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Swiss resort faces serious threat of flooding from glacier movement

The Swiss resort of Grindelwald faces a serious threat of flooding as a result of glacier movement above it. For the past several years, rock falls from the east side of the mountain onto the Lower Grindelwald Glacier have hastened the chance of flooding by creating a dam effect on the edge of the ice mass – spelling danger for the ever-expanding lake that regularly forms and empties there.

The rock falls have created a dam at the end of the glacier that is blocking the outflow of melt water, resulting in a lake expanse that fills quickly during rainfall. The filling of the lake has already caused major flooding. In May 2008, 800,000 cubic metres of water from the lake spilled over, creating floods in Grindelwald, which continues to be threatened by the degrading mountain. Rock falls may also prevent the normal passage of melt water that flows underneath the glacier, and through Mount Eiger itself.

On Tuesday November 24th, ACT, in partnership with the Swiss Consulate General, and GLOBE Foundation, is delighted to welcome a Swiss expert on snow and permafrost, to Vancouver, as the keynote speaker for a special seminar on clean energy. Dr. Lehning is the Head of Research Unit “Snow and Permafrost,” Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, in Davos, Switzerland. The challenges Switerzland faces in light of climate change such as flooding in the Grindelwald valley, are similar to those of BC, due to the similar geographic makeup the two places share.

The seminar will explore research and development, barriers and opportunities in a number of areas for clean energy such as hydroelectricity, waste-to-energy and geothermal energy. The panel will be moderated by Mr. Bruce Sampson, former VP Sustainability for BC Hydro, and the current Chair, International Centre for Sustainable Cities BC. Mr. Sampson is also ACT policy author for the Energy session that will kick off at this seminar event.

For more information on the seminar and ACT’s energy session, visit the ACT website here.

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Tick, tick, tick…Copenhagen 2009 is approaching

Tick, tick, tick…Copenhagen 2009 is approaching. Climate change already impacts our lives. There are millions of untold stories of the challenges that people face each day. Check out http://tcktcktck.org/ and the ‘climate orb’ that tells the stories of those affected from all over the world. You can submit yours too. An informative and fun interactive resource!

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Climate change creating scores of refugees in sub-Saharan Africa

It is estimated that 10 million people world-wide have been driven out of their homes by the effects of climate change such as rising sea levels, drought, flooding, and other impacts. Sub-Saharan African is acutely feeling the effects of climate change, which is driving Africa’s displacement crisis to new heights.

Oxford University professor Norman Myers, estimates that numbers of climate refugees will increase to 150 million over the next 50 years, replacing war and persecution as the leading cause of global displacement. In Dadaab, Kenya, a refugee camp built for 90,000 people now houses more than 270,000 displaced persons – over three times the amount for which it was originally built.UN officials estimate as many as 10% of Dadaab’s residents are climate refugees. Many farmers have been pushed from their homes because weather conditions have forced them to abandon fruitless crops or dying herds of livestock.

The rising crisis of climate refugees highlights the massive gaps in international and domestic refugee policy. The UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) has no policy that deals with climate change refugees. Under the 1951 Geneva Convention, refugees are defined as people fleeing their country because of violence or persecution.

Population displacement as a result of climate change will place an unprecedented burden on countries that have no plans in place for a sudden influx of persons forced to abandon their countries and livelihoods. ACT will study urgent considerations for Canada and other countries likely to become hosts to refugees, such as governance, employment impacts, health care and housing, during its six-month session on population displacement.

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Interactive map launched by UK Government shows consequences of global climate warming

A new map illustrating the global consequences of failing to keep climate change to under 2 degrees Celsius was launched today by the UK Government. With just 45 days to go before international climate change talks begin in Copenhagen, British ministers are pressing for the most ambitious deal possible in order to avoid these dangerous impacts.

Launch the map here.

The map – launched at the Science Museum by Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, Climate and Energy Secretary Ed Miliband, along with the UK’s Chief Scientist, Professor John Beddington, was developed using the latest peer-reviewed science from the Met Office Hadley Centre and other leading impact scientists. The poster highlights some of the impacts that may occur if the global average temperature rises by 4 degrees Celsius above the pre-industrial climate average.

Ahead of December‘s international climate change talks in Copenhagen, the Government is aiming for an agreement that limits climate change as far as possible to 2 degrees Celsius. Increases of more than 2 degrees will have huge impacts on the world.

The poster shows: that a 4 degree average rise will not be spread uniformly across the globe. The land will heat up more quickly than the sea, and high latitudes, particularly the Arctic, will have larger temperature increases.

The average land temperature will be 5.5 degrees above pre-industrial levels.

The impacts on human activity shown on the map are only a selection of those that may occur, and highlight the severe effects on water availability, agricultural productivity, extreme temperatures and drought, the risk of forest fire and sea level rise.

Agricultural yields are expected to decrease for all major cereal crops in all major regions of production. Half of all Himalayan glaciers will be significantly reduced by 2050, leading to 23% of the population of China being deprived of the vital dry season glacial melt water source.

The Foreign Secretary, David Miliband said, “We cannot cope with a 4 degree world. This map clearly illustrates the scale of the challenge facing us today – climate change is a truly global problem that needs a global solution and it is a solution we have within our grasp. But to tackle the problem of climate change, all of us – foreign ministries, environment ministries, treasuries, departments of defence and all parts of government and societies – must work together to keep global temperatures to 2 degrees. It is only by doing this that we can minimise the huge security risks presented by a future 4 degree world.”

Ed Miliband, Energy and Climate Change Secretary said, “This map shows that the stakes couldn’t be any higher at the Copenhagen talks in December. Britain’s scientists have helped to illustrate the catastrophic effects that will result if the world fails to limit the global temperature rise to 2 degrees. With less than 50 days left before agreement must be reached, the UK’s going all out to persuade the world of the need to raise its ambitions so we get a deal that protects us from a 4 degree world.

Vicky Pope, Head of Climate Change Advice at the Met Office says: “If emissions continue at the current rate the global average temperature is likely to rise by 4 degrees Celsius by the end of this century or even substantially earlier. The science tells us that this will have severe and widespread impacts in all parts of the world, so we need to take action now to reduce emissions to avoid water and food shortages in the future.”

Prof. Chris Rapley CBE, Director of the Science Museum and Professor of Climate Science at University College London said: “The map provides graphic evidence of the dramatic transformation of our world that a 4 degree global temperature rise would trigger. It leaves no doubt of the paramount importance of a successful outcome of the Copenhagen negotiations.”

 

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World’s best town named, and it’s right here in beautiful British Columbia!

Beautiful Gibson’s, BC, has been named ‘the best place in the world to live,’ (for communities with fewer than 20,000 residents) by the International Awards for Liveable Communities. The award program is endorsed by the United Nations.

Gibsons’ commitment to healthy living and environmental sustainability were some of the qualities recognized when the award was bestowed. Located on BC’s Sunshine coast – a 40-minute ferry ride northwest of Vancouver – Gibson’s is already recognized by locals and visitors alike for its stunning scenery and location.

However beautiful the city, the community still faces challenges. The latest round of municipal elections highlighted the divide amongst those who want to increase development in the area, and those who would prefer to slow it down. Further hillside condo construction and harbour re-development are some of the issues causing a heated debate. Environmentalists are concerned that a lack of careful planning could signal the end of what makes Gibsons such a special and sustainable community.

A geothermal plant to provide energy for residents is already in the works, and is an example of how sustainable development and climate change adaptation techniques can exist in a co-beneficial way. The de-centralization of energy from main power grids will increase the resilience and adaptive capacity of smaller communities like Gibsons, against the impacts of climate change like extreme weather events.

ACT will be kicking off its Energy session this coming November, and will be exploring the challenges and opportunities that communities like Gibsons faces in the light of climate change impacts and economic stresses, as pressure to reduce emissions increases.

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ACT’s Executive Director on The Weather Network

ACT’s Executive Director, Deborah Harford, was interviewed by Weather Network reporter Oga Nwobosi Wednesday, September 23rd. Deborah talked to Oga about extreme weather events in Canada and British Columbia, the impacts, challenges, opportunities, and responses in relation to escalating climate disruption. Deborah also discussed practical solutions for coping with extreme weather, from ACT’s Extreme Weather Events policy report.

Look for Deborah discussing extreme weather on the Weather Network on rotation for the next two weeks!

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Australia’s worst dust storm in 70 years

Australia’s worst dust storm in 70 years left large parts of the country’s eastern coast glowing in an eerie orangey-red light…not to mention a horrific amount of dust. Check out the video from Seven News and the footage of Sydney.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2yVlGfQHgMY

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ACT releases second set of policy recommendations – Climate Change Adaptation and Extreme Weather

Today, ACT has released its second set of policy findings – on extreme weather events – authored by Dr. Gordon McBean of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, and Dr. Dan Henstra, of the University of Windsor.

The summary recommendations and the accompanying background report are both available for download in pdf format on the ACT website: www.sfu.ca/act.

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ACT to release second set of policy recommendations Wednesday, September 9th

ACT is set to release findings from its second session – on extreme weather events – Wednesday Sepetember 9th, 2009. Report authors Dr. Gordon McBean and Dr. Dan Henstra will join ACT Executive Director Deborah Harford and Western Professor Gregory Kopp at a news conference at 11:00 a.m., Wednesday September 9, 2009 at Western’s Insurance Research Laboratory for Better Homes, also known as the Three Little Pigs Research Project, to discuss the findings.

ACT’s second session, on extreme weather events, ran from June 2008 to December 2008. The report from the session is called Climate Change Adaptation and Extreme Weather, authored by Dr. Gordon McBean, Policy Chair of the Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction (ICLR), and Dr. Dan Henstra, Assistant Professor of public administration and local government in the Department of Political Science at the University of Windsor.

Visit the ACT website at www.sfu.ca/act to view the press release.

The summary policy recommendations and background report will both be available for download in pdf format from the ACT website at www.sfu.ca/act Wednesday September 9th.

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India to import food as drought disrupts food supply

The Indian government has announced they will import food to make up for shortages caused by a drought affecting an estimated 700 million people. The monsoon season has brought 29% less rainfall than usual, disrupting rice, soybean, sugarcane, and cotton crops. Up to 70% of Indians are dependent on farm incomes, and about 60% of India’s farms dependent on rains.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee said, “any commodity that was in short supply would be imported to boost domestic stocks,” and described a “grim situation”. He declined to comment on details of the imports, citing an attempt to avoid speculation on prices. Food prices have risen by 10% after poor monsoon rains hit sowing. Reports said lentils, edible oils and other staples might be among the foods to be imported.

ACT will be hosting a session on crop adaptation and food supply as part of its 5-year series.

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Wake up, freak out, then get a GRIP!

It’s time to wake up, freak out, then get a GRIP! Check out this great video by Leo Murray that summarizes how dangerously close to the tipping point in the world’s climate system we are, and the scenarios the all species of the planet will face if we don’t anything about it.

“This is not the time to panic, or dispair – it’s the time to ACT!” says Leo. We ARE capable of responding to the great climate challenges we face, and now is the time for cheer and steer, not doom and gloom.

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Okanagan wildfires threaten thousands of residents in Kelowna

The evacuation order for several neighbourhoods surrounding the Kelowna area have now been replaced with evacuation alerts. Vicious wildfires have again been threatening thousands of residents in Kelowna. Approximately 11,000 people were forced to flee their homes under evacuation order, by blazes that were sparked on last week. The Terrace Mountain fire is estimated to cover an area of 4,500 hectares, but is now 85% contained.

Approximately 1,013 residents living in the Fintry area, Valley of the Sun and La Casa resort are still on evacuation order.  The estimated 1,200 residents in the Killiney Beach Short Notice evacuation alert and the Caesar’s Landing short notice evacuation alert areas must be prepared to leave their homes at a moment’s notice.  Another approximately 2,508 residents remain on evacuation alert in the Westshore – Beau Park and Wilson’s Landing – Trader’s Cove and Bear Creek Main to Bear Lake Evacuation Alert areas and should be ready to leave their home should that status change.

The Evacuation Alert has been rescinded for the estimated 17,500 residents affected in the Glenrosa and Rose Valley fires within the District of West Kelowna. Both fires are in the clean-up stage are 100% contained.

The close proximity of the fire to residential areas are a stark reminder of the devastating 2003 Okanagan Mountain Park fire that destroyed 239 homes on the southern edge of Kelowna, and forced 27,000 people to evacuate. Following the 2003 fire, Interior Reforestation Co. Ltd. prepared a report for the City of Kelowna that evaluated restoration opportunities in the wake of the disaster. The “Post Fire Rehabilitation Project” produced a variety of tools to help local government coordinate and focus additional fire re-vegetation and restoration treatments.

Environment Canada has released a special weather statement for coastal British Columbia, citing ‘extreme heat and poor air quality for metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley’, with temperatures into the mid-to upper 30s can be expected. Computer models suggest the heat-wave may last another 4 to 5 days. Many daily temperature records will be broken and possibly monthly temperature records such as hottest July day on record.

ACT will be releasing our second set of policy recommendations – on extreme weather events – in September 2009.

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Is China destined to be the next green energy superpower?

China is investing billions of dollars into renewable energy production in an effort to combat their steeply rising greenhouse gas emissions. While the US is only just taking its first steps towards mandating power companies to generate more electricity from renewable sources, China already imposed such a requirement 2 years ago.

At present coal remains China’s biggest energy source, with at least one coal plant opening every week to meet the nation’s growing demand for power. However HSBC predicts that China will invest more money in renewable energy and nuclear power between now and 2020 than in coal-fired and oil-fired electricity.

An immediate example is the series of projects the country is currently constructing in the Gobi Desert. These include wind and solar plants – both of which are experiencing an unforeseen benefit from the world economic crisis – a significant reduction in the cost of materials needed for construction.

The projects, which are being built on the enormous scale we have come to expect from China’s infrastructure innovations in projects like the Three Gorges dam, “totally dwarf anything else, anywhere else in the world,” says Steve Sawyer, Secretary General of the Global Wind Energy Council, an industry group in Brussels.

Mr. Li Junfeng – deputy director general for energy research at China’s top economic planning agency and Secretary General of the government-run Renewable Energy Industries Association – predicts that China will have 30,000 megawatts of wind energy by the end of 2010 – a target they had hoped to reach by 2020.

Challenges for the Gobi Desert projects include resilience and weak infrastructure issues. For instance, sandstorms that obscure solar panels render them useless, and must be carefully cleaned off by workers with feather dusters to avoid scratching the delicate surfaces – a time-consuming and labour-intensive process that can take up to two days. Wind turbines are being built faster than China can augment its national grid by erecting power lines to carry the newly-generated electricity to cities at a variety of distances.

New legislation on emissions in the US, combined with BC’s already forward-looking carbon tax, will no doubt stimulate the new low-carbon economy and low-emissions technologies here in North America. ACT’s upcoming Energy session, scheduled to begin in September 2009, will consider new standards and solutions for BC’s energy sector in light of climate change impacts and economic stresses, as pressure to reduce emissions and the need to adapt energy generation and distribution methods rises.

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‘Megacryometeor’ costs Delta residents $15,000 in property damage

May showers not only bring flowers, but also volleyball-sized chunks of ice falling from clear blue skies. In May, The Province, CTV, and other news outlets reported the story of a Delta resident witnessing large chunks of ice falling from the sky like “artillery shells”.

The largest of the ice balls was reportedly the size of a volleyball, and created a small crater about six inches deep, and a foot in diameter. Estimates of the damages caused to residential property are in the $15,000 range.

Although initial reports suggest the ice could have come from a passing airplane overhead, witnesses specifically claim they did not see any planes, or exhaust from planes overhead at the time of the incident. The Meteorological Service of Canada is now taking steps to liaise with Delta police to re-locate the samples from a freezer to an Environment Canada lab in North Vancouver, where they will undergo scientific analysis.

A scientific research team in Spain, hosted by TIERRA: Thematic Network of Earth Sciences in Spain, describe the phenomena as ‘extreme atmospheric events (Megacryometeors) that could be a new type of fingerprint (geoindicator) of Climate Change’. The team claims that “tropospheric Global Warming (and mainly Stratospheric Cooling) might be making the tropopause colder, moister and more turbulent, creating conditions in which ice crystals could grow, forming, unusually and much more recurrently, large ice conglomerations”.

ACT has been in touch with the scientists who will be studying the megacryometeors to analyze their composition, and looks forward to reporting on the outcome of the analysis when it become available!

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Caribbean Coral deaths blamed on climate change

Climate change is being blamed as a major contributor to flattening of the complex, multi-layered architecture of Caribbean coral reefs, which provide a natural defense against tropical storms and a home to hundreds of species of aquatic flora and fauna.

A study published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters, authored in part by researchers from Simon Fraser University, states that the most complex type of reefs have been almost entirely wiped out across the entire Caribbean. Characterized by Table Corals of over 1 metre across and, and large Staghorn Corals, complex reefs act as a refuge for fish stocks, and hunting ground for larger, commercially fished species.

An analysis of 500 surveys of 200 reefs, conducted between 1969 and 2008, show that many have been replaced with the flattest types of rubble-strewn reef, which now cover approximately three quarters of the Caribbean’s reef area, up from about a fifth in the 1970s. Flatter reefs are less effective in protecting coastal settlements from storm swells and tidal surges, and are also less hospitable to biodiversity than healthy complex reefs, with repercussions for the fishing industry:

“Lack of … refuges for species with commercial importance, such as lobsters and large fishes may compromise the long-term sustainability of fisheries and fishing communities,” the report said.

Complex reefs also act as natural buffers, and their disappearance means that human coastal settlements are at increased risk from extreme weather events, such as more numerous and severe hurricanes, projected to occur due to climate change .

ACT’s biodiversity recommendations looked at the threats to ecosystems associated with climate change, and our upcoming report on Extreme Weather Events is due out in early September.

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ACT Executive Director Deborah Harford featured in Globe & Mail

A new Globe & Mail article, ‘Academics launch unique approaches to climate change,’ featuring an interview with ACT Executive Director Deborah Harford, highlights ACT as Canada’s only university organization addressing the policy aspects of climate change.

“We need to reduce our emissions and show other nations how that can be done – but also plan for the inevitable effects of warming, which span everything from health risks such as the spread to tropical diseases, to impacts of extreme weather and increased storms, to problems with our crop and water supplies,” says Harford. “It’s about increasing resilience and learning how to think about everything in new ways.”

The article notes that the challenges of dealing with climate change also present the opportunity to be creative when making smart adaptation choices, in order to benefit both the environment and economy.

“All you need is conviction and the right kind of information and you can make a difference. You can affect the future if you have the courage of your convictions,” Harford adds.

Link to the full article here.

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