Insurance Companies Not Ignoring Climate Change

Climate Change Risks Spark New Types Of Insurance Policies

Coral reefs, mangroves and even some fish could soon have their own insurance policies as the industry seeks new ways to boost protection for those affected by the ocean changes wrought by climate change.

Warmer sea temperatures have led to more intense storms in the Atlantic Ocean, contributing to $320 billion in disaster losses from weather and climate-related events last year, according to the World Meteorological Organization. Only about a quarter of these were insured.

climate change and extreme weather

But despite high payouts, industry experts speaking at the Ocean Risk Summit in reinsurance hub Bermuda said so-called “ocean risk” – which encompasses storms and hurricanes as well as marine diseases and declines in fish stocks – can present opportunities for insurers if the risks are modeled correctly.

One way to increase coverage is to devise new financial instruments to insure “green infrastructure” – such as coral reefs, mangroves and salt marshes that act as natural barriers against storms and can reduce devastating losses on land.

“There is a new role for insurance companies in the context of development strategies for countries most vulnerable to ocean risk,” said Falk Niehörster, director of Climate Risk Innovations, a risk management consultancy.

Niehörster has urged the creation of new insurance products to cover the $1.5 trillion global “blue economy” including fisheries, marine transport and other sectors.

Mark Way, a former reinsurance official who helped Swiss Re implement a policy for dozens of kilometers of coral reef and beach in Mexico this year – a world first – said his charity was inundated with calls from other insurers after the concept was announced.

sustainable cities and climate change

“There’s a lot of capital looking for investment opportunities so there are incentives to find innovative new ways to provide cover,” Way, head of global coastal risk and resilience for The Nature Conservancy, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation on the sidelines of the summit last week.

Governments also have a keen interest in such insurance policies since they can reduce the human and infrastructure losses on land that devastated parts of the Caribbean last year. Kedrick Pickering, deputy premier of the British Virgin Islands, which was hit by Hurricane Irma last year, said reef insurance was something the country would consider.

The Mexican reef insurance model works by automatically triggering payouts once storm-force winds hit a certain level. The same concept theoretically could be applied to damage to fish stocks causes by El Niño, based on changes to water current. Payouts would go to fishermen in that case.

“There is a whole host of ideas and we are just scraping the surface,” Way said.

However, some risks – such as pollution and overfishing, which scientists say could contribute to the loss of as much as 90 percent of global reefs by 2050 – are not covered under the novel Mexican insurance model.

And many species that have an enormous value to ocean ecosystems, such as crucial oxygen-generating bacteria, do not have easily quantifiable benefits to humanity, so are difficult to insure.

“Insurance can’t solve all the problems and we need to be mindful of the blindspots,” said Rashid Sumaila, director of the fisheries economics research unit at the University of British Columbia Fisheries Centre.

But so far even clearly identified threats to established markets remain largely uninsured. The nearly $23 billion a year northeastern US fisheries market, which includes high-value species such as lobster, scallops and cod, is expected to suffer from rising sea temperatures but so far remains largely uninsured, for instance.

Experts say more data and research on the oceans, such as plans to map the ocean’s resources as well as an ambitious project to create an ocean risk index by the end of this year, may help provide the missing pieces for insurers.

“Insurers are already developing products in response to ocean risk but an index could accelerate and deepen their engagement,” said Robert Powell, a senior consultant with the Economist Intelligence Unit, which is formulating the risk index.

Creating insurance products for marine assets could also build incentives to protect them against threats, or at least the ones local communities can control, Way said.

“If you can make the case successfully that it’s worth investing in an insurance policy then why spend that money if you are going to kill the reef through nutrient run off or pollution?” he asked.

Still, conservationists say there is a limit to what insurance can do and other protection will have to come from regulation, such as reducing illegal fishing and implementing a UN goal to transform 10 percent of the world’s oceans into protected areas by 2020.

Another shortcoming is that insurers, who tend to offer policies on short time horizons, are only likely to be interested in providing coverage against ocean risks in milder global warming scenarios.

Under the Paris Agreement on climate change, countries aim to hold average global temperature risk to “well below” two degrees Celsius, with an aim of one and a half degrees. So far, however, inadequate global plans to cut emissions suggest temperatures could rise three degrees or more.

“At three-degrees [temperature increase] you are looking at a structural challenge for billions of people that creates a whole new level of economic and social challenges for which insurance may not have all the answers,” said Rowan Douglas, head of capital, science and policy practice at global advisory firm Willis Towers Watson.

public affairs and public relations firm

Crossbow Communications specializes in issue management and public affairs. It specializes in health and environmental issues, including deforestation, sustainable agriculture, and wildlife conservation. Greener Cities is our global initiative to promote sustainable, resilient and responsible cities of the future. 

Cities Hold Solutions To Climate Change

Cities, Citizens Tackling Issues and Opportunities

Cities around the world have multiplied their efforts to emit fewer greenhouse gases and brace for climate-change-driven natural disasters, scientists and environmentalists say.

Amid uncertainty over whether Washington will withdraw from a global accord to combat climate change, many people are increasingly pinning their hopes on cities to cut global warming greenhouse gas emissions.

Last month U.S. President-elect Donald Trump said he was keeping an open mind on whether to pull out of the Paris Climate Agreement. He has appointed two climate skeptics to top jobs in his administration.

greener cities conference

Below are five U.S. cities that left their mark on the fight against climate change in 2016:

Portland, Oregon

Portland made national headlines by pushing the frontiers of how municipal governments can speed up the transition from fossil fuel to clean energy. This month, the West Coast city of nearly 600,000 people said it was the first nationwide to ban the construction of new bulk fossil-fuel storage facilities on its territory.

“Now, more than ever, local community voices are needed, because the risks of not acting on climate change are just too severe,” Portland Mayor Charlie Hales said after adopting the new rules, which prohibit the construction of fossil-fuel storage facilities exceeding 2 million gallons.

Burlington, Vermont

This year, Vermont’s largest urban center put together a plan to pursue its goal of becoming a “net-zero city,” meaning it aims to consume only as much energy as it generates.

“We are doing things that other bigger cities sometimes really even aren’t thinking about yet,” said Neale Lunderville, general manager of the Burlington Electric Department, a part of the municipal government, in a telephone interview.

In 2014, Burlington, a former manufacturing town of 42,000 people, became the first U.S. city to run 100 percent on renewable energy, including wind and solar power, the Electric Department said.

San Diego, California

With a population of nearly 1.4 million people, San Diego was the largest U.S. city in 2016 to have committed to producing all its energy from renewable sources. The city, located in the drier southern part of California, has had to introduce water cuts to combat prolonged drought in the state, which has been aggravated by climate change.

Mayor Kevin Faulconer has committed $130 million of a $3.4 billion budget for 2017 to funding various projects to tackle climate change, such as installing solar panels, adding bike lanes and using energy-efficient street lights.

Cleveland, Ohio

In 2016, Cleveland, on the shores of Lake Erie, made progress on what could be the country’s first freshwater offshore wind turbine installation. As part of Project Icebreaker, six turbines are to be installed eight to 10 miles off Cleveland’s shore, with the aim of meeting 10 percent of the electricity needs of 6,000 homes.

The $120 million project, the brainchild of the Cleveland Foundation, a community group, received a boost in May when the U.S. Department of Energy announced it would award $40 million to help cover the construction of the wind turbines by 2018.

Baltimore, Maryland

In a first nationally, Baltimore announced in 2016 it would beef up its disaster-preparedness plans with neighborhood centers to help the most vulnerable residents, according to Kristin Baja, climate and resilience planner for the city administration.

The centers will be fully equipped with backup electricity and fresh water, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. The seaside city of more than half a million people is particularly susceptible to flooding, hurricanes and storms.

“It’s an interesting model,” Garrett Fitzgerald, an adviser for the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, a coalition of U.S. and Canadian cities, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “People need a place to go that they can walk to, that they know, that they trust, where they feel safe.”

Sustainable Cities News via http://www.voanews.com/a/many-look-cities-reduce-emissions-fight-climate-changes/3654526.html

Are Cities Ready For The Next Major Hurricane

Coastal Cities Unprepared For Extreme Storms

By Nick Stockton, Wired

After the storm, after the flooding, after the investigations, the US came to realize that what happened to New Orleans on August 29, 2005 was not a natural disaster. The levee system built by the US Army Corps of Engineers had structural flaws, and those flaws were awaiting the right circumstances. In that way, what happened was all but inevitable.

sustainable cities and climate change

And just as the storm is not to blame, New Orleans is not unique in its vulnerability. The city endured a lot of scolding in the aftermath of Katrina, as if the storm was the climax to a parable about poor urban planning. Sure, the city sits below sea level, at the end of hurricane alley, and relies heavily on an elaborate (and delicate) system of infrastructure. But where the city’s geography is unique, its vulnerability is anything but. Just about every coastal city, state, or region is sitting on a similar confluence of catastrophic conditions. The seas are rising, a storm is coming, and critical infrastructure is dangerously exposed.

The basic math of carbon dioxide is pretty simple: Generally, as CO2 levels rise, the air will warm. Warmer air melts glaciers, which drip into the sea—even as the water itself warms, too. Both cause the oceans to rise. Even if the entire planet stopped emitting carbon dioxide, Earth would continue to suffer the effects of past emissions.

“We’ve got at least 30 years of inertia in terms of sea level rise,” says Trevor Houser, a Rhodium Group economist who studies climate risk. And even if the sea weren’t rising, the rate of urban growth will more than double the area of urban land at high flood risk, according to a study Global Environmental Change published earlier this year.

But the sea is rising, at about .13 of an inch per year, for the past 20 years. (It was rising before then, too, but at about half the rate for the preceding 80 years.) Another recent study calculated that the world should expect about 4 feet of sea level rise for every degree Fahrenheit the global average temperature rises. This puts nearly every coastal city, in every coastal state, in danger of floods. Climate Central has an extensive project looking at sea level risk, if you’re curious about your city’s risk.

Warm air also holds more moisture, and moisture holds more energy, hence stronger (though not necessarily more frequent) storms. Those storms combine with high sea levels to create a danger greater than the sum of their parts. In a combined flooding event, a severe storm traps a city between rainfall and surging seas. Higher sea levels cause rivers to back up, water tables to saturate, shorelines to shorten. Storms—which are likely to be stronger than before—have fewer options to run off, so they pool and flood. And America built its coastal civilization oblivious to their threat.

hurricane Katrina

Take Florida, the most climate-threatened swath of American soil. It’s low, flat, built on porous limestone, and hurricane prone. According to a new analysis by disaster insurance agency Karen Clark and Co., Florida has four of the 10 US cities most vulnerable to combined flooding events.

Florida, knowing its place in the world, has copious levees and seawalls. But the levees are there mostly to protect against the Everglades. The seawalls are about as good at breaking a hurricane as a hood ornament is at breaking the wind. And all of that infrastructure is of little use in the face of combined flooding events—the sea will simply come up from below. Miami flooded last year when the storm sewers backed up because the water table was too high to drain them.

The Sunshine State’s geography makes it an easy target for blame (not to mention hurricanes). But if there’s anything the US should have learned in the decade since Katrina, it’s that storms don’t always hit where you expect them—because, you know, Sandy. “Florida is definitely the most vulnerable place, but you also have places like Norfolk that are built on the coastal floodplain, and parts of New England where there is a lot of sunk infrastructure very close to the increasingly vulnerable coast,” says Houser. The pattern repeats itself all along the Atlantic coastal plain: Physical protections are largely insufficient to protect against a new class of climate threats.

And then, sometimes, that infrastructure falls apart entirely. Louisiana’s levees couldn’t have held off Katrina entirely, but it was their collapse, not the hurricane itself, that turned the Big Easy into a bathtub. “Some were improperly designed, some were improperly constructed, the rest were improperly maintained,” says Sandy Rosenthal, the director of Levees.org, an infrastructure watchdog group.

That same sentence could apply to key infrastructure nationwide. A lot of the country’s infrastructure—its bridges, transportation corridors, airports, seaports, water supply systems, electrical grids, flood control, and so one—were built poorly, hastily, or both. A lot of it is old and neglected. In a 2013 survey, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave US infrastructure a D+ grade.

“A lot of infrastructure went up in the midcentury,” says Solomon Hsiang, a UC Berkeley economist who studies public policy. “Now we’re reaching the end of the natural lifetime of that infrastructure, and we need to decide that we can no longer ride on all the investment that occurred 50 or 60 years ago.” Much of this stuff is directly vulnerable to climate change. Earlier this year, the Army Corps of Engineers released two surveys describing hundreds of dams and thousands of levees vulnerable to rising seas and stronger storms. Threats identified—but not yet remedied.

Sustainable City News via http://climatedesk.org/2015/08/no-one-is-ready-for-the-next-katrina/

Cities In Brazil Cancel Carnival Due To Severe Drought

Drought Linked To Climate Change, Deforestation

Cities in the southeast of Brazil have called off Carnival this year due to a serious drought that has plagued the region for months and shows no signs of abating.

Brazil is famous for its Carnival, a week-long street festival where people party day and night, bringing Samba music and elaborate colorful costumes to the street, to mark the beginning to Lent. This year’s Good Friday, which marks the beginning of Carnival, lands on Friday, February 13.

Sao Palo drought and water crisis
Is Brazil’s drought and water crisis caused by Amazon deforestation?

At least 15 cities and towns in the southeastern states of Minas Gerais and San Paolo have already called off all or parts of their Carnival festivities because of the region’s water crisis. Both states have been suffering from drought for more than a year, with the water situation worsening. This has been the regions’ worst drought in at least eight years.

In December, authorities warned that the city of San Paolo in San Paolo State – Brazil’s largest and most populous city – had already tapped into its emergency water reserves and had merely two to three months left of guaranteed water supply. Though Carnival is still set to go ahead in San Paolo, many city counselors have called for its cancellation. However, other cities in the state have chosen to air on the side of caution.

“We have canceled the street Carnival to stop tourists coming to the city, so the city is quieter during Carnival. We don’t have good conditions to have a big celebration and one of the reasons is the water crisis,” said Marcelo Daniel, the Secretary of Culture in the town of Araras, San Paolo.

Larger areas such as Oliveira, Minas Gerais also canceled their Carnival celebrations, which usually attracts about 20,000 tourists.

“Never in the history of our city has something like this happened,” said Antônio Penido, chief of staff and president of Oliveira’s Carnival Commission. “With broken hearts, we made the decision.”

Brazil’s worsening drought has been linked to both climate change and deforestation in the Amazon. According to Antonio Nobre, a leading climate scientist at Brazil’s National Space Research Institute (INPE), these two issues combined are drastically reducing the release of billion of liters of water into the atmosphere by rainforest trees, reducing rainfall in the south.

reforestation and climate change solution
Reforestation can help turn the tides of climate change.

Sustainable Cities News via: http://readersupportednews.org/news-section2/312-16/28497-brazils-cities-cancel-carnival-because-of-drought

PricewaterhouseCoopers Predicts Climate Catastrophe Within 20 Years

Failure To Act Compounding Global Warming

With every year that passes, we’re getting further away from averting a human-caused climate disaster. That’s the key message in this year’s “Low Carbon Economy Index,” a report released by the accounting giant PricewaterhouseCoopers.

carbon emissions and global warming
Failure to curb our carbon emissions is making global warming worse every day.

The report highlights an “unmistakable trend”: The world’s major economies are increasingly failing to do what’s needed to limit global warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above preindustrial levels. That was the target agreed to by countries attending the United Nations’ 2009 climate summit; it represents an effort to avoid some of the most disastrous consequences of runaway warming, including food security threats, coastal inundation, extreme weather events, ecosystem shifts, and widespread species extinction.

To curtail climate change, individual countries have made a variety of pledges to reduce their share of emissions, but taken together, those promises simply aren’t enough.

According to the PricewaterhouseCoopers report, “the gap between what we are doing and what we need to do has again grown, for the sixth year running.” The report adds that at current rates, we’re headed towards 7.2 degrees Fahrenheit of warming by the end of the century—twice the agreed upon rate. Here’s a breakdown of the paper’s major findings.

The study compares our current efforts to cut “carbon intensity”—measured by calculating the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per million dollars of economic activity—with what’s actually needed to rein in climate change. According to the report, the global economy needs to “decarbonize” by 6.2 percent every year until the end of the century to limit warming to 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit. But carbon intensity fell by only 1.2 percent in 2013.

The report also found that the world is going to blow a hole in its carbon budget—the amount we can burn to keep the world from overheating beyond 3.6 degrees.

The report singles out countries that have done better than others when it comes to cutting carbon intensity. Australia, for example, tops the list of countries that have reduced the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of GDP, mainly due to lower energy demands in a growing economy. But huge countries like the United States, Germany, and India are still adding carbon intensity, year-on-year.

Overall, PricewaterhouseCoopers paints a bleak picture of a world that’s rapidly running out of time; the required effort to curb global emissions will continue to grow each year. “The timeline is also unforgiving. The [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] and others have estimated that global emissions will need to peak around 2020 to meet a 2°C [3.6 degrees F] budget,” the report says. “This means that emissions from the developed economies need to be consistently falling, and emissions from major developing countries will also have to start declining from 2020 onwards.” G20 nations, for example, will need to cut their annual energy-related emissions by one-third by 2030, and by just over half by 2050. The pressure will be on the world’s governments to come up with a solution to this enormous challenge at the much-anticipated climate talks in Paris next year.

Source: http://www.citylab.com/tech/2014/09/a-major-accounting-firm-just-ran-the-numbers-on-climate-change/379994/

Rockefeller Foundation Seeks Resilient Cities

Is Your City Resilient

The 100 Resilient Cities Challenge seeks to find 100 cities that are ready to build resilience to the social, economic, and physical challenges that cities face in an increasingly urbanized world.

We can’t predict the next disruption or catastrophe. But we can control how we respond to these challenges. We can adapt to the shocks and stresses of our world and transform them into opportunities for growth. If your city applies for the 100 Resilient Cities Challenge, it could be one of 100 cities eligible to receive funding to hire a Chief Resilience Officer, assistance in developing a resilience strategy, access to a platform of innovative private and public sector tools to help design and implement that strategy, and membership in the 100 Resilient Cities Network.

sustainable resilient cities
Sustainable cities are resilient cities. The Rockefeller Foundation seeks role models and best practices.

The deadline to apply is September 10, 2014. The Finalists identified during the 2014 100 Resilient Cities Challenge will be eligible to receive:

  • Funding in the form of a grant to hire a Chief Resilience Officer;
  • Technical support to develop a holistic resilience strategy that reflects each city’s distinct needs;
  • Access to an innovative platform of services to support strategy development and implementation. Platform partners come from the private, public, and nonprofit sectors, and will offer tools in areas such as innovative finance, technology, infrastructure, land use, and community and social resilience;
  • Membership in the 100 Resilient Cities network to share knowledge and practices with other member cities.

The actual form and amount of awards will be determined at the discretion of 100 Resilient Cities.

For more information and application information, visit: http://www.100resilientcities.org/pages/100-resilient-cities-challenge?utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=20140827appclosingemailtwshare&utm_source=twitter&source=20140827appclosingemailtwshare

Papua New Guinea Village Relocates To Avoid Rising Sea

Islands Sinking As Planet Warms

Ursula Rakova was born in a tropical paradise. The tiny, low-lying islet of Han is part of the Carteret Atoll in the southwest Pacific, with clear blue waters lapping at its palm-fringed shores. Fish was plentiful and so was taro, the staple food.

climate change sinking islands
Islanders are already feeling the pressures if rising sea levels.

The atoll community is matrilineal, and Rakova’s mother passed ownership of Han islet to her – but the island paradise is disappearing, one of the first places to fulfill scientists’ predictions that climate change will submerge many coastal communities.

The rising sea level split Han islet in two while Rakova was in high school. The atoll, made up of six islets, then suffered saltwater intrusion, contaminating freshwater wells and making it impossible for the islanders to farm taro.

Shorelines were eroded. King tides – unusually high tides – which used to come every five or 10 years, started appearing every year. Low tides are retreating further, leading to bleaching of the offshore coral. Today, the gap between the two parts of what used to be Han islet is big enough for canoes to pass through and is growing wider, Rakova said.

“The sea that we love to swim in is now turning against us,” she told participants in the first “Summit on Women and Climate” in Bali, Indonesia this week. “Our shorelines are eroding so fast. The food that we normally eat has disappeared. Year in, year out, every day, it is a struggle for my people,” she said. “It’s frightening. It gives you a feeling of anxiety – what’s going to happen next?”

Indonesia islands and climate change
Sea rise will impact thousands of islands just in Indonesia.

Fish and other seafood is getting harder to find. The islanders now have to rely on the Papua New Guinea (PNG) government for food, but they are given rice, which is not their staple food, Rakova said.

The Carterets’ Council of Elders, tired of waiting for the government to act and aware of the need for change, asked Rakova in 2006 to help plan their future. Rakova, a 50-year-old social studies graduate born and bred on the atoll, had worked on human rights and environmental issues with numerous organisations including Oxfam New Zealand.

Her first move was to set up an action plan dubbed Tulele Peisa, meaning “sailing in the wind on our own” in the local language. It is an apt description of the programme, which has made tremendous progress under her leadership despite continuous challenges. Her struggles also highlight the obstacles facing many women grassroots leaders looking after their communities and their environment.

Rakova’s plan was far-reaching: she is leading the permanent resettlement of some 2,000 climate refugees from the atoll to mainland Bougainville, a three-hour ride on a wooden boat on a good day. She is also making sure the islanders will be self-reliant in their new homeland.

“The islands are isolated so the culture has been intact. We also more or less know everyone and it’s very peaceful,” Rakova said in an interview with Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We are a very loving people and the island provided everything we needed.” The atoll is becoming increasingly uninhabitable, but resettling some 2,000 people – the total population is around 2,700 but the elderly do not want to move to the mainland – requires more than just dumping them in a strange place. “We had to look at the education of the younger people, health facilities, economic opportunities for the islanders, and trauma counselling for the families that we’re moving as well as the host community,” she said.

All of this requires money, which was not forthcoming, from the government or anywhere else. The big donors wanted them to be registered, have their books audited, see the cash flow — when they didn’t even have a few thousand dollars to their name, Rakova said. The local administration, far from helping, was creating more obstacles. Funding “has been a very very hard struggle and to some extent, a lone struggle,” Rakova said, her friendly, generous face looking sad for once. Small amounts of seed money from the New Zealand High Commission in PNG and the Global Greengrants Fund helped them work out an 18-step process which included community profiling and community assessment, and resulted in the islanders owning land, a home and a sustainable way of living in their new location.

Thankfully, the local community on Bougainville hails from the same clan as the islanders and was welcoming – largely thanks to the exchange of chiefs and elders of the two groups that Rakova’s organisation set up before any relocation started. This gave the mainlanders an understanding of the islanders’ situation. The Catholic Church, which owns vast swathes of land in Bougainville, provided the islanders with four parcels of land.

The first group of families – 86 people in total – have moved into their new homes and started farming again. Rakova remains concerned about the impact on the islanders of Bougainville’s social problems, including that posed by marijuana, which is grown on the mainland but not on the island.

“It’s not a case of ‘living happily ever after,’ it’s a continuous struggle,” she added. Building the first set of homes brought more funding problems. Donors wanted cheaper houses and Rakova told them to keep their money, arguing that cheaper buildings would not last. The bureaucracy was frustrating, that of both international donors and her own government, which has tens of thousands of dollars earmarked for the climate adaptation of islands and atolls but says funds could not be used for house building. So Rakova set up Bougainville Cocoa Net Limited – to enable the settlers to grow and export organic cocoa. The cash earned from this will help to accelerate the relocation. The settlers are already starting to export to Hamburg in north Germany, after receiving funding from a German organisation.

The next step is to obtain fair trade certification and grow the market, she said. Though carrying the burden of the community’s future, Rakova is a gentle, loving soul who is always ready for a joke and has an uproarious laugh. Despite winning the 2008 Pride of PNG award for her contribution to the environment and the 2014 Equator Prize, she remains humble and helpful. She was amused by how long it took her to get to Bali from her islet – five days, involving a boat trip, a car ride, and two flight changes. She missed one connection and had to stay inside Sydney airport for 24 hours as she had no Australian visa. Her sense of humour remains intact, which she attributes to being a woman and an islander. “We want the world to know that we also want to make a living. We want to move to this new location so we are growing our own cash crops to sustain our own family income but we need support,” she said. “We want to have markets in the United States. This will sustain our programme so that we won’t have to beg for relocation funds all the time,” she added. “We’ve had enough of chasing donors and funders. We want to do it ourselves.” The one thing the islanders can’t do is hold back the sea. “The sea has to play its part. It’s displacing us,” Rakova said stoically. Source: http://www.preventionweb.net/english/professional/news/v.php?id=38885

Urban Forestry An Emerging Priority For Universities, Cities

Need Policies To Stop Urban Deforestation, Promote Reforestation

A multi-state team from universities in Virginia, West Virginia and Maryland are working to advance the profession of urban forestry. The team led by researchers at Virginia Tech has launched Urban Forestry 2020. The project aims to examine the challenges faced by the urban forestry profession and devise strategies for advancing the profession.

urban forestry
Urban forestry can help blunt the forces of climate change.

The project also includes representatives from Virginia State University, West Virginia University and the University of Maryland. It is partially funded by the U.S. Forest Service.

Urban forestry is the management of trees and green spaces in communities to enhance quality of life and protect the environment. Team officials say that while the profession has advanced rapidly over the last 20 years, there are many issues that need to be faced to move it forward.

“The beauty of the urban forestry profession is its interdisciplinary nature,” said Susan Day, associate professor of urban forestry at Virginia Tech and the project’s lead investigator. “People from diverse backgrounds work together to solve problems with a critical urban natural resource that has a big impact on our day-to-day lives. But the field’s interdisciplinary nature is also a challenge when it comes to networking and education, and the profession is experiencing some growing pains.”

The team has assembled a committee to help guide the project, bringing together leaders in urban forestry and related fields like urban planning, landscape architecture and civil engineering to examine recruitment into urban forestry, accreditation of university urban forestry degree programs, and professional credentialing and networking of urban foresters.

Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/va-wva-md-schools-advancing-urban-forestry/2014/07/05/18b3d7c0-044d-11e4-ae91-d5e5645b17c1_story.html

Climate Change Impacting Every Continent Now

Greatest Impact From Global Warming Awaits 

Climate change is already having sweeping effects on every continent and throughout the world’s oceans, scientists reported Monday, and they warned that the problem is likely to grow substantially worse unless greenhouse emissions are brought under control.

climate change and sustainable cities
“Every person in the world will be impacted by climate change,” says the new IPCC report.

The report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations group that periodically summarizes climate science, concluded that ice caps are melting, sea ice in the Arctic is collapsing, water supplies are coming under stress, heat waves and heavy rains are intensifying, coral reefs are dying, and fish and many other creatures are migrating toward the poles or in some cases going extinct.

The oceans are rising at a pace that threatens coastal communities and are becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide given off by cars and power plants, which is killing some creatures or stunting their growth, the report found.

Organic matter frozen in Arctic soils since before civilization began is now melting, allowing it to decay into greenhouse gases that will cause further warming, the scientists said.

And the worst is yet to come, the scientists said in the second of three reports that are expected to carry considerable weight next year as nations try to agree on a new global climate treaty. In particular, the report emphasized that the world’s food supply is at considerable risk — a threat that could have serious consequences for the poorest nations.

“Nobody on this planet is going to be untouched by the impacts of climate change,” Rajendra K. Pachauri, chairman of the intergovernmental panel, said at a news conference here on Monday.

The report was among the most sobering yet issued by the intergovernmental panel. The group, along with Al Gore, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 for its efforts to clarify the risks of climate change. The report released on Monday in Yokohama is the final work of several hundred authors; details from the drafts of this and of the last report in the series, which will be released next month, leaked in the last few months.

The report attempts to project how the effects will alter human society in coming decades. While the impact of global warming may actually be outweighed by factors like economic or technological change, the report found, the disruptions are nonetheless likely to be profound. It cited the risk of death or injury on a widespread scale, probable damage to public health, displacement of people and potential mass migrations.

“Throughout the 21st century, climate-change impacts are projected to slow down economic growth, make poverty reduction more difficult, further erode food security, and prolong existing and create new poverty traps, the latter particularly in urban areas and emerging hotspots of hunger,” the report declared.

The report also cites the possibility of violent conflict over land or other resources, to which climate change might contribute indirectly “by exacerbating well-established drivers of these conflicts such as poverty and economic shocks.”

The scientists emphasized that climate change is not just some problem of the distant future, but is happening now. For instance, in much of the American West, mountain snowpack is declining, threatening water supplies for the region, the scientists reported. And the snow that does fall is melting earlier in the year, which means there is less meltwater to ease the parched summers. In Alaska, the collapse of sea ice is allowing huge waves to strike the coast, causing erosion so rapid that it is already forcing entire communities to relocate.

“Now we are at the point where there is so much information, so much evidence, that we can no longer plead ignorance,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the World Meteorological Organization.

The experts did find a bright spot, however. Since the group issued its report in 2007, it has found growing evidence that governments and businesses around the world are starting extensive plans to adapt to climate disruptions, even as some conservatives in the United States and a small number of scientists continue to deny that a problem exists.

“I think that dealing effectively with climate change is just going to be something that great nations do,” said Christopher B. Field, co-chairman of the working group that wrote the report, and an earth scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Stanford, Calif.

Talk of adaptation to global warming was once avoided in some quarters, on the grounds that it would distract from the need to cut emissions. But the past few years have seen a shift in thinking, including research from scientists and economists who argue that both strategies must be pursued at once.

A striking example of the change occurred recently in the state of New York, where the Public Service Commission ordered Consolidated Edison, the electric utility serving New York City and some suburbs, to spend about $1 billion upgrading its system to prevent future damage from flooding and other weather disruptions.

The plan is a reaction to the blackouts caused by Hurricane Sandy. Con Ed will raise flood walls, bury some vital equipment and launch a study of whether emerging climate risks require even more changes. Other utilities in the state face similar requirements, and utility regulators across the United States are discussing whether to follow New York’s lead.

But with a global failure to limit greenhouse gases, the risk is rising that climatic changes in coming decades could overwhelm such efforts to adapt, the panel found. It cited a particular risk that in a hotter climate, farmers will not be able to keep up with the fast-rising temperatures.

“When supply falls below demand, somebody doesn’t have enough food,” said Michael Oppenheimer, a Princeton University climate scientist who helped write the new report. “When some people don’t have food, you get starvation. Yes, I’m worried.”

The poorest people in the world, who have had virtually nothing to do with causing global warming, will be high on the list of victims as climatic disruptions intensify, the report said. It cited a World Bank estimate that poor countries need as much as $100 billion a year to try to offset the effects of climate change; they are now getting, at best, a few billion dollars a year in such aid from rich countries.

The $100 billion figure, though included in the 2,500-page main report, was removed from a 48-page executive summary to be read by the world’s top political leaders. It was among the most significant changes made as the summary underwent final review during a dayslong editing session in Yokohama.

The edit came after several rich countries, including the United States, raised questions about the language, according to several people who were in the room at the time but did not wish to be identified because the negotiations are private.

The language is contentious because poor countries are expected to renew their demand for aid this September in New York at a summit meeting of world leaders, who will attempt to make headway on a new treaty to limit greenhouse gases.Many rich countries argue that $100 billion a year is an unrealistic demand; it would essentially require them to double their budgets for foreign aid, at a time of economic distress at home. That argument has fed a rising sense of outrage among the leaders of poor countries, who feel their people are paying the price for decades of profligate Western consumption.

Two decades of international efforts to limit emissions have yielded little result, and it is not clear whether the negotiations in New York this fall will be any different. While greenhouse gas emissions have begun to decline slightly in many wealthy countries, including the United States, those gains are being swamped by emissions from rising economic powers like China and India.

For the world’s poorer countries, food is not the only issue, but it may be the most acute. Several times in recent years, climatic disruptions in major growing regions have helped to throw supply and demand out of balance, contributing to price increases that have reversed decades of gains against global hunger, at least temporarily.

The warning about the food supply in the new report is much sharper in tone than any previously issued by the panel. That reflects a growing body of research about how sensitive many crops are to heat waves and water stress.

David B. Lobell, a Stanford University scientist who has published much of that research and helped write the new report, said in an interview that as yet, too little work was being done to understand the risk, much less counter it with improved crop varieties and farming techniques. “It is a surprisingly small amount of effort for the stakes,” he said.

Timothy Gore, an analyst for Oxfam, the anti-hunger charity that sent observers to the proceedings, praised the new report for painting a clear picture. But he warned that without greater efforts to limit global warming and to adapt to the changes that have become inevitable, “the goal we have in Oxfam of ensuring that every person has enough food to eat could be lost forever.”

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/31/science/earth/panels-warning-on-climate-risk-worst-is-yet-to-come.html?emc=edit_tnt_20140331&nlid=59791470&tntemail0=y&_r=0

British Floods Just A Warning Shot

Extreme Weather Testing Urban Resiliency Around Globe

Just outside this pretty village in southwest England is a steep, grassy mound called Burrow Mump. From the ruined church on the top, you can see miles of what look like shallow lakes but what are really submerged wheat fields and pasture.

flooded British cities
If today’s floods are just a warning shot, the UK might need a bigger boat soon.

This is the Somerset Levels, a vast expanse of low-lying land, 25 square miles of which has been under water this winter, according to the government. Hundreds of years ago, the Levels were wetlands, but they were drained with a network of canals and pumping stations to create farms. This year’s winter, already the wettest since record-keeping began in the 18th century, overwhelmed the system, inundating farms, disrupting lives and leaving a handful of villages either flooded or cut off.

“We have been living in this weird world since New Year’s Eve,” said Rebecca Horsington, whose family’s 250-acre farm near the village of West Zoyland has 100 acres submerged. “It is very frustrating that none of the authorities are doing anything about it.”

In 2012, when there was also flooding, Ms. Horsington helped found an organization, the Flooding on the Levels Action Group, to “badger the authorities and try to embarrass them into doing something.”

After the flooding this winter extended for weeks, the government of Prime Minister David Cameron turned for help to the masters of water management, the Dutch. Last Sunday, Jan Groen, an engineer for the Dutch company Van Heck, was at Dunball, on the edge of the Levels, tending eight pumps the size of small vans that he had helped bring from the Netherlands and install in a matter of days in early February.

The pumps lift the swirling waters from an 18th-century drainage canal over a dam and into the tidal marshes beyond. They are helping to draw down the water, but another month’s pumping will be required. Coming from the Netherlands, where dealing with water is a refined science, Mr. Groen remarked on the antiquated state of flood management in Britain. “They are going to have to spend more money,” he said.

The number of homes and businesses that have been flooded on the Levels could be as few as 40 or as many as 150, depending on whether you believe the government or the activists. But even the effect of widespread flooding across Britain this winter is small scale compared with the devastation Typhoon Haiyan inflicted on the Philippines last year or the damage that Hurricane Sandy did to the East Coast of the United States in 2012.

Yet Somerset may be a microcosm for the dilemmas that Britain and other countries are likely to face in the future as sea levels rise and climate change accentuates unusual weather.

As in other places around the world, people in Britain have chosen to live near water, where damaging floods may occur and are likely to become more frequent. “You often hear people saying, ‘You shouldn’t build on flood plains,’ but many cities are on flood plains,” said Roger A. Falconer, a professor of water management at Cardiff University in Wales, not far from the Levels. “Where do you draw the line?”

Professor Falconer doesn’t see any easy way to prevent flooding on the Levels in future years. Yielding to local demands, the government has agreed to pay four million pounds, or $6.7 million, for dredging the River Parrett, the main channel through the area. But Professor Falconer is skeptical: Because the Levels are so flat, dredging “may not make a big flow difference,” he said.

Another solution, buying the farmers out and letting the land return to nature, seems unlikely. “The land is quite resilient,” Ms. Horsington said. “It will recover.”

Many Britons live in places vulnerable to flooding, and Britain’s population and wealth are concentrated around the Thames River. A record number of closings this year of the Thames Barrier — steel gates that span the river downstream from London — have helped protect the city from major flooding, but the Thames and its tributaries have made unwelcome incursions into the suburbs.

Britain over all has taken a beating from the rains and vicious Atlantic storms that have battered the coasts. More than 6,000 properties have been flooded this winter, according to the government.

Bad years like this one in Britain are likely to become more frequent, according to a study published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change. Brenden Jongman, a researcher at the Institute for Environmental Studies at VU University Amsterdam, writes that “extreme flood losses could more than double in frequency” in Europe by 2050.

In an interview, Mr. Jongman said flood damage in Europe, which averages five billion euros, or $6.9 billion, a year but can vary widely, was likely to increase to almost €24 billion a year by 2050. While much of that increase would be because of people’s growing wealthier and living in more expensive homes, more frequent and intense storms from climate change would also be a big factor, he said.

Mr. Jongman said spending money on flood defenses like dikes and other water management systems would be effective, possibly preventing as much as eight times their cost in damage. “The trouble is the investment has to be made now,” he said, while the disaster being guarded against will come later, if ever.

Source: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/06/business/international/british-floods-could-be-a-harbinger.html?_r=0