Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Report(s) of the Week: 1. Feeling the Heat 2. Climate Change--The Costs of Inaction

Two related reports came out towards the end of 2006. Both reports focus on the impacts of climate change, one specifically the effects due o changes in the hydrological regieme and one more broadly due to the many patterns of climate alteration predicted.

"Feeling the Heat" is a report by Tearfund that focuses on access to water supplies.

Executive Summary

The world is now locked on course to become ever warmer. And one of the most devastating impacts of this human-induced climate change is on the world’s water supply.

Thankfully, lives are not at risk when water shortages hit the UK. But the predictions for our planet are bleak:

• By 2100, the earth could be between 1.4°C and 5.8°C warmer than in 1990.
• The Met Office’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research says that
extreme drought, which currently affects about 2% of the planet, will affect over
10% within 50 years.

Already floods, drought and extreme weather events are becoming all too familiar in our warmer world, even in wealthy countries:

• July this year was the hottest UK month since records began in 1960, with one
day hitting an all-time July high of 36.5°C.
• In 2003, a heatwave spanning 20 days in France caused more than 14,000
• Much of central USA has been experiencing exceptionally dry conditions for
over a year.

But nowhere is this changing climate having a greater impact than in the world’s
poorest countries. As floods, drought and storms increase, climate change will have a potentially catastrophic impact on water supply, threatening the lives and livelihoods of millions of people. Poor people – like 80% of Malawi’s population who farm small plots– are reliant on rain for their harvests, and are least able to adapt to climate change.

By exacerbating existing water stresses, climate change impacts many other areas of human development such as health and even industry.

Already, there are an estimated 25 million ‘environmental refugees’ – more than half the number of political refugees. Experts such as ecologist Norman Myers suggest this figure could soar to 200 million in less than 50 years. Unseen and uncounted, millions are already on the move in search of greater water security. In some countries, the exodus began years ago:

• Unpredictable seasons and unreliable crop yields are boosting the number of
Mexicans risking their lives each year to try to reach the US. Many die trying to
cross the Arizona desert.
• One in five Brazilians born in the arid north-east of the country move to another
region within Brazil. Up to 75% of land in the north-east, which is plagued by
periodic drought, is at risk of becoming desert.
• In three provinces in China, people have been forced to leave home due to the
spread of the Gobi desert. The desert is growing at a rate of 4,000 square miles
a year.
  • In Nigeria, 1,350 square miles are converted to desert each year. Farmers and
  • herdsmen are forced to move to the cities. World governments must therefore take urgent action next month at the UN climate change conference COP12 in Nairobi (6-17 November).

    They must:

    • produce a timetable for agreeing the next phase of the Kyoto Protocol, and
    focus on setting tougher, binding targets to cut their carbon emissions
    • provide urgent funding to help poor countries adapt to climate change
    • make water resources an urgent priority for adaptation efforts and
    prevent likely rises in the number of climate change refugees
    • address the dramatic effects of increasing water scarcity on other key
    development sectors such as health

    The world’s poorest people have been coping with unreliable water supplies for
    decades. And many have devised techniques to fend off the worst effects of an unpredictable climate. These include:

    • Rainwater harvesting: a cost-effective means of providing water for poor people
    without piped supplies.
    • Contour bunding: low mounds of earth along field contours to stop rainwater
    • Check dams: small dams across watercourses to slow rainwater flow.
    • Planting drought-resistant crops, such as sorghum and millet.

    Although very effective, such measures are not enough. Poor countries also need
    national strategies for managing water resources, which meet human needs and
    protect vital ecosystems.

    Access to fresh clean water is critical if poor communities are to survive climate
    change and lift themselves out of poverty – but two in five people in sub-Saharan
    Africa still do not have this access. In regions such as Africa, water scarcity is already jeopardising efforts to reach the 2015 Millennium Development Goals for child mortality and for water and sanitation. Poor governance and climate change
    exacerbate an already critical situation.

    It costs money to adapt to climate change and its impact on water supply and
    ecosystems. It is wealthy nations such as the UK which should be doing more to foot the bill. Developed nations have contributed most to global warming and yet it is poor countries which are bearing the brunt. To date, wealthy countries have been painfully slow in committing funds to help developing countries adapt:

    • World Bank estimates suggest it would cost between $10 and $40 billion every
    year to ‘climate-proof’ development work in poor countries.
    • The UK government has committed just £10 million over three years.
    • Rich nations have promised $450 million a year so far – but delivered far less.

    Agreed UN funds to help poor countries adapt are not yet fully operational. There will be millions more thirsty, hungry and ill people living in high-risk areas of the world by the end of the century. It makes sense –politically, economically and morally – for governments to act with urgency now.

    "Climate Change--Costs of Inaction" is a report by Tuffts University for Greenpeace groups within the United Kingdom.

    This report demonstrates that the cost of allowing global temperatures to increase by two degrees or more above pre-industrial levels will run into trillions of dollars, while the environmental and social costs will be incalculable. It was produced by GDAE researchers Frank Ackerman and Liz Stanton for The Big Ask, Friends of the Earth’s climate campaign in the UK. The report, which brings together the latest scientific and economic thinking on climate change, highlights the enormous costs that would result if governments fail to act to keep temperature increases below two degrees.

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    At 9:06 PM, Anonymous Alex Smith said...

    Calvin - thanks for a great year of posting! Really, you've been a wonder, finding, filtering, interpreting - I keep turning to your site for key material.
    Keep it up - we need you!
    Radio Ecoshock


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