California rains bring little relief from harsh drought

California rains bring little relief from harsh drought

Unless substantial rain falls soon, California’s worst drought on record threatens dire consequences for the state’s massive agricultural industry.

DAVIS, CALIFORNIA, 29 January, 2015 − Doing the right thing in the environs of the University of California, Davis – one of the foremost agricultural institutions in the US – means driving a carbon efficient car. And having a lawn that’s burned dry.

California’s worst drought on record is forcing people to cut back radically on water use – and that means letting lawns die. There was considerable rainfall last month, but it was not nearly enough to replenish the badly-depleted water resources.

“If we don’t have rain in significant amounts by early March, we’ll be in dire straits,” says Professor Daniel Sumner, director of the Agricultural Issues Center at Davis.

Water restrictions

Higher than average temperatures – particularly during the winter months – have combined with a lack of rainfall to produce severe drought conditions across much of the state. Water restrictions have been brought in following the imposition of a drought emergency in January last year.

“Historically, California’s water has been stored in the snow pack in the mountains, but warmer winter temperatures have meant the pack has been melting.” Sumner says.

“The agricultural sector has made considerable advances in limiting water use, and new, more drought resistant, crops and plant varieties have been introduced, but aquifers have been pumped and they are not being replenished.

“In the past, massive projects were undertaken to distribute water round the state, but now there’s not the money available to do any more big-time plumbing work. Also, the regulations on diverting water for agriculture use are very tight – rivers can’t be pumped if it means endangering fish stocks or other wildlife.”

“California is still growing – and exporting – rice, which is a real water drinker. How crazy is that?”

Whether or not climate change is causing the drought is a matter of considerable debate. A recent report sponsored by the US government’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says natural oceanic and atmospheric patterns are the primary drivers behind the drought.

A high pressure ridge that has hovered over the Pacific off California’s coast for the past three years has resulted in higher temperatures and little rainfall falling across the state, the report says.

However, a separate report by climate scientists at Stanford University says the existence of the high pressure ridge, which is preventing rains falling over California, is made much more likely by ever greater accumulations of climate-changing greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere.

Whatever the cause of the drought, the lack of rain is doing considerable environmental and economic damage. The Public Policy Institute of California, a not-for-profit thinktank, estimates that $2.2 billion in agricultural revenues and more than 17,000 jobs have been lost as a result of the drought.

Severely depleted

Thousands of acres of woodland have been lost due to wildfires, while fisheries experts are concerned that severely depleted streams and rivers could lead to the disappearance of fish species in the area, such as coho salmon and steelhead trout.

The drought is not limited to California. Adjacent states are also affected, and over the US border to the south, in Mexico’s Chihuahua state, crops have been devastated and 400,000 cattle have died.

Frank Green, a vineyard owner in the hills of Mendocino County, northern California, says: “The vines are pretty robust and, despite the drought, our wines have been some of the best ever over the past two years.

“But there’s no doubt we need a lot more rain, and plenty more could be done on saving and harvesting water. Farmers have cut back on growing water-hungry crops like cotton, but California is still growing – and exporting – rice, which is a real water drinker. How crazy is that?” – Climate News Network

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Climate’s threat to wheat is rising by degrees

Climate’s threat to wheat is rising by degrees

Worldwide field trials show that just one degree of warming could slash wheat yields by 42 million tonnes and cause devastating shortages of this vital staple food.

LONDON, 17 January, 2015 − Climate change threatens dramatic price fluctuations in the price of wheat and potential civil unrest because yields of one of the world’s most important staple foods are badly affected by temperature rise.

An international consortium of scientists have been testing wheat crops in laboratory and field trials in many areas of the world in changing climate conditions and discovered that yields drop on average by six percent for every one degree Celsius rise in temperature.

This represents 42 million tonnes of wheat lost − about a quarter of the current global wheat trade − for every degree. This would create serious shortages and cause price hikes of the kind that have previously caused food riots in developing countries after only one bad harvest.

Global production of wheat was 701 million tonnes in 2012, but most of this is consumed locally. Global trade is much smaller, at 147 tonnes in 2013.

Market shortages

If the predicted reduction of 42 million tonnes per 1˚C of temperature increase occurred, market shortages would cause price rises. Many developing countries, and the hungry poor within them, would not be able to afford wheat or bread.

Since temperatures − on current projections by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change − are expected to rise up to 5˚C this century in many wheat-growing regions, this could be catastrophic for global food supply.

Dr. Reimund Rötter, professor of production ecology and agrosystems modelling at the Natural Resources Institute Finland, said that wheat yield declines were larger than previously thought.

“Increased yield variability is critical economically as it could weaken regional and global stability in wheat grain supply and food security”

He said: “Increased yield variability is critical economically as it could weaken regional and global stability in wheat grain supply and food security, amplifying market and price fluctuations, as experienced during recent years.”

One of the crucial problems is that there will be variability in supply from year to year, so the researchers systematically tested 30 different wheat crop models against field experiments in which growing season mean temperatures ranged from 15°C to 26°C.

Temperature impact

The temperature impact on yield decline varied widely across field test conditions. In addition, year-to-year variability increased at some locations because of greater yield reductions in warmer years and lesser reductions in cooler years.

The scientists say that the way to adapt is to cultivate more heat-tolerant varieties, and so keep the harvest stable.

The results of the study − by scientists from the Finland, Germany, France, Denmark, Netherlands, Spain, United Kingdom, Colombia, Mexico, India, China, Australia, Canada and the United States − are published in Nature Climate Change.

Professor Martin Parry, who is leading the 20:20 Wheat Institute Strategic Programme at Rothamsted Research to increase wheat yields, commented: “This is an excellent example of collaborative research, which will help ensure that we have the knowledge needed to develop the crops for the future environments.” – Climate News Network

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The world we are shaping is feeling the strain

The world we are shaping is feeling the strain

The world risks being destabilised by human activity, scientists report, most of it the work of a rich minority of us.

LONDON, 16 January, 2015 – Humans are now the chief drivers of change in the planet’s physical, chemical, biological and economic systems according to new research in a series of journals. And the humans most implicated in this change so far are the 18% of mankind that accounts for 74% of gross domestic productivity.

And the indicators of this change – dubbed the “planetary dashboard” – are 24 sets of measurements that record the acceleration of the carbon cycle, land use, fisheries, telecommunications, energy consumption, population, economic growth, transport, water use and many other interlinked aspects of what scientists think of as the Earth System.

Although these indicators chart change since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 18th century, the most dramatic acceleration – the scientists call it the Great Acceleration – seems to have begun in 1950. Some researchers would like to set that decade as the start of a new geological epoch, the Anthropocene, from Anthropos, the ancient Greek word for mankind.

On the eve of this year’s World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, a team of scientists led by Will Steffen of the Stockholm Resilience Centre at Stockholm University and the Australian National University report in the journal Science that the world has now crossed four of nine planetary boundaries within which humans could have hoped for a safe operating space.

The four boundaries are climate change, land system change, alterations to the biogeochemical cycle that follow phosphorus and nitrogen fertiliser use, and the loss of a condition called “biosphere integrity”.

Past their peak

The scientists judge that these boundary-crossing advances mean that both present and future human society are in danger of destabilising the Earth System, a complex interaction of land, sea, atmosphere, the icecaps, natural living things and humans themselves.

“Transgressing a boundary increases the risk that human activities could inadvertently drive the Earth System into a much less hospitable state, damaging efforts to reduce poverty and leading to deterioration of human wellbeing in many parts of the world, including wealthy countries”, said Professor Steffen. “In this new analysis we have improved the quantification of where these risks lie.”

The Science article is supported by separate studies of global change. These were backed by the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme, also headquartered in Stockholm, which publishes an analysis in the journal the Anthropocene Review.

Meanwhile a team of European scientists warn in the journal Ecology and Society that out of 20 renewable resources (among them the maize, wheat, rice, soya, fish, meat, milk and eggs that feed the world) 18 have already passed their peak production.

And a separate team led by scientists from Leicester University in Britain has even tried to pinpoint the day on which the Anthropocene era may be said to have commenced. In yet another journal, the Quaternary International, they nominate 16 July, 1945: the day of the world’s first nuclear test.

Unequal world

This flurry of research and review is of course timed to help world leaders at Davos concentrate on the longer-term problems of climate change, environmental degradation, and food security, in addition to immediate problems of economic stagnation, poverty, conflict and so on. But these immediate challenges may not be separable from the longer-term ones. To ram the message home, the authors will present their findings at seven seminars in Davos.

In the Anthropocene Review, Professor Steffen and his co-authors consider not just the strains on the planet’s resources that threaten stability, but also that section of humanity that is responsible for most of the strain.

Although the human burden of population has soared from 2.5bn to more than 7bn in one lifetime, in 2010, the scientists say, the OECD countries that are home to 18% of the world’s population accounted for 74% of global gross domestic product, so most of the human imprint on the Earth System comes from the world represented by the OECD.

This, they say, points to the profound scale of global inequality, which means that the benefits of the so-called Great Acceleration in consumption of resources are unevenly distributed, and this in turn confounds efforts to deal with the impact of this assault on the planetary machinery. Humans have always altered their environment, they concede, but now the scale of the alteration is, in its rate and magnitude, without precedent.

“Furthermore, by treating ‘humans’ as a single, monolithic whole, it ignores the fact that the Great Acceleration has, until very recently, been almost entirely driven by a small fraction of the human population, those in developed countries”, they say.

“…What surprised us was the timing. Almost all graphs show the same pattern. The most dramatic shifts have occurred since 1950”

The IGBP-Stockholm Resilience Centre co-operation first identified their 24 “indicators” of planetary change in 2004, and the latest research is a revisitation. In 2009, researchers identified nine global priorities linked to human impacts on the environment, and identified two, ­ climate change and the integrity of the biosphere, ­ that were vital to the human condition. Any alteration to either could drive the Earth System into a new state, they said.

In fact, since then, greenhouse gas emissions have continued to rise, and accordingly global average temperatures have steadily increased, along with sea levels. At the same time, habitat destruction, pollution and hunting and fishing have begun to drive species to extinction at an accelerating rate.

Almost all the charts that make up the planetary dashboard now show steep acceleration: fisheries, one of the indicators that seems to have levelled off, has probably done so only because humans may have already exhausted some of the ocean’s resources.

“It is difficult to over-estimate the scale and speed of change. In a single human lifetime humanity has become a planetary-scale geological force”, said Prof Steffen. “When we first aggregated these datasets we expected to see major changes, but what surprised us was the timing. Almost all graphs show the same pattern.

“The most dramatic shifts have occurred since 1950. We can say that 1950 was the start of the Great Acceleration. After 1950 you can see that major Earth System changes became directly linked to changes related to the global economic system. This is a new phenomenon and indicates that humanity has a new responsibility at a global level for the planet.” ­­­­–­ Climate News Network

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Climate confounds China’s efforts to ease water stress

Climate confounds China’s efforts to ease water stress

Researchers say attempts to solve China’s water crisis − already worsening through population growth, a rampant economy and climate change – are having the opposite effect.

LONDON, 14 January, 2015 − China, the world’s most populous nation, faces one of the planet’s most intractable water crises. And scientists say Beijing’s strategy for resolving the problem is simply making it worse.

A team of international researchers say that water stress is only partially mitigated by China’s current two-pronged approach: transferring water physically to regions that are short of it − for example, by the huge projects to transfer water from the south to the north of the country − and exporting the “virtual” water embodied in products traded domestically and internationally.

China needs more water for energy, food and industry, for its rising population, and for its attempts to end poverty.

But maintaining even current levels of provision is becoming increasingly difficult as climate change lives up to its dire reputation as a threat multiplier and endangers water and food supplies.

Full inventory

Researchers at the UK universities of East Anglia (UEA) and Leeds and other international institutions have compiled the first full inventory of physical water transfers and virtual water redistribution via trade between China’s provinces. Their findings are published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

They say the efforts to supply northern China are exacerbating water stress in its poorer water-exporting regions, with transfers of virtual water − defined as the total volume of water needed to produce and process a commodity or service − accounting for more than a third of the country’s national water supply.

Up to 65% of the supply in some provinces is reserved for virtual water redistribution, to be used for infrastructure and for producing exports.

Until China significantly improves its water-use efficiency and addresses the impact its expanding economy is having on its natural resources, the situation will continue to deteriorate, the team concludes.

“China’s current transfer programme is pouring good water after bad . . . and the provinces sharing their water are suffering greatly”

The research −  led by China’s Beijing Forestry University, UEA and Leeds universities, and the University of Maryland in the US − analyses data from 2007 and looks ahead to China’s water distribution plans in 2030. It finds that water stress is likely to become more severe in the main water-exporting provinces.

Dabo Guan, professor of climate change economics at UEA’s School of International Development, said: “China needs to shift its focus to water demand management instead of a supply-oriented approach if it is going to seriously address the overwhelming pressures on its water supplies.

“China’s current transfer programme is pouring good water after bad. The problems of water-stressed regions aren’t being alleviated, and the provinces sharing their water are suffering greatly.”

Guan and colleague Martin Tillotson, professor of water management at Leeds University, published research in 2014 showing that 75% of China’s lakes and rivers and 50% of its groundwater supplies are contaminated as a result of urban household consumption, infrastructure investment and exports.

Increased demand

Professor Tillotson said: “Even allowing for future efficiency gains in agricultural and industrial water consumption, China’s water transfers are likely to be insufficient to offset increased demand due to the effects of economic and population growth.

“A much greater focus needs to be placed on regulating or incentivising reductions in demand-led consumption.”

China aims to remain about 95% self-sufficient in food, but imports more than 60% of its oil and nearly 50% of its natural gas. Some senior officials argue that it should increase food imports so as to be able to use more of its water for producing energy.

But some of China’s neighbours and traditional suppliers are themselves facing growing problems from climate change, with several countries in south-east Asia contemplating a “shocking” future.

Some observers think that China’s growing demand for grain imports may even strain global supplies. − Climate News Network

 

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Aid aims to help rice farmers in a warming world

Aid aims to help rice farmers in a warming world

International team provides help to small-scale farmers on the eastern Ganges plains who are struggling to make a living and grow enough rice to feed the population.

KATHMANDU, 12 January, 2015 − Research scientists are coming to the aid of 300 million people along the River Ganges for whom rice is the staple food and who face a hungry future because productivity is poor and the harvest is threatened by climate change.

The team of scientists and development practitioners from Australia, Bangladesh, India and Nepal plan to improve the productivity, profitability and sustainability of 7,000 small-scale farmers in the eastern Gangetic plains with a five-year US$ 6.7 million programme.

According to Nepal’s Ministry for Agriculture Development, 66 per cent of Nepal’s total population of almost 27 million is involved in agriculture and contributes 39 per cent in the GDP. Local scientists say that lack of access to climate-resilient technologies and dependency on monsoon rains for irrigation are major problems for farmers in Nepal.

Food security

“Nepal is one of the most vulnerable countries to projected climate change effect, so the project will help small-scale farmers address pressing issues about their livelihood and food security,” Devendra Gauchan, senior scientist at Nepal Agricultural Research Council, told the Climate News Network.

Altogether, the eastern Gangetic plains of Nepal, Bangladesh and India are home to 300 million people. The aid team, funded by the Australian government, aim to help rice farmers systems through efficient use of water and conserving resources to improve adaptation to climate change, and also connect them to new markets.

The Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) will manage the programme, which will be led by the International Wheat and Maize Improvement Centre in eight districts − two in north-west Bangladesh, two in east Nepal, and two each in the Indian states of Bihar and West Bengal.

“Nepal is one of the most vulnerable countries to projected climate change effect”

“Rice-based system productivity [in the eastern Gangetic plains] remains low, and diversification is limited because of poorly-developed markets, sparse agricultural knowledge and service networks, and inadequate development of available water resources,” says Kuhu Chatterjee, South Asia regional manager of ACIAR.

The project was designed in consultation and participation with NARC, the Bangladesh Agricultural Research Council, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, and agricultural universities in India.

New technologies

Local scientists feel that this project will also help build capacity of researchers in Nepal. Devendra Gauchan said: “Agricultural research in Nepal has very limited strength in terms of human resource, infrastructure facility and institutional capacity. Through this project we will get to learn about new technologies and research management from scientists from participating countries.”

According to Kuhu Chatterjee, the project will test and fine-tune the technologies developed in countries such as Australia, Canada and Brazil, and will modify them to suit farmers in the eastern Gangetic plains.

“Community consultations will be conducted to identify different ways to optimise the productive use of rain and irrigation water, increase cropping intensity through timely planting, reduced tillage and enhancing access to, and use of, energy-efficient irrigation technologies,” Chatterjee said. – Climate News Network

  • Bhrikuti Rai, a journalist based in Kathmandu, Nepal, writes on climate change, science and development issues. Follow her on Twitter @bbhrikuti

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Migration merits place at heart of climate debate

Migration merits place at heart of climate debate

Forecasts indicate that many millions of people may be forced to leave their homes in future due to changes in climate, yet this serious issue remains sidelined.

LONDON, 23 December, 2014 − Among all the statistics about temperature increase, polar melting and sea level rise associated with a warming world, the impact on hundreds of millions of people forced to leave their homes due to climate change is often not fully considered.

But the International Organization for Migration (IOM), an intergovernmental body set up in the early 1950s to help resettle an estimated 11 million people made homeless in the aftermath of World War Two, is making new efforts to put questions of migration at the centre of the climate change debate.

Forecasts for the number of people who will be forced to move due to climate change vary considerably. At the top end of the scale, there are estimates that up to one billion environmental migrants could be created by mid-century.

The IOM is trying to bring together the various data and research on migration and climate change to better understand the issue, and has recently launched a website dedicated to the topic.

Environmental factors

As part of a new research programme, IOM will initially examine how environmental factors influence migration patterns – and impact on overall policy making – in six countries: Vietnam, Papua New Guinea, Kenya, Mauritius, the Dominican Republic, and Haiti.

The link between environmental change and migration is complex. Better educational possibilities elsewhere – or the lure of jobs and wages – are often primary reasons for people leaving their homes. Often changes in climate – leading to floods or droughts, and resulting in decreasing crop yields – are just one added factor driving migration.

Migration can be one way people find of adapting to climate change. The IOM says: “Migration in the face of global environmental change may not be just part of the ‘problem’, but can also be part of the solution.”

The six-country study, funded by the European Union, will involve household surveys in places of origin and of destination. The aim is to determine to what degree climate change encourages migration, and also to assess whether migration is a positive or negative factor in the adaptation process.

Remittances to families left at home might be used to build more resilience to climate change – for example, money sent back to villages might be used to buy seeds that are more resistant to drought or flood. On the other hand, migration can mean that farms are left untended, with fewer crops harvested.

The headlines often portray migration in terms of large movements of people across borders, but the bulk of migration takes place within countries – from rural to urban areas. More than 50% of the world’s population now lives in cities.

“It is evident that gradual and sudden environmental changes are already resulting in substantial population movements”

Environmental migration can be slow to build up as land becomes degraded, soil fertility decreases and water availability shrinks.

But migration can also happen over a relatively short period of time. In China, in a little more than a generation, more than 250 million people have moved from the countryside to cities − mainly in search of work − in what is the biggest mass movement of people in history.

The IOM seeks to integrate climate change factors into migration management and policy making – and wants greater consideration of migration in climate change negotiations.

Legal status

Among the questions it is raising is how environmental migrants should be classified under international law – and whether they should be given the same legal status as, for example, refugees from conflicts and war.

Back in 1990, when the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change made its first detailed assessment of the threat posed by global warming, it said: “The gravest effects of climate change may be those on human migration.”

Over time, a lack of research and absence of data on issues linking climate change with the movement of people has meant that the topic has become sidelined in successive climate negotiations.

Among the projects the IOM has been working on is an Atlas of Environmental Migration.

“There are no reliable estimates of climate change-induced migration,” the IOM says. “But it is evident that gradual and sudden environmental changes are already resulting in substantial population movements.” – Climate News Network

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Climate’s impact on agriculture could lead to calamity

Climate’s impact on agriculture could lead to calamity

Widespread hunger and poverty are predicted unless strategies are developed to cope with the drop in crop yields climate change will cause.

LONDON, 22 December, 2014 – New research predicts that climate change will transform agriculture, with a drop in yields of up to 18% by 2050 in terms of calories harvested. By then, the global population will have risen by more than 18%, so the consequences could be calamitous.

That’s the worst projected outcome. By the same date, the researchers say, yields in terms of calories could have risen by 3%, but that would still mean widespread hunger and poverty.

The difference in projected outcomes may say more about the sheer complexity of global agriculture and the uncertainties of the future than anything else.

David Leclère, a researcher at the International Institute for Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria, and colleagues report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they used computer simulations to explore nine different climate scenarios and their impact on 18 selected crops and four crop management systems.

Human adaptations

They also factored in human adaptations that might be necessary, chief among them being new management systems for water and for irrigation.

Also explored were the benefits of a warmer world − some temperate regions will certainly become more productive – as well as the fertilisation effect of increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

They had to balance these against the expectation of extremes of heat, which can affect yield, and the overall change in rainfall patterns expected with climate change.

This is already having an effect on productivity, they say, and things will get worse.

“The challenge we face is to find a strategy that fits a hundred scenarios at the same time”

“Yields of major crops will decrease in low latitude areas even under a local increase in temperature below 2°C, and worldwide losses are expected for larger temperature increases,” the study warns. “This will precipitate significant adjustments throughout the global food supply chain.”

In a large part of the world, demand for irrigation may grow by as much as 25%.

Since, over the centuries, agriculture has been adapted very precisely to local climate patterns, and since climate models aren’t precise enough to predict quite where precipitation will change, there is still a great deal of uncertainty.

The new research explores this uncertainty, and how humans and their economies will cope.

“Our new study is the first to examine at a global scale whether the adaptations required from agricultural systems are in the transformational range, and whether these transformations are robust across certain plausible scenarios,” says Dr Leclère.

Transformations

“By looking at where, when, why and which transformations are required, but also in how many scenarios, it lays the groundwork for countries to better plan for the impacts of climate change.”

Agriculture has always adapted. How well it can adapt to global climate change depends not just on temperature and rainfall and the choice of crops, but also on international trade and on the decisions governments may take.

Computer models are a way of helping analysts think about a choice of possible outcomes, across a wide range of cultures and climates.

“Our models show that there is an effective global adaptation strategy to any single climate change scenario,” says Petr Havlik, an IIASA researcher, who is one of the report’s authors.

“The challenge we face is to find a strategy that fits a hundred scenarios at the same time.” – Climate News Network

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Plea for South Asia to unite in fight against climate risks

Plea for South Asia to unite in fight against climate risks

South Asia, one of the world’s most populous and disaster-prone regions, faces dire impacts from climate change. So why are its nations not working together to tackle the many shared threats they face?

LIMA, 8 December, 2014 − The countries of South Asia need to stand together in their efforts to push for more finance from the developed world to help them adapt to and mitigate the impacts of climate change,  a prominent regional expert says.

Saleemul Huq, from Bangladesh, a lead negotiator for the group of Least Developed Countries told a fringe meeting at the UN climate change conference in Lima, Peru, that South Asia countries face a range of climate-related events.

“Countries in the region must co-ordinate climate action to cope with adverse climate impacts, such as flash floods, forest fires, cyclones, migration and sea-level rise.” said Huq, senior fellow in the Climate Change Group at the International Institute for Environment and Development.

The South Asia region is home to more than one-fifth of the globe’s population, but is also regarded as one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world, Huq told delegates.

Substantial rise

Temperature projections for the region for the 21st century indicate a substantial rise in warming, with recent modelling showing that the warming would be particularly significant in the high Himalayas, on the Tibetan Plateau, and across arid regions of Asia.

“Extreme weather events are also forecast across the region” said Huq. “This is likely to include an increase in the interannual variability of precipitation during the Asian summer monsoon period.”

In turn, Huq said, this will negatively impact on crop yields throughout the region, as already crops in many areas are already being grown at close to their temperature tolerance threshold.

In its latest assessment, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identified the South Asia region as one of the areas most vulnerable to warming.

“Developing states have to have technical support in order to hammer out their climate adaptation plans”

In the high Himalayas and on the Tibetan Plateau, rates of glacial melting are increasing. The incidence of flooding is likely to grow, although there is the possibility, over the long term, of drought affecting billions of people in one of the most densely-populated areas on Earth.

Co-operation between the region’s countries on climate change is minimal. Pakistan and India, for example, remain deeply suspicious of each other, and data on such key issues as river flows and erosion rates are classified as state secrets.

China and India are competing for water resources, and large-scale dam building programmes in both countries are creating environmental tensions in the region.

Competing interests

Less powerful countries in the area – such as Bangladesh and Nepal – are squeezed between the competing interests of their powerful neighbours.

Harjeet Singh, a New Delhi-based representative of the Action Aid  charity, told delegates that South Asian countries must use their combined influence to pressure world leaders to reach a legally-binding climate agreement in 2015.

Singh told the Climate News Network that a new agreement was a matter of urgency, and  that developed countries must also fulfill their commitments to help developing countries with adaptation measures.

Manjeet Dhakal, a director of the Clean Energy Nepal research organisation, said a new agreement must address the needs of the vulnerable. “The regional countries and other developing states,” he said, “have to have technical support in order to hammer out their climate adaptation plans. They also need the financial support to put those plans into action.” – Climate News Network

  • Saleem Shaikh is a freelance climate change and science journalist based in Islamabad, Pakistan.

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Climate turbulence deals costly blow to olive oil yield

Climate turbulence deals costly blow to olive oil yield

Worldwide consumption of olive oil has grown rapidly in recent years, but climate extremes and disease have seriously damaged this year’s crop in many regions and pushed prices up.

LONDON, 2 December, 2014 − Attention all those cooks who cannot produce a meal without adding a splash or drizzle of olive oil. The price of your favourite culinary ingredient is rising fast – driven in large part by changes in climate.

Spain accounts for nearly 50% of total world olive oil production, but an unusually warm spring this year caused damage to olive trees during their flowering period. Then a prolonged drought hit many regions − including the southern province of Andalucía, which produces 70% of Spain’s crop. As a result, this year’s harvest is predicted to be half that of 2013.

In Italy, which has 15% of world production, a mild winter and warm spring was followed in summer by cloudbursts of torrential rain in many areas. Farmers and processors are describing 2014 as the worst year for olive oil production in living memory, with overall yields down by nearly 40%.

Trees blighted

The warm spring and generally humid conditions in Italy are also believed to have encouraged the spread of the Xylella fastidiosa pathogen – which blights trees, causing them to wilt and shed their leaves – and given rise to infestations of the olive fruit fly, Bactrocera oleae

Both have devastated crops in many areas, and autumn hail storms have added to the woes of Italy’s olive oil producers.

Olive farmers in southern France, northern Africa and other olive oil producing regions round the Mediterranean Basin have faced similar problems.

Producers are now predicting a big hike in olive oil prices worldwide − in some markets, prices have gone up by 30%.

The destructive olive fruit fly, Bactrocera oleae. Image: Alvesgaspar via Wikimedia Commons
The destructive olive fruit fly.
Alvesgaspar via Wikimedia Commons

In its latest assessment report on global climate, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned of the impact of increasing temperatures in the Mediterranean Basin region, with the possibility of more droughts and increasing desertification.

Such warming has serious implications for a region that is a world leader in the production not only of olives, but also a wide range of other crops.

Worldwide consumption of olive oil has risen sharply over the last 20 years, with consumers rushing to buy a product that is not only a tasty addition to various dishes but is also believed to be good for the health.

Large plantations

To meet demand, farmers and large agricultural corporations around the Mediterranean region have rushed to grub out old, often terraced, rain-fed olive groves, replacing them with large plantations of olive tree monoculture.

These newly-planted areas, particularly in southern Spain, are fed by water that is often piped in from hundreds of miles away. When there’s a drought – or when disease or pests strike – the large plantations are vulnerable.

Olive oil production is very much an up and down business. A bumper crop in the Mediterranean region in 2013 is believed to have contributed to this year’s downturn: trees are tired after over producing last year.

But the outlook is not good. As temperatures rise in southern Europe and around the Mediterranean, olive oil production will come under increasing pressure – and prices will continue their upward trend, hitting the pockets of all those keen cooks. – Climate News Network

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Weather extremes will be the norm as world warms

Weather extremes will be the norm as world warms

The World Bank says the Earth is on an unavoidable path towards a 1.5˚C heat rise by mid-century – but it could reach 4˚C by 2100 unless immediate action is taken to avoid dire impacts for millions of people.

LONDON, 26 November, 2014 − As the planet continues to warm, heat waves and other weather extremes that happen perhaps once in hundreds of years − if ever − would become the “new climate normal”, a World Bank report says.

The consequences for development would be severe: failing harvests, shifting water resources, rising sea-levels, and millions of people’s livelihoods put at risk.

The World Bank report, the third in its Turn Down the Heat series, says even very ambitious mitigation action taken today will not stop global average temperatures reaching about 1.5˚C above their pre-industrial level by the middle of this century. They are already 0.8˚C higher, and likely − on present trends − to reach about 4˚C by 2100.

Poor and vulnerable

“Today’s report confirms what scientists have been saying – past emissions have set an unavoidable course to warming over the next two decades, which will affect the world’s poorest and most vulnerable people the most,” said Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank Group.

“We’re already seeing record-breaking temperatures occurring more frequently, rainfall increasing in intensity in some places, and drought-prone regions like the Mediterranean becoming drier. These changes make it more difficult to reduce poverty. . . They also have serious consequences for development budgets.”

“Tackling climate change is a matter of reason,
but also of justice”

The report was prepared for the Bank by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), and the UK independent thinktank, the Overseas Development Institute.

The report’s lead author, Professor Hans Joachim Schellnhuber, director of PIK, said: “Tackling climate change is a matter of reason, but also of justice. Global warming impacts in the next decades are likely to hit those hardest that contributed least to global greenhouse gas emissions: the global poor.”

Chain of impacts

Dr Bill Hare, founder and CEO of the Berlin-based not-for-profit organisation, Climate Analytics, is another lead author of the report. He said: “Assessing the entire chain of climate impacts − for example, how heat waves trigger crop yield declines, and how those trigger health impacts − is key to understanding the risks that climate change poses to development.”

Many of the worst projected impacts can still be avoided by holding warming below 2˚C, the report says. It analyses the probable impacts of 0.8˚C, 2˚C and 4˚C of extra heat on agricultural production, water resources, ecosystem services and coastal vulnerability across Latin America and the Caribbean, the Middle East and North Africa, and parts of Europe and Central Asia.

A common threat across the three regions is the risk posed by heat extremes. State-of-the-art climate modelling shows that “highly unusual” extremes − similar to the heat waves in the US in 2012 and in Russia and Central Asia in 2010 − would increase rapidly under a 4˚C emission pathway. It also shows that the risks of reduced crop yields and production losses increase significantly above 1.5˚C to 2˚C.

Key findings across the regions include:

  • Latin America and the Caribbean: Heat extremes and changing rainfall will damage harvests, water supplies and biodiversity. In Brazil, without further adaptation, crop yields could decrease by 2050 by up to 70% for soya and 50% for wheat with 2˚C of warming. Ocean acidification, sea level rise, cyclones and temperature changes will affect coastal livelihoods, tourism, health, food and water security, particularly in the Caribbean.
  • Middle East and North Africa: A large increase in heat waves, combined with warmer average temperatures, will put intense pressure on already scarce water resources, seriously affecting human consumption and regional food security. In Jordan, Egypt, and Libya, harvests could fall by up to 30% with 1.5˚ to 2˚C warming by 2050. Migration and climate-related pressure on resources may increase the risk of conflict.
  • Western Balkans and Central Asia: Melting glaciers and shifts in the timing of water flows will lead to less water resources in summer months and high risks of torrential floods in Central Asia. In the Balkans, a higher drought risk will affect harvests, urban health and energy generation. In Macedonia, yield losses are projected of up to 50% for maize, wheat, vegetables and grapes at 2˚C warming by 2050.

The report adds that forest damage and thawing permafrost in northern Russia could release carbon and methane. With 2˚C warming by 2050, methane emissions could increase by 20% to 30% across Russia. − Climate News Network

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