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Reports Paint Pictures of the Future of US Food and Water Supply

A congressional field hearing convened on May 27 in Seattle heard about threats to American food and water supplies through the release of a new scientific report. The Effects of Climate Change on Agriculture, Land Resources, Water Resources, and Biodiversity in the United States presents the likely effects of climate change on the United States’ lands, waters and farms over the next half-century.Produced by the United States Department of Agriculture, the report represents the work of 38 scientists and researchers from universities, national laboratories, non-governmental organizations and government agencies and the synthesis of more than 1000 individual studies.

Some of the reports key findings include:

  • Climate change is already affecting U.S. water resources, agriculture, land resources, and biodiversity, and will continue to do so.
  • Higher temperatures will negatively affect livestock. Warmer winters will reduce mortality but this will be more than offset by greater mortality in hotter summers. Hotter temperatures will also result in reduced productivity of livestock and dairy animals.
  • Much of the United States has experienced higher precipitation and streamflow, with decreased drought severity and duration, over the 20th century. The West and Southwest, however, are notable exceptions, and increased drought conditions have occurred in these regions.
  • Weeds grow more rapidly under elevated atmospheric CO2. Under projections reported in the assessment, weeds migrate northward and are less sensitive to herbicide applications.
  • Invasion by exotic grass species into arid lands will result from climate change, causing an increase fire frequency. Rivers and riparian systems in arid lands will be negatively impacted.

Because of climate disruption of agriculture, consumers can count on higher food prices, researchers said in a news conference. They cited this spring’s unusually wet weather in Eastern Washington as an example.The weatherdiscouraged bees from flying which led to fewer cherry trees being fertilized through pollination, resulting in a smaller cherry harvest — and higher prices.

The congressional hearing also heard from Christopher Sabine, an oceanographer at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory in Seattle. He was co-leader of a study released last week showing the waters off the West Coast are becoming increasingly more acidic — and much closer to shore, much faster, than anticipated.

Washington congressional representative Jay Inslee responded to the report with the statement, “From an acidification standpoint, the ocean is on fire.We need to respond as if it is on fire.”

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ACT to Host Public Dialogue on Extreme Weather Events

ACT will host a public dialogue entitled Extreme Events – Adapting to Climate Change on June 2, 2008 at 7:30 pm.  The dialogue will occur in the Fletcher Challenge Theatre at SFU Vancouver (515 West Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC).

This town hall-style meeting will feature brief presentations on climate-related hazards for municipalities, and offer the public an opportunity to engage with experts and each other on the challenges we face and possible solutions.

Speakers:
Hugh Fraser, Deputy Director of Engineering, Corporation of Delta
Rose Kushniruk, Champagne & Aishihik First Nations; Chair, Alsek Resource Council
Dr. Gordon McBean, IPCC Author; Policy Chair, Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction
Ione Smith, Special Projects Coordinator, SmartGrowth BC

Please consider joining us on June 2.

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Massachusetts Works with Homeowners to Elevate Coastal Houses

The State of Massachusetts is urging property owners to raise their houses along the coast one to three feet to help protect them against rising sea levels and storm damage. The State’s new StormSmart Coasts program says that homeowners along the 1700 mile coastline can save money on their flood insurance by elevating their houses.

Each foot of added height to a home built in the floodplain would add 0.25 to 1.5 percent to the total construction cost. But the added construction cost would be more than offset by decreased flood insurance payments. For a $250,000 home, if the added cost was figured at 0.4 percent, it would cost $1,000 for each additional foot. In the example provided by the state program, if an owner added 3 feet of elevation above the minimum legal standard, the owner would save $285 a month in flood insurance. That savings would outweigh the slight increase in mortgage payments for the added construction cost, the state contends.

StormSmart Coasts was created after a two-year study to help coastal communities plan for, manage, and mitigate the problems rising seas are causing now and will make worse. It recently created a website, which offers information and technical tools towns and cities can use for planning and regulations.

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Nigeria to Face Climate Change Head On

The Secretary to the Federal Government of Nigeria, Baba Gana Kingibe, has said that Nigeria will take anticipatory measures towards averting climatic disasters that have recently ravaged other lands. Kingibe gave the commitment as the Nigerian Senate Committee on Environment and Ecology expressed concern that the country could lose billions of dollars from the diversion of direct foreign investments from the country on account of climatic problems.

“There now appears to be a universal consensus that climate change is a natural phenomenon that has to be accepted and planned for by all nations, the failure to do which will hasten on a global scale, the calamity and disaster now afflicting only a few countries as we have seen in recent times.Nigeria will do well to position herself to benefit from infrastructure, environmental protection and sustainability projects as she begins to implement these mechanisms.”
~ Baba Gana Kingibe

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Cyclone Nargis Devastates Burma

The past week has been scarred by the damage and devastation caused by Cyclone Nargis in Burma. This event has been marked by a greater-than-usual sense of impotency on the part of the international community in its inability to rise to the challenge. The massive scale of the disaster, and the fact that so much of the impacted area is difficult to access has been coupled to the hampering of the immediate relief effort by the country’s military government there and the realization that the hundreds of thousands who’ve been affected were terribly vulnerable in the first place, because of their poverty, the lack of adequate infrastructure, and their proximity to the Bay of Bengal.

As the temperature of the world’s oceans continue to rise events such as Cyclone Nargis are predicted to become more frequent. Massachusetts Institute of Technology meteorology professor Kerry Emanuel calculates that the power of tropical cyclones has roughly doubled since the 1950s. The massive increase has especially occurred over the last three decades, mirroring a rise in man-made global warming, he notes. And the trend stepped up a couple of gears from the mid-1990s, when global mean temperatures began to scale ever-higher annual peaks.

As the trend continues to stronger tropical storms governments and policy makers will have to address the need to adapt to these threats.

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Firms Look to Patent Climate-Ready Crops

Several of the world’s largest agricultural biotechnology companies are seeking hundreds of patents on gene-altered crops designed to withstand drought and other environmental stresses, part of a race for dominance in the potentially lucrative market for crops that can handle global warming, according to a report produced by the ETC Group, Patenting the “Climate Genes” …and Capturing the Climate Agenda.

Three companies — BASF of Germany, Syngenta of Switzerland and Monsanto of St. Louis — have filed applications to control nearly two-thirds of the climate-related gene families submitted to patent offices worldwide, according to the report.

The applications say that the new “climate ready” genes will help crops survive drought, flooding, saltwater incursions, high temperatures and increased ultraviolet radiation — all of which are predicted to undermine food security in coming decades. The report highlights the economic opportunities facing the biotechnology industry at a time of growing food insecurity, as well as the risks to its public image.

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Vineyards in Spain Embrace Adaptation

Climate change poses significant threats to the wine industry, but a clutch of producers in one of Spain’s hardest-hit regions say they have found a way to survive and even profit from it.Raising temperatures result in grapes containing more sugar and thus more alcohol, but higher alcohol content wines have become less popular. Drought can also stop vines from producing fruit altogether.

So wine makers in Spain’s south-eastern Murcia region have come up with a way to coax their vines into making a product that retains the character of a classic wine, only with much less alcohol – 6.5% by volume, compared with 14% or more for many traditionally made Spanish wines.The technique and product are so groundbreaking that the European Union has had to devise a new category – “wine with reduced alcohol content” – for it to be marketed.

“Vineyards are migrating north to avoid heat,” said Pedro Jose Martinez, the brains behind the project at the Casa de la Ermita winery, near the town of Jumilla. “If we want to stay in the business, we have to adapt. And this method gives us a means to do so.”

Climate change has the potential to severely affect Spain. Its wine industry posted £4.5 billion in revenue in 2006, according to the Spanish Wine Federation, and employs 400,000 people. No other country has so much land dedicated to growing grapes.

Rising temperatures and drought that are worrying vine farmers most. Records show Spain is experiencing its driest year since records began 60 years ago.”We are getting higher alcohol levels because of hot weather and excessive evaporation from the grapes,” said Jorge Garcia, manager of the Vitivinos co-operative winery in Villamalea on the south-eastern fringe of La Mancha, the world’s largest wine-producing region, according to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.”Producers are leaving wine making for mushroom cultivation and edible rabbit breeding,” said Garcia.

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Report Highlights the Effects of Climate Change on the BC Real Estate Industry

The David Suzuki Foundation and the Real Estate Institute of British Columbia have released a new report, Hot Properties: How Global Warming Could Transform BC’s Real Estate Sector.

“The energy we use to build our cities, the energy we use to heat and power our cities and the energy we use to transport ourselves and our goods from A to B accounts for roughly one-third of B.C.’s total omissions“ ~Nicholas Heap, author of the report

Citing house floods in Tsawwassen, wildfires in residential Kelowna and landslides on the North Shore and in Mission, Heap said his research leads him to believe many buildings and outlying infrastructure throughout the province are at risk.

“It is now becoming clear to the general public, government, building sector professionals, and insurers that the effects of climate change will require significant changes to current practice.”

~Nicholas Heap

According to Real Estate Institute president Scott Ullrich, the findings weren’t that surprising.

“We’ve been concerned about the issue of sustainability for some time and climate change, as we are all starting to realize, will force real estate professionals to find innovative ways to reduce green house emissions,”

~Scott Ullrich

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New Report Highlights the Risks of Climate Change to Children

A new paper produced by the International Institute for Environment and Development highlights the probable impacts for children of different ages from the increasing risk of storms, flooding, landslides, heat waves, drought and water supply constraints that climate change is likely to bring to most urban centres in Africa, Asia and Latin America. The report entitled Climate Change and Urban Children: Impacts and Implications for Adaptation also explores adaptation, focusing on preparedness as well as responses to extreme events and to changes in weather patterns. The report states that if adaptations to climate change fail to take account of the disproportionate risks for children (who make up between a third and a half of the population in the most affected areas) they will be less than adequate in responding to the challenges.

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Community Vulnerability Assessment of Taber, Alberta

The Prairie Adaptation Research Collaborative recently completed their study of the community of Taber, Alberta.The Institutional Adaptations to Climate Change SSHRC MCRI Project – Report on Community Vulnerability Assessment of Taber, Alberta report presents findings for one of the objectives of the Institutional Adaptation to Climate Change project.

It examines the characteristics (location, history, economic forces and population) of the community of Taber, Alberta and discusses the results of their vulnerability assessment.

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New Report Aims at Helping Home Owners Adapt to Climate Change

A new report, Your Home in a Changing Climate: Retrofitting Existing Homes for Climate Change Impacts, produced by the Three Regions Climate Change Group composed of the Climate Change Steering Group East of England Sustainable Development Roundtable, the South East Climate Change Partnership, and the London Climate Change Partnership, informs and promotes the adaptation of the existing residential building stock for a future climate. It covers dwellings from private individuals to housing associations with an emphasis on water conservation, drainage, flood risk and ventilation. The report shows that there are practical and affordable measures to achieve substantial adaptation.

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Youth Travels the World to Collect Stories of Adaptation

24 year old Juan Hoffmaister set off in July 2007, with support from the Watson Foundation, to gather success stories of adaptation throughout the developing world.Now 10 months into his year-long exploration he says he has instead been gathering “survival stories”.

His project has or will take him to Fiji, Vietnam, Thailand, India, Maldives, and Namibia to learn about adaptation to climate change.His trip will conclude in August 2008 when he will compile the results of his exploration into a report to be presented to the UNFCCC in Germany.To learn more about his travels visit his blog site, Changing Climates: Avoiding the Unmanageable and Managing the Unavoidable.

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New Report Makes Recommendations Dealing with Indigenous Peoples and Climate Change

A new study, Indigenous and Traditional Peoples and Climate Change, produced by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature seeks to better understand the potential impacts of climate change on the livelihoods and cultures of indigenous and traditional communities. It goes on to developing related recommendations, including: formulate policies that actively involve indigenous and traditional communities in the international, regional and local climate change discourse; recognize and actively promote indigenous adaptation strategies; and monitor the implications of mitigation efforts including the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) and Reduced Emissions from Deforestation in Developing countries (REDD) on indigenous and traditional peoples.

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Wildlife Highway Designed to Help Animals Adapt to Climate Change

The Severn Vale Living Landscape project ambitious £500,000 five-year project is aimed at ensuring creatures such as the otter, water vole and wading birds can survive in a changing environment.The project will be developed at the Severn Vale in Gloucestershire, UK, one of the country’s most important wetland sites and a priority area for conservation.

The ambitious scheme by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust, will take shape within the floodplain of the River Severn, extending from Berkeley in the south to beyond Tewkesbury approximately 30 miles north east.At its widest between Stonehouse and Rodley, it will be up to 10 miles across. It will run along both sides of the River Severn, thinner in the north and wider in the south as the river nears the estuary.

The main aim of the project is to join up wetland habitats in the Severn Vale that have become fragmented as land use has changed, leaving wildlife stranded and unable to move north as temperatures rise.Planners have been working closely with local landowners and farmers to create new habitat areas which will allow the animals to make the move northwards while at the same time ensuring the land remains suitable for agriculture.

New wetlands can be created often by simple changes in farming practice such as managing the number of grazing livestock differently at certain times of the year to create less uniform pasture, and keeping ground water levels just below the surface during drier months so the soil remains soft enough for breeding waders to find food.Project officers will also be consulting with landowners about the timing of hay cuts, harrowing, grassland rolling and ditch maintenance, all of which are crucial to creating habitats suitable for wetland species.

Although the target habitat is lowland wet grassland, the project also aims to restore and recreate areas of other habitats such as fen and marsh, reed-bed, wet woodland, unimproved neutral grassland and salt-marsh which together will form the habitats needed by a whole variety of wildlife.

“If wildlife can’t move it won’t be able to adapt to climate changes that are already happening, so species will stop breeding and eventually, over time, disappear from ever larger areas of the countryside.The Severn Vale is the ideal place to establish our first wildlife highway. It’s rich in wildlife and the course of the river provides a natural route north east from the Bristol Channel up into the Midlands and beyond.”

~Dr. Gordon McGlone; Chief Executive of Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust

A comprehensive nature map drawn up by the Gloucestershire Biodiversity Partnership, has enabled the Trust to identify 22 strategic nature areas where it can create target wetland habitats in the Severn Vale. Linking up just 12 will establish the desired ‘wildlife highway’ route north.

“Basically, we’re having to adopt a completely new way of thinking about conservation. The old stamp collecting approach of establishing nature reserves just won’t work in the face of climate change.Wildlife that’s happily lived on our reserves for 40 years won’t survive the next 40 years unless we start linking up habitats so it can move and adapt,”

~ Gordon McGlone.

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The Prairie Provinces Will Need to Deal with Drought

Greg Marchildon, Director of the Saskatchewan Institute of Public Policy (SIPP), delivered the message that while efforts to reduce greenhouse gases can mitigate climate change, the future of the Prairie provinces will depend on our ability as societies to proactively adapt to climate change, to delegates of SIPP’s Symposium on Climate Change this week.The Symposium delegates discussed public policy in terms of adaptation to global warming, climate change and the scarcity of water resources.

“The semi-arid Palliser Triangle (southern Saskatchewan and Alberta) is the second-most vulnerable environment in Canada.The area’s vulnerability has less to do with the rise in temperature than the impact climate change and rising temperatures will have on water.The single-biggest risk for the Canadian prairies is drought, significant and prolonged drought.”

~Greg Marchildon

In 2006, warmer-than-average temperatures were recorded across the world for the 30th consecutive year, a new Statistics Canada report “Human Activity and the Environment: Annual Statistics 2007 and 2008” noted. The report went on to say one of the greatest concerns associated with climate change is the anticipated increase in the frequency of extreme weather events.

Darrell Corkal, a water quality engineer with the Prairie Farm Rehabilitation Administration, said the prairies can learn from the past.

“When we take a look and hear about water scarcity, the biggest issue for us in the region is understanding that we live with a variable water supply — we have sometimes too much and oftentimes not enough.Repeated droughts in the past are expected to occur in the future whether or not we believe in climate change and if climate change is superimposed upon the historical record it makes the situation potentially worse.If you accept those scenarios then we need to find ways of dealing with those increased vulnerabilities.Those vulnerabilities are going to force us as a society to make water management decisions as well as adaptations not only at a local level but adaptations institutionally as well as provincially and federally.We can’t be complacent about water and climate.Our major drought in 2001-02 was a two-year duration drought but it was more extensive than the drought of 1931 because it affected more of the country. While the most severely hit areas were the Prairie provinces, the 2001-02 drought had a huge economic impact — something like a $6-billion loss in gross domestic product across the country.It had an economic impact but it did not devastate the land environmentally or ecologically like the sustained droughts did in the 1920s which lasted in multiple years.”

~Darrell Corkal

Corkal questions whether the prairies are equipped to deal with the challenges if hit by a repeated drought that could last six to 10 years.

“Our soil conservation techniques and our seeding practices are all helping us cope right now with short-term droughts and our water-management facilities (irrigation) are helping us deal with that as well.But if we ever get hit with a multi-year drought are we ready to deal with that? That is definitely a challenge.Increased water demands by different portions of society whether urban versus industrial demands or different sectors of industry, including agricultural demands, are inevitably going to force society into decisions of making wiser choices of how water is managed and shared.There has to be proactive planning and policies by governments that take into consideration those competing interests and the management and sharing of water in the Palliser Triangle.”

~Darrell Corkal

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New Report Highlights the Business Case for Adaptation

The Pew Center on Global Climate Change has just released a new report “Adapting to Climate Change: A Business Approach”.The report was authored by Frances J. Sussman, Senior Economist with ICF International, and J. Randall Freed, Senior Vice President of ICF International.

The report highlights that although many businesses are taking some climate change impacts into account – such as potential federal and state regulations, shareholder perceptions, and changes in consumer and producer markets – many are not incorporating the physical effects of climate change into their business planning.

This report outlines a business approach to analyzing and adapting to the physical risk of climate change.It focuses on a critical first step in assessing these climate impacts: understanding the potential risks to business and the importance of taking action to mitigate those risks. It recognizes that not all businesses need to take action now and therefore develops a qualitative screening process to assess whether a business is likely to be vulnerable to the physical risks associated with climate change, and whether a more detailed risk assessment is warranted.

The report goes on to highlight three business case studies of companies that have begun to look at adaptation to climate change.These case studies highlight the very different circumstances that motivated each company, and how the companies may be moving towards different conclusions about the appropriate response to changing climate.The companies highlighted are: Entergy Corporation, The Travelers Companies, and Rio Tinto.

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