New IPCC Technical Paper Focuses on Water

The sixth in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Technical Paper series, Climate Change and Water, addresses issues of freshwater and climate change. The paper notes “abundant evidence that freshwater resources are vulnerable and have the potential to be strongly impacted by climate change, with wide ranging consequences for human societies and ecosystems.” It also notes projections for increased flooding and drought, increased water pollution, and the need for integrated adaptation strategies on both the demand and supply sides. The paper was developed by an interdisciplinary team of authors from the three IPCC working groups, and has been subject to expert and government review, although it has not been considered by the IPCC for its approval.


Report Focuses on Human Rights Concerns Resulting from Climate Change

A new report discusses human rights concerns raised by anthropogenic climate change and by the strategies devised to address it. Climate Change and Human Rights: A Rough Guide, produced by the International Council on Human Rights Policy, indicates areas where climate change will have direct and indirect human rights impacts, and where human rights principles might sharpen policy-making on climate change, including in the two core policy areas of adaptation and mitigation. The report also assesses the adequacy of human rights conceptions and processes to the larger justice concerns climate change raises.


New Paper Investigates Pastoral Land Rights in the Face of Climate Change

A new paper produced by the International Institute for Environment and Development, titled Browsing on fences. Pastoral land rights, livelihoods and adaptation to climate change,addresses the rights to land of pastoral groups while accounting for changes brought about by climate change.It brings together the input from over 120 participants from a web-based forum organized in 2006 by the International Land Coalition on pastoral land rights. Additional materials and lessons were drawn from a number of projects and experiences all around the world, in order to provide a comprehensive update about the rights of nomadic and pastoralist groups and natural resources. Elements for discussion were contributed by another web-based forum organized by the World Initiative for Sustainable Pastoralism in 2007, focusing on climate change, adaptation and pastoralism, which received contributions from over 80 participants belonging to or working with pastoral groups in different regions of the world.


Health Canada Report to be Released with Little Fanfare

The Conservative government is planning a quiet release for a major Health Canada report that warns of the harmful impact of climate change on the health of Canadians, particularly the young, elderly and aboriginals.

Those involved with the report were informed in a July 3 conference call that the government is preparing a “low-profile release” on the Health Canada website, rather than launching the report with major media fanfare.

The Health Canada report is called Human Health in a Changing Climate: A Canadian Assessment of Vulnerabilities and Adaptive Capacity. It is more than 500 pages long and has been ready for several months.

McMaster University chemistry professor Brian McCarry, who chairs a group called Clean Air Hamilton, said the dangers of global warming and fossil fuels on human health deserve far more attention, not less.”Certainly, the stance taken by this government has been to keep climate change in a low-profile format,” he said. “Unfortunately, Canada and the U.S. are almost singular in the world now as being not quite climate-change deniers, but they’re not putting much emphasis on [it.]”

Canadian scientists and climate experts worked for months on a similar major study last year for Natural Resources Canada called From Impacts to Adaptation, which warned of the specific impacts of climate change for each region of the country.The release of that report was delayed for several months before being posted in a hard-to-find section of the Natural Resources Canada website. As a result, the report received little media coverage, frustrating many of the public servants, scientists and academics who worked on it.Similar frustration is now beginning to surface over the government’s handling of the Health Canada study.

Health Minister Tony Clement‘s press secretary, Laryssa Waler, issued a brief response yesterday to questions about the department’s communications plan. “Health Canada is preparing the report for release. Once it’s ready, it will be released,” she said in an e-mail.

Peter Berry, Health Canada’s senior policy analyst for climate change and health, who was on the July 3 conference call discussing the communications plan for releasing the report, offered an outline of the study during a February presentation to Clean Air Hamilton.At that time, Dr. Berry said the report would be released in the spring. It is expected to warn of the health dangers of longer and hotter heat waves on the elderly and children, while saying that changing vegetation will affect the traditional ways of northern aboriginals.Dr. Berry’s presentation included a quotation about how society will only act to avoid the effects of climate change if it is aware of the possible negative consequences.

Dale Marshall of the David Suzuki Foundation, responded to the government’s plans by saying”If this government cared about climate change, then it would highlight these reports and use them as a way of engaging Canadians on the importance of addressing the issue.”


Some Scientists State That Species Will Need to be Moved to Survive Climate Change

With climate change increasingly threatening the survival of plants and animals, scientists say it may become necessary to move some species to save them.

“When I first brought up this idea some 10 years ago in conservation meetings, most people were horrified,” said Camille Parmesan, a biology professor at the University of Texas.”But now, as the reality of global warming sinks in, and species are already becoming endangered and even going extinct because of climate change, I’m seeing a new willingness in the conservation community to at least talk about the possibility of helping out species by moving them around.”

Dubbed assisted colonization or assisted migration, the idea is to decide how severe the threat is to various species, and if they need help, rescuing them by moving them someplace new.Suggestions of how this could be applied include moving African big game to the American Great Plains, or airlifting endangered species from one mountaintop to another as climate zones shrink.

Once dismissed as wrongheaded and dangerous, assisted colonization is now being discussed by serious conservationists. And no wonder: Caught between climate change and human pressure, species are going extinct 100 times faster than at any point in human history.And some scientists say that figure is too conservative. The real extinction rate, they say, is a full 1,000 times higher than normal. The last time such annihilation took place was during the time of the dinosaurs. And though many conservationists say that saving species by transplanting them is foolish, others say there’s no choice.

“It’s a showdown. The impacts of climate change on animals have become apparent. And it’s time to decide whether we’re going to do something,” said Notre Dame ecologist Jessica Hellmann, co-author of an influential 2007 Conservation Biology paper, A Framework for Debate of Assisted Migration in an Era of Climate Change. “Reducing CO2 is vital, but we might have to step in and intervene.”

“They want the world to be what it was before. But it’s not going to happen,” said Australian ecologist Hugh Possingham, co-author of an assisted-colonization article published in Science, Assisted Colonization and Rapid Climate Change.

The language of Possingham’s paper is understated — its centerpiece is a risk-benefit flow chart — but the recommendations are radical. He proposes a systematic analysis of Earth’s threatened species, identifying those suitable for last-ditch uprooting.That one of the scientific world’s most respected publications carries such a proposal marks a sea-level shift in conservationist consciousness, say researchers. Others have weighed the idea, but Possingham’s team came down firmly in favour.

Adding to the momentum, the Ecological Society of America‘s annual meeting in August will be preceded by a three-day discussion of assisted colonization, by ecologists, policy wonks and lawyers.

Still, it’s an idea that makes conservation biologists nervous.

There are plenty of risks in moving plants and animals to new locations. They may not survive, or they may become invasive, growing wildly without predators and crowding out natives of their new location.And it’s not possible to relocate every species that may need it, so how to decide who gets moved and who gets left behind to become extinct?

Stanford biologist Terry Root has been traveling the country urging her colleagues to come up with a plan for “triage” to decide which species should be saved from global warming and which can’t. After other biologists complained about the word “triage,” Root said she now calls it prioritizing which species should be saved.”We’ve got to work on the ones we have a prayer of saving,” Root said.

Some species biologists will have to write off, such as the threatened and endangered species of the Sky Islands in Arizona and New Mexico because “They don’t have any place to move to.Those species are functionally extinct right now,” Root said. “They’re toast.”

When deciding which species to save and which to watch die, Root said one key is how unique it is. That’s why she said she’d save the odd-looking Tuatara of New Zealand, a lizard-like creature with almost no living relatives, over the common sparrow.

But not everyone is in a rush. “I think it’s a bad idea,” said Duke University biologist Jason McLachlan, also a co-author of the Conservation Biology paper. “There are a million examples of invasive species introduced with good intentions that caused all sorts of damage.”Accounts of destruction wrought by invasive species are legion, from wild boars in the southern United States and zebra mussels in the Great Lakes to cane toads in Australia and mongeese in Hawaii. An endangered species that now seems sympathetic could quickly become a villain.

The perfect example of McLachlan’s objections is the solution touted by some researchers to save polar bears: move them to the Antarctic. Cost and logistics aside, the bears would wreak havoc in an ecosystem unprepared for them.”Antarctic penguins and seals aren’t adapted to surface predators,” explained Steven Amstrup, the chief U.S. Geological Survey polar-bear researcher. “The bears would have a field day for a while, because they could walk right up to them and eat them. For a short period of time, it would be great, but in the end the whole system would probably collapse.”

But assisted-colonization proponents believe their animals, unlike other invasive species, would be carefully selected and their effects anticipated.”You work out what the risks are before you take action,” said Possingham. “You go through these decision trees, and start by doing some trials under very controlled circumstances, then we’ll learn about it.”

“Things could still go wrong”, said Hellmann, “but the consequences pale in comparison to those of climate change and inaction. And for animals whose natural habitat has been eradicated, or who live — as did the golden toad of Costa Rica’s cloud forest — in rapidly changing places from which they cannot escape, there may be no other option.”

“If all other conservation methods fail, and evidence shows that a species is in danger of extinction, then assisted migration becomes an option that we should consider seriously,” said Nature Conservancy ecologist Patrick Gonzalez.

McLachlan, however, has other reasons for opposition. Assisted colonization could be seen as a quick-fix panacea, distracting people from the necessary task of preserving habitat and braking climate change. More philosophically, there’s something troubling about treating nature as a zoological theme park.”We’re destroying any semblance of the idea that a place has its own biota and history,” he said. “It’s not just saving a couple whooping cranes, it’s redesigning the entire biota of Earth. And that’s incredibly creepy to me.”

Hellmann agrees that assisted colonization could be mistaken as a convenient solution. But the purity of nature, she said, is now a myth.”You can find signatures of humanity in the deepest jungles and remote locations. This idea of pristine nature doesn’t really apply,” she said. “If assisted colonization will have benefits, it seems strange not to cross some arbitrary line.”

“Ultimately, the decision about whether to actively assist the movement of a species into new territories will rest on ethical and aesthetic grounds as much as on hard science,” Camille Parmesan said in a statement.”Passively assisting coral reef migration may be acceptable, but transplanting polar bears to Antarctica would not be acceptable.Conservation has never been an exact science, but preserving biodiversity in the face of climate change is likely to require a fundamental rethinking of what it means to preserve biodiversity.”


Changing Climate May Ruin Coffee Production in Uganda

Changing weather patterns in Uganda may lead to the extinction of the east African country’s key export, coffee, in coming decades, a report by British charity Oxfam states.

Uganda is Africa’s second biggest coffee producer after Ethiopia and has become a major player in robusta coffee production since political unrest in the Ivory Coast slashed that nation’s coffee output.Coffee output in 2007/08 (Oct-Sept) is seen at 2.85 million bags, up from 2.7 million the year before.

The report, Turning up the Heat, Climate Change and Poverty in Uganda, stated that:

“The outlook is bleak. If the average global temperatures rises by two degrees or more, then most of Uganda is likely to cease to be suitable for coffee…this may happen in 40 years or perhaps as little as 30.”

“According to the United Nations Environmental Programme, only patches of land on the periphery will still be able to grow coffee…In the meantime, coffee farmers are going to have to adapt to rising temperatures.”

The report went on to state that effects of global warming like increasing temperature and more intense rainfall and storms, has led to erratic rainfall patterns in Uganda.

Across much of Uganda, the climate is bimodal, meaning that there are two rainy seasons — the first from March to June and the second from October/November to December/January. Rainfall during the rainy seasons has become unreliable, the report said, adding that reduced rain during the March to June season was causing drought, reductions in crop yields and plant varieties, while the late season rainfall was coming in more intense and destructive downpours, bringing floods, landslides and soil erosion.

“But, farmers have continued to invest in Uganda’s Robusta coffee and export earnings have continued to increase. This has helped protect losses from climatic problems,” said Philip Gitao, head of the East African Fine Coffees Association.Farmers have also adopted good husbandry practices such as using more hardy coffee plants, added Gitao, who was quoted in the Oxfam report.


Australia’s Murray-Darling River System May Never Recover from Drought

The prolonged drought in Australia’s Murray-Darling river basin is worsening and the country’s food-producing region may forever be changed by accelerating climate warming, Australian government officials announced.

Despite good autumn rains, June inflows into the river basin were the lowest in more than a century on record and climate experts are predicting a 60-70 percent chance of below average rain in the next decade, with the year ahead likely to be a “shocker.”

The drought will hit irrigated crops like rice, grapes and horticulture the hardest, but would have less impact on output of wheat, which depends largely on rainfall during specific periods and is on track to double after two years of shrunken crops.

“Regrettably, the drought is getting worse,” said Wendy Craik, chief executive of the government’s overseeing Murray-Darling Basin Commission, revealing June inflows were only 95 gigalitres against a long-term average of 680gl. “If the sort of climatic regime we’ve had in the past couple of years becomes a feature of the future, it’s pretty clear we don’t have the volume of water available that we’ve had in the past. Clearly the basin is not going to be the same,” Craik said.

After good early rains, which briefly eased Australia’s worst dry spell in 100 years, dry weather has set in again in the past three months, plunging more rural areas back into drought.

The Murray-Darling, an area the size of France and Germany, produces 41 percent of Australia’s agriculture and provides A$21 billion ($20 billion) worth of farm exports to Asia and the Middle East. Some 70 percent of all irrigated agriculture comes from the sprawling region.

Neil Plummer, Senior Climatologist at Australia’s National Climate Centre, said rains barely dented the drought, or the one-in-two chance of a dry year ahead. As well, long-term trends now pointed to 6-7 years of below average rain each decade.

Craik said while the basin was expected to have enough water for critical needs in the coming year, many irrigators would face zero or near-zero water allocations and environmental river flows would be slashed to a bare minimum. The warming outlook for what is already the world’s driest inhabited continent would also force hard decisions on river use, with the water needed to save threatened lakes more than the total extracted last year by basin irrigators, she said.

The government’s top climate adviser, economist Ross Garnaut, last week said the Murray-Darling could be devastated by climate change without global action, with irrigated agriculture slashed by 92 percent. The current drought has already wiped more than A$20 billion from the economy since 2002.

But Craik said growers were proving surprisingly resilient, pointing to barely changed grape harvests last year, which dropped from 1.9 to 1.8 mln tonnes as farmers introduced more water-efficient cropping systems. “Farmers can be incredibly adaptable,” she said.


Climate Change Causing Insurance Rate Hikes along the US Coast

Scientists say the jury is still out on whether rising sea temperatures will cause more hurricanes to hit U.S. coastlines. Yet some insurance companies are boosting premiums based on assumptions that they will. Others are withdrawing from coastal communities altogether.

Last year, Leanne Lord of Marion, Massachusetts, decided to put her house up for sale after her insurance premiums more than doubled to about $2,892 a year since 2005. Many of her Cape Cod neighbors, who hadn’t seen a hurricane in the area since 1991, followed suit. Today, there’s a glut of houses on the local market.

Costs for homeowner insurance along the East and Gulf coasts have risen 20% to 100% since 2004, says the Insurance Information Institute, a trade group. In the three years through 2006, says the institute, property and casualty insurers registered record profits, topping out at $65.8 billion in 2006. (Despite severe U.S. weather that has caused about $8.9 billion in insured property losses to date this year, it’s too early to forecast 2008 profits.)

Helping to drive these developments is a little-known tool of the insurance world: Computerized catastrophe modeling. Crafted by several independent firms and used by most insurers, so-called cat models rely on complex data to estimate probable losses from hurricanes.

But regulators and other critics contend that the latest cat models — which include assumptions about various climate changes — are triggering higher insurance rates.

Starting in the early 1990s, cat models began to replace the industry’s older tools. Previously, insurers based their rates and underwriting policies largely on historical records of past claims. The turning point in methodology came after 1992, when Hurricane Andrew wrought damages in excess of $15.5 billion and left about a dozen insurers insolvent.

The original purpose of cat models was to help stabilize the insurance market and ensure affordable coverage in risky areas. To do this, the first versions used historical weather data to project long-term future losses.

In the wake of the punishing 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, many cat models saw drastic revisions. Rather than take a traditional longterm view, some attempted to estimate what might happen in the next several years. Modelers also factored in dramatically higher rebuilding costs when a large area is hit. The result: big premium hikes and higher deductibles.

Underlying the newer cat models are scientific theories that rising sea temperatures will result in more intense, and possibly more frequent, hurricanes. The hypotheses suggest that catastrophic hurricanes like 2005’s Rita, Wilma and Katrina weren’t an aberration, but rather the shape of things to come.

Large reinsurance companies, such as Swiss Re and Munich Re, were early converts to theories of global warming and cite warming of the earth’s oceans when predicting massive damages from future storms.

“Losses from hurricanes and tropical storms have risen along with sea temperatures,” says Eberhard Faust, a climate scientist at Munich Re. “This is [the assumption] from where all the modelers start.”

The impact from cat models on homeowners along the East and Gulf coasts has stirred some of the greatest controversy. In New Jersey, State Farm Mutual Insurance Co. and a subsidiary of Allstate Corp. have declined to renew at least 12,000 customers with homes near the ocean. In Mississippi, several insurers, including Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co., have stopped covering wind damage in six counties along the Gulf. Some homeowners in the region got a 90% premium increase in 2006. And in Florida, State Farm, the largest private insurer there, said recently it would no longer write new homeowner policies and planned to drop 50,000 existing ones.


Bangladesh Proposes Fund to Help Countries Combat Climate Change

Bangladesh has proposed the creation a fund to fight climate change in densely populated South Asia, which experts say is vulnerable to rising seas, melting glaciers and greater extremes of droughts and floods.

Regional experts on climate change began two days of talks in Dhaka on July 1, ahead of a meeting of environment ministers from countries of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC).

“We want to find a common stand among the South Asian countries and will raise our voice together against the perils of climate changes,” said Raja Devasish Roy, head of the Environment and Forest Ministry of Bangladesh, after opening the experts’ meeting.

SAARC, comprising Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, will adopt a common strategy at the Dhaka meeting, officials said.

Devasish said industrialised countries were the most to blame for global warming and should compensate poorer nations by providing them grants — not loans — to fight the effects of climate change.”Bangladesh has already created a fund for climate change and allocated $44 million for this purpose in the current fiscal year’s (July-June) budget,” he added.”We call upon all development partners and relevant agencies to come forward to contribute to this fund.”

Britain will host a conference in London in September on climate change impacts on Bangladesh and officials expect donors will pledge contributions at the conference.

Experts say a third of Bangladesh’s coastline could be flooded if the sea rises one metre in the next 50 years, displacing 20 million Bangladeshis from their homes and farms. This is about the same as Australia’s population. Across the region, warmer weather could cause more intense and more frequent cyclones and storm surges, leading to more salt water fouling waterways and croplands, the experts said.Corp yields in South Asia could decrease up to 30 percent by the mid-21st century, they added.  In 2007, two successive floods ravaged Bangladesh and parts of India. In November, Cyclone Sidr killed thousands in Bangladesh and damaged large areas of agricultural land.


Russia Recognizes Threats Global Warming Poses to Defence Infrastructure

Global warming could deal destructive blows to Russia’s defence infrastructure over the next 22 years, a top official recently told Moscow.

Defence infrastructure, including key airfields, oil storage facilities and strategic oil reservoirs, face the risk of destruction from melting permafrost in Russia’s far north by 2030, Russia’s First Deputy Minister of Emergency Situations, Mr Ruslan Tsalikov told the Federation Council, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament.

Mr Tsalikov described the damage that would result from widespread permafrost melt as a catastrophe.He added that Russia’s widespread coniferous forests could be inundated by flooding triggered by the unprecedented warmer weather resulting from climate change.

“If the annual temperature rises by one or two degrees, the permafrost could decrease 50 per cent,” Mr Tsalikov said. “The risk of flooding would also double.”

Western Siberia’s permafrost is currently disappearing at the rate of 4 centimetres per year. That would cause the permafrost’s southern boundaries to retreat by an average of nearly 50 miles across northern Russia over the next 20 years.

Mr Tsalikov’s warnings mark a significant reversal from previous Russian complacency on the issue of global warming. Russian scientists and top officials have readily acknowledged the reality of global warming for years, but they have often described it as a welcome process because it frees up enormous areas of land and ocean floor for human exploitation and habitation.

Russia also announced it is revising its strategy to concentrate more military resources in the far north to establish and enforce its claims to the vast reserves of oil, gas and other natural resources that it expects will be discovered in the Arctic.Mr Tsalikov’s comments reveal that Russian officials now recognise the process will not be cost-free and likely will involve catastrophic damage to existing military assets and infrastructure on an enormous scale.


Pine Beetles May Take Root in Alberta

Mountain pine beetles appear to be on their way to becoming a permanent fixture in Alberta’s forests, provincial officials say.

There were hopes that low winter temperatures in early 2008 would reduce Alberta’s infestation, but a provincial government assessment states that populations of the voracious tree pest remain high in several areas.

“Pine beetles may be here to stay in Alberta,” said Ted Morton, Sustainable Resource Development Minister. The admission also raises the possibility that the beetles could soon spread eastward across Canada’s vast boreal forest, where the generally higher temperatures accompanying global warming may allow the pests to survive.


New Report States that Australia’s Economy Will Benefit from Combating Climate Change

A report produced by the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and commissioned by the Australian Conservation Foundation and the Dusseldorp Skills Forum, says workers will find new “green-collar” jobs as net employment surges in the long-term.

The report’s modelling shows that despite the introduction of an emissions trading scheme in 2010, employment will grow by between 2.6 and 3.3 million jobs by 2025.

Employment is tipped to drop in some sectors after the introduction of the trading scheme, but is forecast to recover and to increase in the long-term to higher levels than the present. Net job growth was predicted in mining, energy, industry and farming. New green-collar jobs will be created in renewable energy, constructing green buildings and appliances, and developing alternative transport.

The report urges governments and training providers to develop strategies for skilling green-collar workers.

Australian Conservation Foundation Executive Director Don Henry said there were big opportunities in green jobs.

“CSIRO has shown we can simultaneously grow jobs and our economy while reducing our environmental footprint. Jobs in sectors that are currently high-carbon emitters, like transport, manufacturing and construction are also expected to grow and will need to be turned into `green-collar’ jobs in a clean economy.”

~Don Henry



Pangnirtung Still Suffering From Flooding

Two weeks ago flash flooding prompted the Nunavut hamlet of Pangnirtung, on Baffin Island, to declare a state of local emergency. High winds and heavy rains damaged two bridges over the Duvall River, including a new bridge that was supposed to open this summer. With both bridges now closed, residents have no access to municipal services such as the water reservoir, sewage treatment plant, and garbage dump.

In fact, residents in the hamlet of 1,325 are being forced to dump raw sewage into the river, which flows into the pristine waters of the Pangnirtung Fiord. Sewage is being dumped directly into the river about 50 metres from where it flows into the fiord, which is the site of a productive local fishery for both char and beluga whales.

Pangnirtung’s new bridge was put into commission when the existing one collapsed. Shortly thereafter the decision was made not to use the new bridge due to a major earth movement under the new bridge.So much water has been blasting along the river that it carved a 10-metre channel through the permafrost, right down to bedrock.

Officials parked a water truck on the far side of one bridge before it became impassable. That truck is now pumping water through a hose across the bridge to another truck, which then ferries the water to residents.The hamlet is asking residents to continue conserving water, which they’ve been doing since the flooding took place, until further notice.

Since the rains, large cracks and sinkholes have been discovered around the riverbank. Emergency workers are toiling around the clock to repair the damage. The Nunavut government has announced just over $500,000 in aid for Pangnirtung.


UN Warns of New Refugee Crisis Fuelled by Climate Change

Climate change is fuelling conflicts around the world and helping to drive the number of people forced out of their homes to new highs, according to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). After a few years of improvement, thanks mainly to large-scale resettlement in Afghanistan, the numbers of civilians uprooted by conflict is again rising. During 2007 the total jumped to 37.4 million, an increase of more than 3 million, according to statistics published on June 17.

The figures, described as “unprecedented” by the UN, do not include people escaping natural disasters or poverty – only those fleeing conflict and persecution. But Antonio Guterres, the UN high commissioner for refugees, said that climate change could also uproot people by provoking conflicts over increasingly scarce resources, such as water.

“Climate change is today one of the main drivers of forced displacement, both directly through impact on environment – not allowing people to live any more in the areas where they were traditionally living – and as a trigger of extreme poverty and conflict.”

~Antonio Guterres

Guterres said the number of refugees was likely to continue to increase for the foreseeable future. “More and more the international community will be facing an acceleration of people on the move for all kinds of reasons,” he said.

As climate change, a global economic slowdown, conflict and persecution fuelled each other, it would be increasingly hard to categorise those on the run.

“What we are witnessing is a trend in the world where more and more people feel threatened by conflict, threatened by their own government, threatened by other political, religious ethnic or social groups, threatened by nature and nature’s retaliation against human aggression – climate change is the example of that. And also threatened by … a slowdown in global growth, plus structural change in energy and food markets.”

~Antonio Guterres

The task is also hindered by the legal distinction between refugees, who flee across borders and automatically become the UNHCR’s responsibility, and internally displaced persons (IDPs), who flee their homes but remain in their home countries. In 2007 there were estimated to be 26 million of them, and only half receive direct or indirect help from the UNHCR. “They remain under the protection of their own governments, but the governments are sometimes part of the problem rather than solution,” Guterres said.

He said the UNHCR was not seeking to widen its 1951 mandate, but wanted a review of the status of IDPs, to ensure they received more international help.

UNHCR statistics show that nearly half the world’s refugees are Afghan (about 3 million, mostly scattered in Pakistan and Iran), or Iraqi (2 million, largely in Syria and Jordan). The world’s largest population of IDPs is in Colombia, where 3 million people have driven from their homes by years of insurgency and counter-insurgency. There are 2.4 million IDPs thought to be in Iraq, a rise of 600,000 over the past year. Almost all refugees end up in camps in their region, rather than in the west, which admits relatively few.


EU to Take Steps to Avoid Soil Degradation in the Face of Climate Change

The European Commission recently hosted a high-level conference on the relationship between soil and climate change, and the role of soil management in climate change mitigation and adaptation. Organic matter plays a fundamental role supporting soil fertility, retaining water, sustaining biodiversity and regulating the global carbon cycle. But organic matter is in decline, and the conference heard how large amounts of carbon have been lost to the atmosphere in recent years. The Commission states it is convinced of the need to act at EU level to protect soil. Members of the European Parliament, the President of the Environment Council and other key players reportedly agreed that the role of soil as a repository of carbon must be enhanced. They discussed policy options for achieving this, and advocated the adoption of a directive on the protection of soil, along the lines of the Soil Framework Directive that was blocked by European Council last December.

The conference also looked at the role of peatlands, which are in decline around the world. Peatlands are repositories of carbon and potential sources of methane and nitrous oxide. Urgent restoration is thought to be needed to reduce the huge greenhouse gas emissions from peat soils.

Declining levels of organic matter soils contain carbon in the form of organic matter. When organic matter is exposed to oxygen in the atmosphere, the carbon in the organic matter combines with the oxygen to produce carbon dioxide, contributing to the greenhouse effect and global warming. Organic matter is being lost from soils for a number of reasons. These include long-term changes in land management practices, changing soil management techniques, and changes in rainfall patterns and rising temperatures.

Soil is defined as the top layer of the earth’s crust. It is formed by mineral particles, organic matter, water, air and living organisms. It is in fact an extremely complex, variable and living medium. The interface between the earth, the air and the water, soil is a non-renewable resource which performs many vital functions: food and other biomass production, storage, filtration and transformation of many substances including water, carbon and nitrogen. Soil has a role as a habitat and gene pool, serves as a platform for human activities, landscape, and heritage and acts as a provider of raw materials. These functions are worthy of protection because of their socio-economic as well as environmental importance. Soil degradation is said to be accelerating, with negative effects on human health, natural ecosystems and climate change, as well as on the EU economy. At the moment, only nine EU member states have specific legislation on soil protection (especially on contamination).

The EU’s soils contain more than 70 billion tons of organic carbon, and releasing even a small fraction of that could wipe out savings from other sectors. The UK, for example, has been losing 13 million tons of carbon from its soils each year for the past 25 years.

Different EU policies (for instance on water, waste, chemicals, industrial pollution prevention, nature protection, pesticides, agriculture) are contributing to soil protection. But as these policies have other aims and other scopes of action, they are not sufficient to ensure an adequate level of protection for all soil in Europe.

For all these reasons, the Commission adopted a Soil Thematic Strategy (COM(2006) 231) and a proposal for a Soil Framework Directive (COM(2006) 232) on 22 September 2006 with the objective to protect soils across the EU. The strategy and the proposal have been sent to the other European institutions for further steps in the decision-making process.

The strategy is one of seven Thematic Strategies that the Commission has presented. The other strategies cover air pollution, the marine environment, waste prevention and recycling, natural resources, the urban environment and pesticides.

The Commission believes that a Soil Framework Directive would increase soil protection and safeguard crucial functions like carbon sequestration. It proposed a directive on these lines last year, inviting member states to examine the possible decline of soil organic matter in their territories and establish approaches to redress the situation. The proposal was rejected by the Council.

The soil question is expected to be addressed this autumn in a Commission White Paper on adaptation to climate change. The paper intends to stress the importance of making soil more resistant to climate change, and show how healthy, resilient soils can help society adapt to the impacts of climate change. Recent changes in the Common Agricultural Policy have also stepped up soil protection.



New Recommendations from Nicholas Stern Present Way Forward on Mitigation and Adaptation

A new document, Key Elements of a Global Deal on Climate Change, prepared by Lord Nicholas Stern propose a plan on moving forward both in mitigation and adaptation.

Stern, best known within the realm of climate change for the production of the Stern Review for the British Government, is the IG Patel Professor of Economics and Government at the London School of Economics and Political Science and the Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment.

In his newly released document he proposes key elements of a global climate policy that seek to satisfy three basic principles: effectiveness, efficiency, and equity. Among the specific proposals outlined in this paper are calls for: developed countries, at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) COP15 meetings in 2009, to commit to cutting emissions by 80-90% from 1990 levels by 2050 together with credible interim targets; developing countries to commit to enhanced energy efficiency policies, cheaper technologies and reduced deforestation, and by 2020 developing countries, subject to developed country performance, to take on appropriate and binding national targets; working towards an international cap-and-trade system; integrating forests into global carbon trading in the medium to long term; globally coordinated standards, coordinated public funding and targeted concessional finance to increase technology diffusion and adoption; and integrating adaptation assistance into development spending to deliver development goals in a climate-resilient manner.

The paper also suggests undertaking further work in the following areas to take this programme forward: targets, the role of developing countries in mitigation and trade; international emissions trading-cap-and-trade; deforestation; technology; and adaptation.

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