Thursday, December 28, 2017
A Landmark California Plan Puts Floodplains Back in Business — Water Deeply
SOMETHING MONUMENTAL HAPPENED on August 25 in California water management that received almost no media attention: It became official policy to reconnect the state’s major rivers with their floodplains.
The action by the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, an obscure panel appointed by the governor, clears the way for the state to embrace projects that allow floods to recharge groundwater. This could include projects like breaching levees, building setback levees and creating flood bypass structures so rivers can inundate historic floodplains for the first time in a century.
In short, it means rivers must no longer be confined within levees as a standard practice.
The result could be not only reduced flood risk, but reviving severely depleted groundwater aquifers, restoring wildlife habitat and improving the capabilities of existing water storage reservoirs.
The state calls these “multibenefit” flood-control projects, said Mike Mierzwa, chief of the office of flood planning at the California Department of Water Resources. They’re a major focus of the Central Valley Flood Protection Plan, a massive policy document the board adopted at its August 25 meeting.
Wednesday, December 27, 2017
Three extremes in 2016 'not ... possible' without human warming » Yale Climate Connections
For the first time, an annual report issued by the American Meteorological Society has found that the extreme magnitudes of three weather events in 2016 “was not possible without the influence of human-caused climate change.”
Explaining Extreme Events of 2016 from a Climate Perspective, published as a supplement to the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS), is AMS’s sixth annual report on extreme weather events. It was officially released and presented on December 13 at the American Geophysical Union’s fall meeting in New Orleans.
The report includes 27 peer-reviewed scientific papers. Authors of those papers examined 21 different extreme weather events around the globe in 2016 – including wildfires in North America and Australia, droughts in South Africa and Brazil, cold snaps in Eastern China, and an anomalous body of warm water in the Pacific Ocean.
Two-thirds of papers found human-caused influence
Of the 27 papers presented in the AMS annual report, 18 found that anthropogenic, or human-caused, climate change influenced the event they studied. But three papers in particular concluded that the extremes of three of the events they examined would not have happened in the absence of that human-caused climate change. More
Sunday, December 24, 2017
Global warming made Hurricane Harvey deadly rains three times more likely, research reveals | US news | The Guardian
Hurricane Harvey’s unprecedented deluge, which caused catastrophic flooding in Houston in August, was made three times more likely by climate change, new research has found.
Such a downpour was a very rare event, scientists said, but global warming meant it was 15% more intense. The storm left 80 people dead and 800,000 in need of assistance.
The scientists from the World Weather Attribution (WWA) initiative usually publish their assessments of the role of climate change in extreme weather events around the world as soon as possible. However, in this case they waited for the work to be confirmed by peer review because of the current US government’s opposition to strong action on climate change.
The researchers said their new work shows global warming is making extreme weather events worse right now and in the US. The cost of the damage caused by Hurricane Harvey has been estimated at $190bn (£140bn), which would make it the most costly weather disaster in US history, more than Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy combined.
A series of new reports have found that extreme heatwaves, droughts, floods, storms and wildfires across the planet have been made more likely or more intense by rising global temperatures. The UK’s Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit (ECIU) analysed 59 studies of the influence of climate change on extreme weather published in the last two years and found warming has made matters worse in 70% of cases and better in just 7%. https://goo.gl/otTj6y
Thursday, December 21, 2017
TEPIC, Mexico, Dec 13 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A group of Caribbean nations, many devastated by recent hurricanes, will work with companies, development banks and other organisations to curb damage from climate change and grow cleanly, under an action plan launched this week.
The countries aim to restructure up to $1 billion in debt to free up cash for coastal defences, switch from costly imported fuels to cheaper green energy, and buffer their communities and economies against the effects of global warming, including rising sea levels and heavier storms and floods.
Angus Friday, Grenada's ambassador to the United States, said the idea was to "inject a new DNA", breaking away from business-as-usual and bureaucratic measures so as to be able to act faster.
"Given the next hurricane season is just seven months around the corner, it's really important we move with the speed of climate change now," he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation by phone.
Hurricanes Maria and Irma left a trail of destruction as they crashed through the Caribbean earlier this year, and many low-lying nations fear their infrastructure and economies will be devastated by more powerful storms and encroaching seas.
With many economies in the region plagued by high levels of debt, Caribbean nations have been pushing for rich countries to help bolster their defences and in turn, protect livelihoods.
Eleven nations, including Jamaica, Grenada, Dominica and the British Virgin Islands, signed up to the plan to create a "climate-smart zone", unveiled at the "One Planet" summit in Paris on Tuesday.
The plan's backers include the World Bank, the Nature Conservancy, the Green Climate Fund, Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and British businessman Richard Branson, whose Caribbean island Necker was hit by Hurricane Irma.
Branson has pushed for a scheme to help vulnerable islands, centred on replacing outdated fossil-fuel power grids with renewable energy systems that can better withstand extreme weather and boost economic development.
The Caribbean region needs $8 billion to roll out national plans to tackle climate change under the 2015 Paris Agreement.
Around $1.3 billion has been pledged to help islands rebuild in the wake of the recent hurricanes, while a further $2.8 billion has been committed through longer-term investment and debt restructuring plans.
The Nature Conservancy, a U.S.-based environmental charity, wants to work with lenders and governments to find ways to restructure $1 billion in sovereign debt and free up funds to invest in the "blue economy", a statement said. More
Wednesday, December 13, 2017
French President Emmanuel Macron benched the White House Monday by awarding 13 U.S. climate scientists millions of euros in grants and a chance to continue their research in France for the remainder of Donald Trump’s term.
The “Make Our Planet Great Again” grants, first announced in June, are designed specifically to help offset the damage caused by the climate-change denying administration in Washington, which announced its withdrawal from the landmark 2015 Paris accord earlier this year.
More than 5,000 scientists from around the world applied for the funding; of the eighteen winners, the majority hailed from the United States. Macron has set aside €30 million ($35 million) for the grants, with a similar amount coming from French universities.
France will “be there” to replace American funding for climate science projects, Macron told the winners at an event in Paris.
“France and Europe will be the place where we will decide how to make our planet great again,” he added.
World leaders are scheduled to gather in the French capital Tuesday for the One Planet Summit, held on the second anniversary of the signing of the Paris accord, which pledged to keep global temperatures below a 2 degrees celsius increase this century.
READ: The most extreme effects of climate change are being seen in the Arctic
Fifty global leaders are expected to attend, as well as representatives from the World Bank and the United Nations.
Trump, who once called climate change a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese, was reportedly left off the invite list. More
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
It’s been a great pleasure to be at the One Planet Summit, hosted by President Emmanuel Macron in Paris, two years after the historic agreement in the global fight against climate change. I was honoured to join my friend and partner, Prime Minister Keith Mitchell of Grenada, onstage to talk about the Caribbean Climate-Smart Coalition, and wanted to share some of my thoughts from the event with you all.
I’ve lived in the Caribbean for most of my life now, and have never seen anything like the devastation caused by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. How much more destruction is needed to show that the way we treat our planet is having serious, unacceptable consequences.
Three months on, tens of thousands of people continue to be without shelter, power and access to clean drinking water. From Puerto Rico to the BVI and Dominica, this is still very much a relief operation. But we have to start thinking beyond emergency relief and turn our attention to the islands’ long-term recovery and reconstruction. As hurricanes hit more often and with growing intensity in the Caribbean, how can we avoid destruction becoming the norm?
Sunday, December 10, 2017
The Kogi - trying to save the world
Although global distribution deals for cinema and television have been signed, the Kogi want worldwide, non-commercial screenings, initiated from within farming and fishing communities, and promoted online.
Ereira says it’s also important that fishermen and farmers, young and old, will be part of the Blasket Centre’s invited audience, and their voices should be listened to as carefully in the ensuing discussion as those of the environmentalists, politicians and policy-makers.
The Kogi are afraid, he repeats, but they’re also hopeful. Aluna contains both memory and potential. Potentially, we could still work together and get things right.
The Kogi are the last surviving civilization from the world of the Inca and Aztec, and their cities are untouched by our world. The mountain they inhabit is an isolated triangular pyramid rising over 18,000 feet from the sea, the highest coastal mountain on earth. More
The curve we’ve been forced onto bends so steeply, that the pace of victory is part of victory itself. Winning slowly is basically the same thing as losing outright. We cannot afford to pursue past strategies, aimed at limited gains towards distant goals. In the face of both triumphant denialism and predatory delay, trying to achieve climate action by doing the same things, the same old ways, means defeat. It guarantees defeat.
Saturday, December 9, 2017
Three months after Hurricane Harvey churned through Texas, dumping 51 inches of rain and damaging an estimated 150,000 homes, the state’s most populous county took a bureaucratic step that has huge implications for how it will deal with the risk of future flooding.
On December 5, Harris County, which surrounds the City of Houston, approved an overhaul of its flood rules, expanding them from 100-year floodplains—which have a 1 percent change of flooding in a given year—to 500-year floodplains. The new rules (which don’t apply inside Houston city limits) will compel people building houses in some areas to elevate them up to eight feet higher than before.
“We had 30,000 houses that flooded” from Harvey, said John Blount, the county engineer, who put forward the rule changes. Before the floodwaters even subsided, hundreds of county employees fanned out to survey the damage. “We went to every one of those houses and figured out how much water got in them, and then we did a statistical analysis,” Blount said.
The data was geocoded, factoring in location and neighborhood conditions, and one result was the increased elevation rule. (The county is also buying out 200 of the most vulnerable homes and hopes to buy out thousands more, but those represent a small fraction of the homes inside the floodplain.)
Harris County’s new rules are the most stringent flood-related development restrictions anywhere in the United States, according to Blount. If a future Harvey-sized deluge comes, almost all the homes in the area will be safe, he said: “Had that same event happened, at the same location but [with houses] built to the new standard, 95 percent or more would not have flooded.”
For a structure, standing water is a fearsome enemy. Even a small amount of flooding in a home can exile its inhabitants for weeks and require costly repairs. After Harvey, tens of thousands of evacuees lived in hotels or with friends as workers in their homes tore out drywall to prevent the spread of mold, which can sicken residents. And more Harveys are coming: As my colleague Robinson Meyer reported, a new MIT study concludes that Harvey-scale flooding in Texas is six times as likely now as it was in the late 20th century, and will only get more likely as this century wears on. More
Friday, December 8, 2017
Despite a lack of VC funds, there’s a steady flow of entrepreneurs.
Gary Kremen—the founder of Match.com, former owner of Sex.com, and serial investor—is into water.
The entrepreneur started investing in water tech startups a few years ago. Today he’s an elected member of Silicon Valley’s water district , an agency that manages water and flood control for 2 million people. Earlier this year, he helped craft a proposal to build a tunnel under the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta that could improve drinking water reliability for cities from San Jose to San Diego.
Following several years of investing in energy and solar startups, Kremen became attracted to water problems, he says, because it’s an issue that’s yet to be solved. “Water is so, so, so, so hard,” he says. “We need to focus on the hard things.”
A small fraction of venture capital dollars currently goes into tech to manage or clean water. Analysis from research company Cleantech Group finds that total dollars and deal volume for water tech startups in 2016 were down 70 percent and 65 percent, respectively, from a peak in 2013. Many water investments are now coming from family offices, corporate investors, and philanthropy.
But despite the investing challenges, there’s still healthy interest from entrepreneurs, who are drawn in by issues such as California’s drought, the Flint, Mich., water crisis, climate change, and population growth. The number of tech accelerators focused on water issues jumped from 14 in 2013 to 26 in the first half of 2017, according to Cleantech Group.
At the same time, water-intensive industries looking to conserve resources and comply with regulations are increasingly turning to software to do so.
Robin Gilthorpe, chief executive officer of seven-year-old WaterSmart Software Inc. , says he now sees “a good steady flow of capital and entrepreneurs into the water sector.” His company, which was Kremen’s first investment, uses data to help water utilities improve their operations.
“Three years ago, ‘digital water’ wasn’t a thing. Today there’s a lot of talk about it,” says Gilthorpe, who entered the field after a career in big data and analytics.
Silicon Valley even has its own water-focused tech accelerator, ImagineH2O . The company began eight years ago and has worked with more than 80 companies, including WaterSmart. Leveraging water data is one of the bigger trends for ImagineH20’s companies, says its president, Scott Bryan. “Entrepreneurs are applying what they learned in IT and biotech to the water space,” he says.
Some argue that the greatest opportunity to invest in water is in industrial applications, not municipal water use.
The 50,000 or so U.S. water utilities are both highly regulated and conservative when it comes to buying and installing new technology. Gilthorpe of WaterSmart—which does sell to utilities—contends that these utilities are conservative with good reason. “Water is so essential to life; you can’t take risks with it,” he says.
But even the market for managing industrial water has its challenges. In recent years, the oil and gas sectors have pulled back from buying tech that’s used to manage wastewater. That has contributed to a drop in venture capital investment in water tech startups in recent years, say analysts at Cleantech Group.
Some startups have managed to find buyers despite the difficulties. Earlier this year, Monsanto Co.-owned Climate Corp. acquired a startup called HydroBio, which was using data to help farmers manage irrigation. Climate Corp. now offers the software to customers in Europe and plans to expand sales to farmers in the U.S.
“Water will continue to be a challenge in agriculture. Digital tools will help growers make more informed decisions,” says Climate Corp. CEO Mike Stern.
Kremen has had more success than most with his water investments. In addition to putting one of the first checks into WaterSmart, he also backed Aquacue Inc., a leak detection company that was bought by Badger Meter Inc., as well as a water treatment startup called HydroNovation Inc., which was acquired by Taiwanese company KemFlo International Co.
Despite his investing wins, Kremen remains unusually focused on water policy. He plans to run for reelection to his district board seat in 2018. More
The number of cities around the world is growing quickly. In her book, Replenish: The Virtuous Cycle of Water and Prosperity , Sandra Postel, the director of the Global Water Policy Project, reports that over the past 35 years, the number of cities in China alone has climbed from 193 to 653. As urban and suburban areas expand , the stormwater runoff problems will grow as well.
But now there’s a movement around the world to build smarter and “spongier” cities that can absorb rainwater instead of letting it flow through miles of pavement and cause damaging floods. From Iowa to Vermont and from San Francisco to Chicago , urban infrastructure is getting a reboot.
Creating better stormwater management systems requires using green infrastructure elements in urban planning and restoring some of the rain-retention capacity that cities have lost to urbanization. These elements can be roughly broken into two categories: the man-made engineered replacements of the natural water pathways and the restorations of the original water routes that existed before a city was developed.
Man-Made Solutions: Rain Gardens, Bioswales, and Porous Pavements
Traditional road construction, made with asphalt, gravel and sand, is a very compacted structure that leaves little space between the particulates, and thus no room for the rainwater to seep through. In the construction industry that gap measure is described by the term “air void,” which is typically set at four percent for the traditional pavement mix, says Richard Willis, Director of Pavement Engineering and Innovation at National Asphalt Pavement Association. More
Thursday, December 7, 2017
COP23 video: What needs to happen by COP24 to keep the Paris Agreement on track? | Carbon Brief
Carbon Brief has been talking to a range of people attending COP23, the latest annual round of international climate negotiations being held this year in Bonn, Germany.
A large proportion of the talks has been focused on making progress across a range of issues before the next COP, which is due to be held in Katowice, Poland.
These include finalising the format of the “Talanoa dialogue”, the new Fijian name for the collective stocktake (or “facilitative dialogue”) scheduled for 2018 to allow countries to assess their progress towards meeting the long-term goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.
Carbon Brief asked delegates what they thought needs to happen by COP24 to maintain the momentum of the Paris Agreement. More
|The refinery in Gela.|
Everyone in the Sicilian town of Gela knows someone who has been hit by the health crisis that has gripped the town for decades.
Mortality rates are higher than elsewhere on the island, and the town has an unusually high rate of birth defects, including the highest rate in the world of a rare urethra disorder.
“There were tragedies that happened daily in the city,” said Luigi Fontanella, an Italian lawyer who began gathering testimony on the health of Gela’s 70,000 residents in 2007. “Everyone in Gela had a relative, a friend and often a child suffering from serious ailments.”
Fontanella found that hundreds of children had been born with congenital anomalies including hypospadias – the urethra disorder – cleft palates and spina bifida.
Local people have long blamed pollution. A 2011 study by the Italian health service drew a similar conclusion: dozens of babies were dying in the womb or within a week of being born every year from complications caused by environmental contamination. More
Wednesday, December 6, 2017
Current predictions of climate change may significantly underestimate the speed and severity of global warming, according to a new study.
Reappraisal of the models climate scientists use to determine future warming has revealed that less optimistic estimates are more realistic.
The results suggest that the Paris Climate Agreement, which aims to keep global average temperatures from rising by 2C, may be overly ambitious.
“Our study indicates that if emissions follow a commonly used business-as-usual scenario, there is a 93 per cent chance that global warming will exceed 4C by the end of this century,” said Dr Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, who co-authored the new study.
This likelihood is an increase on past estimates, which placed it at 62 per cent. https://goo.gl/5jgsrd
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
'I support #renewables4climate b/c they make sense, even without #climatechange! Today, they've become more profitable than oil & coal. They're more than ecological, they're logical'—@bertrandpiccard bit.ly/2mpHjdE #COP23
But in Germany, Gerhard Knies—a particle physicist—was inspired to ask a simple question. Fossil fuels such as coal, oil, and natural gas: their energy flowed from the sun. It took a tortuous path through plants and animals that were buried for thousands of years to get to us. The radioactive uranium that fueled nuclear power plants was also forged as a trace byproduct of nuclear fusion in stars. Would it not be easier, cheaper, and cleaner to get our energy directly from the sun?
Knies did a simple back-of-the-envelope calculation and worked out that, in just six hours, the world’s deserts receive more solar energy than the entire human race consumes in a year. The energy needs of the world could be met by covering just 1.2 percent of the Sahara desert in solar panels. Knies likely wasn’t even thinking about carbon emissions—just the fact that fossil fuels would one day run out—but climate change provides an even starker motivation for pursuing the project. And of course, it just seems so simple: Knies himself was frustrated about it, questioning, “Are we, as a species, really so stupid as to not make a better use of this resource?” https://goo.gl/HdgK74
Monday, December 4, 2017
GEF Council approves $500m work program on least developed countries and small island developing states
The Global Environment Facility (GEF) 53rd Council wrapped up today after approving a work program of more than $500 million that puts a strong emphasis on support for Small Island Developing States (SIDS) and Least Developed Countries (LDCs).
The work program, one of the largest in the current GEF funding cycle (GEF-6), spans all GEF focal areas and regions and comprises 83 projects and one programmatic approach. 101 recipient countries are set to benefit from GEF support, including 38 LDCs and 28 SIDS.
The full list of approved projects can be found in the co-chairs summary of the meeting, which also details decisions taken to approve a new gender equality policy, a revised stakeholder engagement policy, and an updated policy on ethics and conflict of interest for Council Members, Alternates and Advisers.
Closing the meeting, Naoko Ishii, GEF CEO and Chairperson, thanked participants, noting “we achieved the five things I hoped for.” Stressing that “we have built sufficient trust among ourselves so that we can tackle difficult issues in the future,” she highlighted the achievement of approving “a half-billion dollar work program… new policies, and laying the foundation for others”.
Friday, December 1, 2017
South Australia is now leading the world in dispatchable renewable energy," state Premier Jay Weatherill said at the official launch at the Hornsdale wind farm, owned by private French firm Neoen.
Tesla won a bid in July to build the 129-megawatt-hour battery for South Australia, which expanded in wind power far quicker than the rest of the country, but has suffered a string of blackouts over the past 18 months.
Supporters, however, say it will help stabilize the grid in a state that now gets more than 40 percent of its electricity from wind energy, but needs help when the wind dies down.
"Storage can respond within a fraction of a second. It can address those stability issues very quickly without needing to resort to using large power plants," said Praveen Kathpal, vice president of AES Energy, a losing bidder to build the battery.
South Australia is now leading the world in dispatchable renewable energy," state Premier Jay Weatherill said at the official launch at the Hornsdale wind farm, owned by private French firm Neoen.
Tesla won a bid in July to build the 129-megawatt-hour battery for South Australia, which expanded in wind power far quicker than the rest of the country, but has suffered a string of blackouts over the past 18 months. More