Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Success in Durban can not disguise need for climate adaptation

Earlier this month, the world’s heads of state, government, industry and NGOs met in Durban, South Africa, to discuss our common future. These climate negotiations were more successful than many people had feared. 

A new international climate agreement will enter into force in 2020. This agreement makes life more predictable for industry and supports a future based on low-carbon technology. But we cannot rest on our laurels because - irrespective of political processes - climate forces are wreaking havoc everywhere. The authorities are drowning in information but lack knowledge about how to adapt to the climate changes we are already facing.

A number of Native Americans in the town of Kivalina in the wilds of Alaska are currently suing oil and energy companies, accusing them of destroying the basis of Kivalina’s life. The town depends on ice formations which protect it against the massive forces of nature which ravage Alaska’s coast. The problem is that the ice has melted dangerously fast over the past few years. Even in 2006, the US authorities’ research results showed that the little society had to be relocated as a result of global warming. The so-called “climigration” lawsuit that is currently taking place in the USA may be the first of many actions for damages in which companies are made responsible for the negative effect that their operations have on the climate of local communities.

A new UN report shows that man-made climate change has already led to extreme weather in the form of heat waves and flooding. Thailand is a country that has over the past few weeks become painfully aware of how catastrophic amounts of rain can destroy the basis of existence for millions of people. Here in Norway, we were reminded of nature’s inexorable forces when Hurricane Berit struck local communities along the Norwegian coast, leading to major destruction. Norwegian municipalities are now being urged to implement measures to adapt to the extreme weather resulting from climate change.

There is widespread anger, frustration and disappointment about politicians and other decision-makers. The authorities, on the other hand, are drowning in information on climate change but lack knowledge about how to deal with the risks they are facing. More

Friday, December 23, 2011

Climate Story of the Year: Warming-Driven Drought and Extreme Weather Emerge as Key Threat to Global Food Security

This year has seen a great many important climate stories.  Obviously, the continued self-destructive failure of the nation and the world to reverse greenhouse gas emission trends always deserve to be the top story in some sense:

The emergence of a genuine grassroots movement following Obama’s fecklessness on the environment is a major U.S. story (see “A Climate Movement Is Born: Ozone Decision Spikes Total Arrests to 1,252 at White House Pipeline Protest“).

And the energy story with the biggest climate implication was clearly Fukushima:

But the climate story that affects the most people around the world today by far is well described in this post — Oxfam: Extreme Weather Has Helped Push Tens of Millions into “Hunger and Poverty” in “Grim Foretaste” of Warmed World.

Climate Progress had been covering those who have been warning the day would come when humanity’s  unsustainable energy and agricultural policies would collide with global warming, who warned that the agricultural system we need to feed the world was built on a relatively stable climate that we are now destroying.  Lester Brown has been our Paul Revere on food insecurity (see the 2009 post Scientific American asks “Could Food Shortages Bring Down Civilization?”). More

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Coming Mega Drought

Australia experienced the worst and most consistent dry period in its recorded history over much of the past decade. The Murray River failed to reach the sea for the first time ever in 2002. Fires swept much of the country, and dust storms blanketed major cities for days. Australia’s sheep population dropped by 50 percent, and rice and cotton production collapsed in some years. Tens of thousands of farm families gave up their livelihoods. The drought ended in 2010 with torrential rains and flooding.

Australia’s Millennium Drought is a wake-up call for residents of the drought-plagued southwestern U.S. and for all of us. What happened in Australia could happen in the U.S., with devastating consequences to the region and to the nation. We can avert the worst, however, if we pay attention to Australia’s experience and learn the right lessons.

The southwestern U.S. bears some resemblance to parts of Australia before the drought. Both include arid regions where thirsty cities and irrigated agriculture are straining water supplies and damaging ecosystems. The Colorado River no longer flows to the sea in most years. Water levels in major reservoirs have steadily declined over the past decade; some analysts project that the largest may never refill. The U.S. and Australia also share a changing global climate that is increasing the risk of drought.

Evidence is mounting that climate change is playing a role in Australia’s water woes. Since 1950 average rainfall has decreased 15 percent, and researchers found average temperatures over southeastern Australia from 1995 to 2006 were 0.3 to 0.6 degree Celsius higher than the long-term average. The combination of higher evaporation and lower precipitation depletes soil moisture and reduces runoff, making droughts more intense and more frequent. Australian scientists forecast a 35 to 50 percent decline in water availability in the Murray-Darling river basin and a drop in flows near the mouth of the Murray by up to 70 percent by 2030.  More

Failure at Durban - Is There a Crime of Ecocide

There is increasing evidence of dangerous, possibly catastrophic, climate change approaching. The latest science leads to the conclusion that limiting climate change to a 2⁰C increase in average global temperature is now not possible. 

There always was, after all, only a 50% chance. Now it has become a question of which year the threshold will be breached, how high the temperature will rise, over what time period, and what the consequences will be for the planet. Twenty years after Rio – after the legislative framework for effective global coordination to combat climate change was set in place – we arrive at deadlock. The capacity of the global community to solve the over-riding global challenge has proven to be inadequate. The global interest has been torn to shreds by the mindlessly competitive pursuit of excessive national interests. 
The talk will now turn to ‘transition periods’, to ‘preparatory phases’, ‘voluntary targets’, ‘coordinated action’, and ‘bottom-up approaches’. Our national leaders will spin positively into 2012. The ‘realistic expectation’ will focus on the possibility of global agreement by, or after, 2020.

The realistic prescription, from the UN and research institutes, is that global emissions need to peak between 2015 and ’17.

Historians, assuming sufficient social stability for dispassionate analysis a half-century from now, will search for reasons for our collective failure during the critical twenty-year period, 1992 – 2012. They will conclude that human technology outpaced human institutional capacity for rational decision-making. National leaders responded, as constitutionally and politically obliged, to national interest. More

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Climate Change and Large-Scale Human Crises

Climate Change and Large-Scale Human Crises


The authors note that early paleo-temperature reconstructions suggested that "massive social disturbance, societal collapse, and population collapse often coincided with great climate change in America, the Middle East, China, and many other countries in preindustrial times (Bryson and Murray, 1977; Atwell, 2001; deMenocal, 2001; Weiss and Bradley, 2001; Atwell, 2002)." They also say it has been shown more recently that "climate change was responsible for the outbreak of war, dynastic transition, and population decline in China, Europe, and around the world because of climate-induced shrinkage of agricultural production (Zhang et al., 2005, 2006, 2007a,b; Lee and Zhang, 2008; Lee et al., 2009; Lee and Zhang, 2010; Tol and Wagner, 2010; Zhang, 2010; Zhang et al., 2011b)."

What was done

In a study designed to provide still greater support for this general relationship, Zhang et al. (2011a) "examined the climate-crisis causal mechanism in a period [AD 1500-1800] that contained both periods of harmony and times of crisis," the most prominent of the latter of which was the General Crisis of the 17th Century (GCSC) in Europe, which was marked by widespread economic distress, social unrest, and population decline. This they did by examining linkages between temperature data and climate-driven economic variables that defined the "golden" and "dark" ages in Europe and North America.

What was learned

The seven scientists were able to demonstrate, in their words, that "climate change was the ultimate cause, and climate-driven economic downturn was the direct cause, of large-scale human crises in pre-industrial Europe and the Northern Hemisphere." In addition, they say it was cooling that triggered the chain of negative responses in variables pertaining to physical and human systems. Initially, for example, they found that agricultural production "decreased or stagnated in a cold climate and increased rapidly in a mild climate at the multi-decadal timescale," while the time course of crisis development was such that "bio-productivity, agricultural production and food supply per capita (FSPC) sectors responded to temperature change immediately, whereas the social disturbance, war, migration, nutritional status, epidemics, famine and population sectors responded to the drop in FSPC with a 5- to 30-year time lag." Thus, the dark ages they delineated by these means were AD 1212-1381 (the Crisis of Late Middle Ages) and AD 1568-1665 (the GCSC), whereas the golden ageswere the 10th to 12th centuries (the High Middle Ages), the late-14th to early 16th centuries (the Renaissance), and the late-17th to 18th centuries (the Enlightenment).

What it means

Several centuries of European and Northern Hemispheric data reveal that warming and warmth beget human wellness, while cooling and cold produce human misery. More

Atwell, W.S. 2001. Volcanism and short-term climatic change in East Asian and world history, c.1200-1699. Journal of World History 12: 29-98.

Atwell, W.S. 2002. Time, money, and the weather: Ming China and the 'great depression' of the mid-fifteenth century. Journal of Asian Studies 61: 83-113.

Bryson, R.A. and Murray, T.J. 1977. Climates of Hunger: Mankind and the World's Changing Weather.University of Wisconsin Press, Madison, Wisconsin, USA.

deMenocal, P.B. 2001. Cultural responses to climate change during the late Holocene. Science 292: 667-673.

Lee, H.F., Fok, L. and Zhang, D.D. 2008. Climatic change and Chinese population growth dynamics over the last millennium. Climatic Change 88: 131-156.

Lee, H.F. and Zhang, D.D. 2010. Changes in climate and secular population cycles n China, 1000 CE to 1911. Climate Research 42: 235'-246.

Lee, H.F., Zhang, D.D. and Fok, L. 2009. Temperature, aridity thresholds, and population growth dynamics in China over the last millennium. Climate Research 39: 131-147.

Tol, R.S.J. and Wagner, S. 2010. Climate change and violent conflict in Europe over the last millennium. Climatic Change 99: 65-79.

Weiss, H. and Bradley, R.S. 2001. Archaeology. What drives societal collapse? Science 291: 609-610.

Zhang, D.D., Brecke, P., Lee, H.F., He, Y.Q. and Zhang, J. 2007a. Global climate change, war, and population decline in recent human history. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA104: 19,214-19,219.

Zhang, D.D., Jim, C.Y., Lin, C.S., He, Y.Q. and Lee, F. 2005. Climate change, social unrest and dynastic transition in ancient China. Chinese Science Bulletin 50: 137-144.

Zhang, D.D., Jim, C.Y., Lin, G.C.-S., He, Y.-Q., Wang, J.J. and Lee, H.F. 2006. Climatic change, wars and dynastic cycles in China over the last millennium. Climatic Change 76: 459-477.

Zhang, D.D., Lee, H.F., Wang, C., Li, B., Zhang, J., Pei, Q. and Chen, J. 2011b. Climate change and large scale human population collapses in the pre-industrial era. Global Ecology and Biogeography 20: 520-531.

Zhang, D.D., Zhang, J., Lee, H.F. and He, Y.Q. 2007b. Climate change and war frequency in Eastern China over the last millennium. Human Ecology 35: 403-414.

Zhang, Z., 2010. Periodic climate cooling enhanced natural disasters and wars in China during AD 10-1900. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Science 277: 3745-3753.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Climate Change Diplomacy and Small Island Developing States Climate Change Diplomacy and Small Island Developing States News Articles (3) Publications (69)

While multilateral environmental agreements like the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) recognize the enormous global challenges posed by climatic changes, these agreements often fall short on pragmatic financial and other mechanisms to assist the most vulnerable countries in addressing these challenges.

Contemporary climate change diplomacy mirrors this phenomenon, as science and global politics interact and converge to confront the vulnerabilities of small island developing States (SIDS) where sustainable livelihoods are threatened by climate change-induced food, water, health and other insecurities.

Science (climate scientists) and politics (diplomats and Foreign Ministry officials) may not always speak the same language, but climate change diplomacy (inter-governmental negotiations on climate change issues) inevitably brings them together into a “marriage of convenience”. In order to address the special needs of vulnerable countries like SIDS, there is consensus between science and politics that the principle of “common but differentiated responsibility” offers the best paradigm and institutional framework to understand and confront the asymmetries in the international system.

Paradoxically, within this consensus lies deep-rooted disagreements as to the best ways to finance mitigation and adaptation programs in SIDS — including, among other issues, how to diffuse the emerging climate-friendly technologies as widely and as fairly as possible. To effectively address these issues, the peculiar developmental and technological challenges facing SIDS must be assessed in the context of the gaps, failures and limitations of present and past global environmental funding facilities such as the Global Environmental Facility (GEF) and the Montreal Protocol on Substances that Deplete the Ozone Layer.

“Common but differentiated responsibilities”

The principle of “common but differentiated responsibilities” recognizes the asymmetries of the international system, especially the differential levels of technological, financial, economic and human capacities between industrialized/developed and developing countries in international environmental negotiations. Despite these asymmetries, every nation has an obligation to participate in joint efforts to tackle shared global environmental problems according to each nation’s capacity and level of development. However, industrialized countries have an obligation to bear a greater burden of these shared problems. More