, so the researchers decided that the surest guide to any pattern of migration would be the latitude at the point of maximum intensity.

They identified regional differences, but found that every ocean basin except the northern Indian Ocean had experienced such a change. Changes in vertical wind shear – which plays a role in cyclone formation – may be involved.

The incidence of cyclones in the tropics actually fell between 1982 and 2012. The suspicion is that although tropical cyclones may become more intense in a warmer climate, it may also be harder to generate them. – Climate News Network