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.


New Report Aims to Help Adaptation in Africa

The Stockholm Environmental Institute has recently released a report prepared for the Rockefeller Foundation titled Climate Change and Adaptation in African Agriculture.The report and associated policy briefing urge the effective use of climate science to improve adaptation efforts in African agriculture.

The report’s main recommendations include: improve access to historical climate data; strengthen skills for applying climate science; bridge the gap between information producers and information users; create “platforms” for collaborative action and information sharing; build on existing organizations and networks; develop records of “good” adaptation; and focus aid to better support adaptation.


ACT’s Second Meeting a Success

ACT kicked off their second session at the start of May focussing on Extreme Weather Events and Natural Hazards.This session runs until December 2008. Dr. Gordon McBean, acclaimed climate scientist and Policy Chair for the Ontario-based Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction, is acting as the lead policy author for this session.

Over June 2nd and 3rd ACT hosted the first of three invitation-only conferences associated with this session: Extreme Events: Municipalities Adapting to Climate Change. Two more, one on Public Safety, one on Infrastructure, are scheduled for the fall.

On the first day of the conference participants explored the current and projected climate change impacts on municipalities, the current responses, and discussed the policy challenges associated with these impacts and responses.Dr. Stewart Cohen, Senior Researcher with the Adaptation and Impacts Research Division of Environment Canada; Katrina Bennett, Hydrologist at the Pacific Climate Impacts Consortium from the University of Victoria; and Neil Cunningham, Acting Manager for the Climate and Green Initiatives Branch for the Government of Manitoba, made presentations to the participants expanding the themes of the general discussions.

The night of June 2nd featured a well-attended public dialogue titled Extreme Events – Adapting to Climate Change.This town hall-style meeting featured brief presentations on climate-related hazards for municipalities, and offered the public an opportunity to engage with experts and each other on the challenges we face and possible solutions.Speakers for the event included: Dr. Gordon McBean; Hugh Fraser, Deputy Director of Engineering for the Corporation of Delta; Rose Kushniruk, Community Planner for the Lands and Resources Department of the Champagne and Aishihik First Nation; and Ione Smith, Special Projects Coordinator for SmartGrowth BC.

The goals of the conference on June 3rd were to discuss the identification and implementation of viable policy options that can assist sustainable adaptation; explore the shortlist of policy challenges developed on day one; and gain to valuable feedback to contribute to ACT’s findings for the Extreme Weather Events and Natural Hazards session.To complement the on-going discussions, presentations were made by Margot Daykin, Manager of Sustainability Programs for Richmond; and Don Haley, Senior Project Manager for the Engineering Resource Science Section of the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

Some of the key themes identified by participants during the two day meetings included:

  • adaptation strategies must fit within the broader context of emergency planning and within the broader objectives of community sustainability;
  • no-regrets adaptation planning should be implemented, meaning that adaptation measures should consider unintended consequences, head off negative ones and find ways to capture co-benefits (for example, policies that have both positive adaptation and mitigation outcomes);
  • adaptation planning must be flexible and should include mechanisms for periodic monitoring and adjustment;
  • all sectors of the community should be engaged in and empowered by the adaptation process;
  • better public education and warning systems should be implemented in terms of extreme weather events;
  • and the importance of employing multi-level governance in addressing climate change adaptation.

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.”


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.

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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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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