Stern Warns that the Risks of Global Warming are Greater than those of the Financial Crisis

The risks of inaction over climate change far outweigh the turmoil of the global financial crisis, a leading climate change expert said, while calling for new fiscal spending tailored to low carbon growth.

“The risk consequences of ignoring climate change will be very much bigger than the consequences of ignoring risks in the financial system,” said Nicholas Stern, a former British Treasury economist, who released a seminal report in 2006 that said inaction on emissions blamed for global warming could cause economic pain equal to the Great Depression.”That’s a very important lesson, tackle risk early,” Stern told a climate and carbon conference in Hong Kong.

As countries around the world move from deploying monetary and financial stabilization measures, to boosting fiscal spending to mend real economies, Stern said the opportunity was there to bring about a new, greener, carbon-reducing world order.”The lesson that we can draw out from this recession, is that you can boost demand in the best way possible by focusing on low carbon growth in future,” Stern said, including greater public spending on mass public transport, energy and green technologies.

Stern’s warning comes on the heels of the Asia-Europe or ASEM meeting in Beijing, where China indicated in talks it was committed to seeking a climate change pact in vital end-game talks in Copenhagen at the end of next year.Leaders at the summit also urged countries not to use global economic upheaval as a reason for delaying a deal. Partly as a result of the darkening global economic outlook, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi recently warned that 10 other EU nations backed his efforts to block an EU climate plan, prompting further doubts over European action on global warming.

Yet Stern remained optimistic, saying while talks would be “very tense” the likelihood of a deal in Copenhagen to reduce carbon emissions by 50 percent by 2050 remained “very high.”

Any deal would have to iron out differences between the United States, historically the largest greenhouse gas emitter, and rapidly developing countries like China, which by some accounts has surpassed the United States on emissions.China, with its bulging output of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas behind global warming, was singled out by Stern along with the U.S. as pivotal in the talks, with the next U.S. president likely to be much more proactive than George W. Bush.”The U.S. and China will be the key leaders for a global deal. Either one of them could kill it, and I don’t think either one of them will kill it.”

Fresh from a trip to China, Stern said China’s next national economic blueprint or five-year plan would acknowledge its key role to stave off a big rise in global temperatures, the melting of ice-caps and destructive rises in sea levels the world over.”I think we’ll see the 12th five-year plan focus on low carbon growth,” he said.


Scientists Predict Future Hunger Hotspots Associated with Climate Change

Where in sub-Saharan Africa will climate change hit hardest? When it comes to food supply, prospects for much of the centre and east of the region are looking grim. Reduced crop yields along with a rising population mean that Tanzania, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) are likely to face serious shortages by 2030, according to a comprehensive new study.

A team from the Swiss Federal Institute of Aquatic Science and Technology in Dübendorf led by Junguo Liu assessed the impact of climate change by 2030 on the production of six major food crops in sub-Saharan Africa: cassava, maize, wheat, sorghum, rice and millet. Higher temperatures will make wheat wilt, with yields falling by up to 18 per cent. By contrast, millet benefits, with yields up by as much as 27 per cent. Rice, maize, sorghum and cassava show little change.

By combining these assessments with projections for population and economic growth, the team then predicted how people in different countries would be affected. Tanzania, Mozambique and the DRC fared worst for food security. “They have the lowest economic growth, the fastest population growth or the lowest increase in calories from their crops,” Liu says.

The report goes on to predict that economic growth in Nigeria, Sudan and Angola will increase their purchasing power enough to allow them to buy their way out of hunger.


Climate Change Leads to Increasing Conflicts between Humans and Tigers

The dawn mist was still clinging to the mangroves when the tiger struck. Mohammed Rasul Hussain, 45, had left his hut in southwestern Bangladesh at sunrise three weeks ago, with his younger brother, Sheraz, and paddled across the river and into the vast Sundarbans forest. They moored their boat and set off on foot to search for crab, wild honey and firewood in the world’s largest mangrove swamp, which straddles Bangladesh’s border with India. Armed with only a machete, Mohammed did not stand a chance when the tiger leapt from the undergrowth, knocked him to the ground and sank its teeth into his neck. Sheraz could only scream in horror — and run. They buried Mohammed that evening, minus his left leg.

“He knew the dangers of the forest, but he couldn’t do anything else to survive,” said Fatima, 30, his widow and the mother of their three children. “It would be better if there were no tigers here.” Like Mohammed, villagers here have always understood the risks of entering the Sundarbans, one of the last refuges of the endangered Bengal tiger.

Spread across 9,583 square km in the Ganges delta, the Sundarbans is home to 440 tigers, according to a joint Indian and Bangladeshi survey done in 2004. Tigers have long been a problem here. Almost every village has its “tiger widows” and a shrine to Bon Bibi — the forest goddess who wards off the big cat.

Since a hurricane last November, the conflict between tiger and human has escalated to a new pitch — highlighting the environmental threats to this unique habitat. Tigers have killed twenty people in the Bangladeshi Sundarbans so far this year, compared with six in 2007 and seven in 2006, according to forestry officials. Even more worryingly, tigers have started straying into villages on the forest’s fringes. “The situation is quite negative,” says Rajesh Chakma, the head forest ranger in Munshiganj, the worst affected district with 18 fatal attacks this year. “We could see many more attacks before the year’s end, as it’s mating season now and tigers become more aggressive.”

In the village of Horinagar no one goes out after dark anymore, even to use the lavatory. On June 20 a tiger swam across the river from the Sundarbans and killed three people before villagers surrounded it, threw a noose around its neck and beat it to death with sticks. They summoned the forestry officials, as is required by law, but those who arrived could not provide help as they had no tranquillisers.

“The tigers never used to come into the villages, never in my lifetime,” says Shri Poti Mundal, 40, whose father and sister-in-law were killed by the tiger. “If they had captured it and released it, it might have come back.”

Other villages in the area have started lighting fires at night or using loudspeakers from the local mosque to scare off any approaching tigers.

Experts on tiger behaviour are unsure exactly what caused the rise in the attacks as they have not had time to do the necessary research. Most of them suspect that one central factor was Hurricane Sidr, which killed 4,000 people and destroyed 20 per cent of the Sundarbans in November 2007. “Tigers have been displaced to this area – and they are territorial,” Mr Chakma said.

Many also blame a “perfect storm” of environmental problems — rising sea levels, the silting up of rivers, annual floods and salination of fresh water supplies. “The Sundarbans is dying,” said Ainun Nishat, the head of the International Union for Conservation of Nature‘s Bangladesh office and an expert on the Sundarbans. “The forest is getting degraded, so that means less prey,” he said. “And you must remember that this is not the tigers’ natural habitat.”

The Sundarbans — a UNESCO World Heritage Site —- is simply the only space left for the tigers in a country slightly bigger than England with a population of 150 million people. Remarkably, tigers which normally inhabit inland jungle have adapted by learning to swim, catch fish and drink salty water. As fast as the animals have adapted, however, the forest has shrunk further and the human population around it has multiplied to 2.5 million. Thousands of people now enter the forest every day — many of them former rice farmers whose land was flooded with seawater — pushing ever deeper into the tigers’ domain.

It is a struggle for survival that man and beast are both doomed to lose. The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicted last year that rising sea levels could submerge 17 per cent of Bangladesh by 2050, creating 20 million “environmental refugees”. A 45cm (17.7in) rise in sea levels would destroy 75 per cent of the Sundarbans, according to UNESCO, and subsidence means that net water levels are already rising 3.1mm a year in parts of the forest.

Villagers are mostly unaware of such official forecasts but they know their fate is intertwined with that of the tigers. “The Sundarbans is our national treasure — and our livelihood,” said Athar Rahman Malik, 40, who survived a tiger attack last year and still bears the scars on his head and arms. “If the Sundarbans is alive, then we are alive.”


IPCC Chair Urges Action by the Media

The chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said the news media are not sufficiently addressing the severity of climate change at a meeting of U.S. environmental journalists earlier this week.R.K. Pachauri, head of the 2,500-member IPCC, said that unless policies are enacted soon to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, the global perils from shifting weather patterns and sea level rise will become worse in the coming years.

To communicate the dangers of climate change, Pachauri urged the annual gathering of the Society of Environmental Journalists (SEJ) to help translate the most recent IPCC assessment to a local scale and report on how climate change will affect local communities.”In the last year and a half, there has been a massive explosion of awareness; however, the media has not reported enough about the emergency and depth of action,” said Pachauri, who has led the United Nations panel since 2002.

The fact that only half of Americans polled consider human activity to be the main cause of climate change is often blamed on media coverage. But news reports of climate change have steadily increased in recent years, especially since government reports, a major Supreme Court hearing, and the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” brought attention to the climate crisis in 2006.Pachauri suggested that major news agencies now rely too much on high-level science reports or large climate-related events for their stories, rather than examples of climate change’s ongoing effects. “We need to go beyond the cyclical coverage of climate change and emphasize the day-to-day relevance,” he said.

SEJ President Timothy Wheeler said news stories often reflect what public opinion polls suggest are priority topics. According to a January 2008 Pew Research Center study, U.S. voters listed global warming toward the bottom of their current policy concerns. “When the economy is the way it is, a war is going on, these are the things that grab the headlines and network news,” Wheeler said.

Several journalists at the conference voiced concerns that the financial instability of many U.S. newspapers may further limit the quantity and quality of environmental reporting. Many news organizations cut their reporting staff and the size of their publications this year due to dwindling profits during the Internet Age.In response, nearly a quarter of newspaper editors said they dedicate fewer reporting resources to science topics than three years ago, according to a July 2008 Pew Research Center survey of editors from the largest U.S. newspapers. Only 10 percent of editors surveyed consider science and technology reporting as “very essential” to the quality of their news product.

Yet the trend for environmental coverage, which would include local pollution stories in addition to global ecological problems, is less clear. The survey said 17 percent of editors decreased their environmental reporting resources, while 22 percent said these resources increased in the past three years.”Editors are cutting international, even national news, and they’re playing up more local and lifestyle stories,” said Wheeler, a reporter at The Baltimore Sun. “But the environment is still an important local story.”

Also speaking at the conference, journalist Jeff Goodell said the news media need to improve their coverage of the risk that coal-fired power plants pose for climate change, even if emissions are eventually captured.”[Carbon-capture and sequestration], as a journalist this is something we’ve done a very bad job of covering,” said Goodell, author of Big Coal. “There are a lot of questions about CCS and whether this is going to work. It’s something everyone in this room should look at in detail.”

Also related to media coverage of climate change, researchers at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health found that only 0.5 percent of climate change articles mention the role that livestock and meat production play in warming the planet, according to a study set to be published in Public Health Nutrition. Food production in general was mentioned in 2.4 percent of the climate change stories published in U.S. newspapers studied between September 2005 and January 2008.The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization has stated that livestock production releases more greenhouse gas emissions than the transportation sector, mainly due to the clearing of land and the release of methane, a gas 23 times more potent than carbon dioxide.


Greening the Home – Public Speaker Panel

Date: October 23
Time: 7:00-9:00pm
Location: Beban Park Lounge, 2300 Bowen Road, Nanaimo
Cost: Free!

New emissions reduction targets
Energy costs rising
Financial crisis threatening real estate values
It’s time to Green your Home!

Simon Fraser University’s Adaptation to Climate Change Team (ACT) hosts a speaker panel event on Greening the Home. Working with both the Regional District and City of Nanaimo, under its “Defining the Sustainable City” series, the event invites homeowners to meet with leaders in sustainable development, green real estate investment, and home energy efficiency. Speakers and topics include:

Joe Van Belleghem, Managing Partner, Dockside Green
– the vision for sustainable development
Chris Corps, Principal, Asset Strategics
– good news on investments in green buildings
Helen Goodland, Executive Director, Light House Sustainable Building Centre
– practical tips on improving home energy efficiency

To register, please call the City of Nanaimo Community Planning Office at 250-755-4483.


International Climate Impacts and Responses, and Imagine BC Dialogue

All day free public event November 20, 2008 from 9:30am-4:30pm at the Morris J. Wosk Centre for Dialogue (580 West Hastings Street, Vancouver, BC)



15-minute presentations from each panelist, followed by moderated panel dialogue (Joanna Ashworth, Director, Dialogue Programs, SFU to moderate).

International panelists:

Dr. Wendy Craik, Chief Executive, Murray-Darling Basin Commission, Australia
Dr. Anand Patwardhan, Professor, Shaileh J. Mehta School of Management, Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay
Dr. Allan Lavell, Coordinator, FLACSO (Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales), San Jose, Costa Rica
Dr. Hassan Virji, Director, International START Secretariat, Washington DC (Tanzania)
Arctic speaker – still confirming

Summary: Dr. Gordon McBean, Policy Chair, Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction; ACT policy author – on threats facing Canada and BC; effective planning at the federal, provincial and municipal levels; and the recommendations ACT will be releasing.

12:30-1:45pm: Lunch in the ICBC Concourse with keynote speaker

2:00-4:30pm: Presentations and dialogue with public and international experts on climate impacts and futures for BC, to be moderated by Joanna also, and opened with remarks from Cathy Daminato, VP Advancement, SFU

Speakers (10 minutes each):

Graham Whitmarsh, Head, BC’s Climate Action Secretariat (BC govt planning)
BC First Nations Speaker (tbc) (BC First Nations experiences)
Stewart Cohen, Adaptation and Impacts Research Division, Environment Canada; School of Forestry, UBC OR William Rees, Professor, SCARP, UBC (tbc) (future BC scenarios)

Key BC voices also to be invited as audience subject matter experts for this dialogue discussion.

Summary: Dr. Richard Lipsey, ACT co-founder and Professor Emeritus, Department of Economics, SFU


Adapting Infrastructure to Climate Change: Free Public Dialogue

Date: Thursday, October 16, 2008
Time: 3:00 to 5:00 pm
Location: SFU Surrey, Room 5280

Come and hear from a panel of expert speakers on climate impacts to buildings and other crucial infrastructure, and local planning responses. Speakers and topics include:

Dr. Gordon McBean, Policy Chair, Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction – climate change and emergency preparedness

Ewa Ciuk, ICLEI Canada – pilot study on sea-level rise for Delta

Efrosini Drimoussis, CH2M Hill Canada Ltd. – Engineers Canada infrastructure climate change vulnerability study (tbc)

Kip Gaudry, Director of Community Planning & Development, Corporation of Delta – responses to the ICLEI study


Extreme Events: Adapting Infrastructure to Climate Change; Business Lucheon and Speakers Panel

What: Extreme Events: Adapting Infrastructure to Climate Change
Business Luncheon and Speaker Panel

Date: Thursday, October 16, 2008
11:30 am to 2:00 pm
Compass Point Inn, Surrey (9850 King George Highway)
To register:
Email info@businessinsurrey.com, attention Heather Scragg.


In partnership with the Surrey Board of Trade, ACT presents a business luncheon and public panel discussion for leaders in the development, construction, financing and real estate sectors. From 11:30 am to 2:00 pm, a four-person expert panel will discuss threats to infrastructure posed by climate change, current standards, and possible responses.

This conference presents a crucial discussion opportunity for leaders in the development community. The ultimate goal is to create models for infrastructure and development that take sustainability and adaptation measures into account, while acknowledging the needs of the business community.

Members of the public and of the Surrey Board of Trade, senior industry leaders, local development and real estate decision-makers are invited to attend.

Graham Whitmarsh, Head of BC’s Climate Action Secretariat
Dr. Gordon McBean,
Policy Chair, Institute for Catastrophic Loss Reduction
Aubrey Kelly, VP Construction and Development, Weststone Properties
Chris Corps, Principal, Asset Strategics and real estate investment expert


Leading International Experts to Visit ACT

November 18th to the 21st will see ACT playing host to 4 international experts in the field of climate change for meetings, a public dialogue, and classroom visits at Simon Fraser University.

The visiting experts includ:

Their expertise includes meteorology, natural resource management, engineering, international policy and economic geography. To learn more about these distinguished guests, please see their biographies below, and please keep checking back for information about the upcoming public dialogue.

Speaker Biographies:

Dr. Wendy Craik, Chief Executive, Murray-Darling Basin Commission (Australia)
Dr Wendy Craik took up her position as Chief Executive of the Murray-Darling Basin Commission (MDBC) on 26 August 2004.

Prior to this Wendy was President of the National Competition Council, Chair of the Australian Fisheries Management Authority and Chair of the National Rural Advisory Council. Other former positions include Chief Executive Officer of Earth Sanctuaries Ltd, a publicly listed company specializing in conservation and eco tourism, Executive Director of the National Farmers Federation, Australia’s peak farm lobby group, and Executive Officer of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority, responsible for the conservation and management of the Great Barrier Reef. She has also worked as a consultant for AcilTasman Consulting.

Wendy is a member of the Board of the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal, and of the Minter Ellison National Government Advisory Board. She has been a member of a variety of other Boards and advisory councils.

Wendy has extensive experience in organizational and natural resource management. She completed a Bachelor of Science (Honours) from the Australian National University, a PhD in Zoology at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, and has a Graduate Diploma of Management from the then Capricornia Institute of Advanced Education.

Wendy was awarded Executive Woman of the Year for the Rural Sector in 1998, and Telstra Ansett Australia Private Sector Business Woman of the Year for the ACT in 1999. She was awarded a Federation medal in 2003.

Dr. Allan Lavell, Coordinator, FLACSO (Costa Rica)
Professor Allan Lavell, a British citizen and resident of Costa Rica, is Coordinator to FLACSO for the Program Social Studies, Risks and Disasters (LA RED), and Central America and Caribbean Coordinator for the Latin American Network for Social Studies and Disasters.

A PhD in Economic Geography from the London School of Economics and Political Sciences, Professor Lavell is a Principal Researcher and Coordinator of ENSO and Risk Patterns in Latin America (IAI-LA RED) involving 8 countries.

Professor Lavell is a former Coordinator for Latin America and the Caribbean of the Program of Social Studies in Disasters at the General Secretariat of FLACSO in Costa Rica (1992-2005); Director Central-American Research Program, CSUCA in San Jose, Costa Rica (1986-1991); Associated Professor at the Demographic and Urban Studies Center, Colégio de Mexico in México and Associated professor and researcher at the Environmental Studies Center (CEMA) of the Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana, Atzcapotzalco, México

Author of 92 academic publications Professor Lavell’s main works are on risks and natural disasters.

Dr. Anand Patwardhan, Professor, Shailesh J Mehta School of Management at IIT-Bombay (India)
Professor Anand Patwardhan has recently returned to the Shailesh J Mehta School of Management at the IIT-Bombay after serving as the Executive Director at the Technology Information, Forecasting and Assessment Council (TIFAC), an autonomous organization in the Department of Science & Technology of India. He also holds an adjunct faculty position at Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, USA.

Professor Patwardhan has a B.Tech in Electrical Engineering from IIT-Bombay (1987), a MS in Civil Engineering (Environmental Science) (1991) from Carnegie Mellon University and a PhD in Engineering and Public Policy (1993), also from Carnegie Mellon University. He was a Marine Policy and Ocean Management Fellow at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution from 1994-1995. His research interests are in the broad areas of technology policy; and his work has been in two broad domains: environment & climate change and information & communication technology.

Professor Patwardhan has been actively involved with international scientific assessments in the climate change area, as a lead author for the third and fourth assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), and the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment. He is a member of the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel (STAP) of the Global Environment Facility (GEF). He has worked extensively with industry and government, as a consultant, and as a mentor and advisor for a number of new economy ventures.

Dr. Hassan Virji, Director, International START Secretariat, Washington (Tanzania)
Hassan Virji has served as the Executive Secretary of the U.S. Interagency Subcommittee on Global Change Research while based at the U.S. National Science Foundation; as the Deputy Executive Director of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme based at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm; and as the Associate Program Director for the Climate Dynamics Program of the U.S. National Science Foundation. He has also held academic and research positions at the University of Nairobi and the University of Wisconsin. Hassan obtained his Ph.D. in meteorology from the University of Wisconsin.


Declining Shrimp Stocks Threaten Greenland

Dwindling shrimp stocks off Greenland’s coast have local fishermen and authorities fretting that one of the island’s main sources of income, coined “pink gold”, could soon vanish. “We must sound the alarm bells because it would be a catastrophe for the island’s economy if the shrimp were to disappear,” Helle Siegstad, a biologist who heads up the research department at Greenland’s Institute of Natural Resources (INR) said.

Although Greenland, an autonomous Danish territory, has been attempting to diversify its economy to include more income from tourism and mining, fishing still accounts for nearly 90 percent of all its exports, and shrimp make up more than 50 percent of those sales, according to the local statistics agency. “It would have serious consequences for Greenland’s economy if the stocks disappear, since we have virtually nothing to replace them,” Siegstad said.

In Ilulissat, in the west of the icy island, fishermen say they are having a harder time filling their shrimp nets and are being forced farther and farther from the coast to find the valuable crustaceans. “We weren’t able to fill our quota last year,” one fisherman lamented. Royal Greenland, the world’s leading provider of cold-water shrimp, confirmed that its shrimp boats were reporting shrinking stocks, while Greenland’s main employer’s association said fishermen were complaining of soaring fuel costs as they were forced to stay out longer to catch the same amount of shrimp.

But while everyone seems to be in agreement that there are fewer shrimp, with INR figures showing a drop from 150,536 tonnes caught in 2005 to 139,500 tonnes last year, it is unclear what is causing the decline. “We really don’t know why the shrimps are becoming rarer,” Siegstad said, venturing however to speculate that “it could be due to a combination of global warming and the fact that predators such as cod are moving back into Greenland waters.”

“We’ve noticed in recent decades that when the cod stocks shrink, the shrimp stocks grow, and vice-versa,” she added, pointing out that the shrimp biomass off the island had been shrinking since 2003.

While Siegstad rejects that overfishing is to blame for the dwindling access to the tasty crustaceans, she and most of her colleagues have in vain recommended that the local government dramatically slash quotas.”It is necessary that the quota of 150,000 tonnes of shrimp a year be cut by at least 30 percent and brought down to 110,000 tonnes” this year, and that it be cut further next year, she said. If that does not happen the most pessimistic projections say “stocks could plunge to 40,000 tonnes within four to five years,” she said.

Local finance minister Aleqa Hammond meanwhile said she was leaning towards the theory that climate change was to blame for the gradual disappearance of Greenland’s pink gold. “The Greenlandic economy is based on a single source of revenue: fishing, which is changing due to climate change,” she said. “Warming of two degrees Celsius has a huge impact,” she pointed out, insisting the higher temperatures “explain why the shrimp are emigrating farther north.”

Some Greenlanders are hoping the replenishing cod stocks could help the money flowing in even as the shrimp disappear, but Siegstad warned it would take a long time for cod stocks to reach the sky-high levels of the 1960s. “There is not enough cod to cover the possible losses from shrimp, and there will not be for five to 10 years,” she said. “And if we aren’t careful, if we do not give it time to build up its stocks, we will make the cod disappear,” she said, blasting a government decision to set an annual catch quota of 15,000 tonnes of cod instead of banning all fishing of the species. The challenge, she said, was “to make sure desperate fishermen faced with declining shrimp stocks do not destroy the re-establishment of the cod stocks.”


Researchers Warn of More Floods for Scotland

Flooding around Scotland’s coasts is set to increase because of sea level rises of up to 32cm by 2080, an influential new study has found. The report, Coastal Flooding in Scotland: A Scoping Study, commissioned for the Scottish Government and prepared by scientists at Dundee University, warned action was needed to manage the looming problem.

The study highlighted that almost 25,000 properties across Scotland are currently at risk of coastal flooding on average once in 200 years. The Falkirk local authority area has the highest exposure to such flooding, with just over 6,000 properties at risk. The report estimates that by the 2080s sea levels will be about 20cm higher in the Clyde estuary, 28cm higher in Moray and Aberdeenshire and 32cm higher in the Northern Isles.

The report further found that in response to recent sea level rise, the height of storm surges are increasing in height by up to 2.2mm a year. Dr Tom Bell, the report’s author, said, “We are pretty confident that the sea level will increase in most areas around the Scottish coast. It is fair to say that where the sea level is going up it’s going to exacerbate the hazard.” He added that low-lying areas with inlets or river estuaries were most at risk.

The researchers studied more than 300 coastal floods since 1849 and discovered the Solway Firth, Moray Firth, Aberdeenshire and Firth of Clyde had suffered the most. They also found that storms driven in from the Atlantic Ocean during periods of strong westerly winds were the main cause of coastal flooding.

Andrea Johnstonova, freshwater policy officer at the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds Scotland, said it was necessary to seek natural, long-term solutions such as “managed coastal realignment”, where some areas are left to be taken over by the sea. She said there was currently a lack of innovative projects to address the increased threat of coastal flooding and sea level rise, and called for it to be the focus of the new Flood Risk Management (Scotland) Bill, which is due to be put before the Scottish Parliament next week. “Climate change and sea level rise is going to increase the risk of coastal flooding in future, putting additional pressure on existing coastal defences and threatening coastal habitats and wildlife,” she said. Dr Ball agreed that coastal realignment could be worth considering in some cases, and said it would probably not have to involve the abandonment of any homes.


Global Search for Climate-Resistant Crops Begins

A global search has begun for food crops with traits that are able to withstand changes to the climate.The project, co-ordinated by the Global Crop Diversity Trust, is searching national seed banks for “climate proof” varieties, including maize and rice. The team will screen seeds for natural resistance to extreme events, such as floods, droughts or temperature swings. They hope the strains will help protect food production from the impacts of climate change. The $ 1.5 million scheme will provide grants for projects that will screen developing nations’ seed collections.

The trust says a lack of readily available and accurate material severely hinders plant breeders’ efforts to identify material that can be used to develop crop varieties that will cope with future conditions. “Our crops must produce more food, on the same amount of land, with less water, and more expensive energy,” explained the trust’s executive director, Cary Fowler, “There is no possible scenario in which we can continue to grow food we require without crop diversity.”

The gene hunt is the latest stage in the organization’s ongoing process of conserving the diversity of the world’s food crops. Over the past few years, it has convened a series of meetings that brought together leading experts for each of the main food crops, such as wheat, rice, lentils and maize. Each meeting was set the task of identifying the best conservation strategy for each of the crops. “The experts have, among other things, helped us identify which are the most important seed collections in terms of genetic diversity,” Fowler said. “This has provided us with the scientific foundation for almost everything else we do.” The information has helped the trust, which is also responsible for the “Doomsday seed vault” in the Arctic, pinpoint the exact characteristics needed to ensure that crops have the best chance of thriving in the future. Mr Fowler said one example was whether a plant displayed a good degree of heat resistance during its flowering period. This was a time when a plant would be experiencing increased stress, he said, yet very little data had been gathered on this part of the organisms’ lifecycles.

Over the next 12-24 months, the project’s researchers hope to build up a comprehensive profile of the various “climate-proof” traits and in which crops they are found. “Then it is a matter of getting these varieties containing those valuable traits into breeding programmes,” Mr Fowler explained. He added that all the data would be made available to everyone – both public and private organisations – in an online database. “Plant breeders will be able to go online and type their search criteria, then up pops the details of the samples that match the breeders’ requirements, such as drought tolerance or heat resistance.”

Developing crops that will be able to produce higher yields and cope with climate change is one avenue that is also being explored by the biotechnology sector. Campaigners in favour of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) hope that developments in this area will lessen public opposition to GM food. When asked whether he was concerned that the information gathered by the trust could be used to produce commercial GM crops, Fowler said: “We don’t have a horse in that race. “Agriculture is facing a lot of challenges, and diversity holds a lot of the keys to meeting those challenges. I wish I had a crystal ball good enough to see what agriculture is going to need 100 years or 500 years from now, but I don’t. All I would say is that the people involved in fighting the pro-GMO or anti-GMO battle don’t have that crystal ball either – the best we can do is conserve all the options.”


New Report Targets Management Adaptations for Ecosystems and Resources

A new report, Preliminary Review of Adaptation Options for Climate-Sensitive Ecosystems and Resources, is a contribution to the US Climate Change Science Program (CCSP) and was developed by the Global Change Research Program in the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development. It is one of 21 synthesis and assessment products commissioned by the CCSP. The report seeks to provide the best-available science to date on management adaptations for ecosystems and resources. Key findings of the report include:

· The success of adaptation strategies may depend on recognition of potential barriers to implementation and creation of opportunities for partnerships and leveraging.

· The United States’ adaptive capacity can be increased through expanded collaborations among ecosystem managers.

· The United States’ adaptive capacity can be increased through creative re-examination of program goals and authorities.

· Establishing current baselines, identifying thresholds, and monitoring for changes will be essential elements of any adaptation approach.

· Beyond “managing for resilience,” the United States’ capability to adapt will ultimately depend on our ability to be flexible in setting priorities and “managing for change.”


New Report Gives Cities Tools to Increase Resilience

Climate Resilient Cities; 2008 Primer, published jointly by the UN International Strategy for Disaster Reduction, the World Bank and the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, provides a tool for municipal governments in the East Asia Region to plan for climate change impacts and associated natural disasters through sound urban planning aimed at reducing vulnerabilities. The main focus of the tool is to identify vulnerable and at-risk-areas.


Dutch Planning Adaptation Measures

A government commission recently presented its recommendations for how the Netherlands must strengthen its water defenses to combat global warming’s potentially devastating effects. The plan by the Delta Commission is expected to be the central reference point for policymakers for decades to come — especially for dealing with anticipated rising seas and the threat of flooding.Two-thirds of the country’s 16 million people already live below sea level. The Netherlands’ political history and even its name, which means the “lowlands,” have been shaped by its location at the delta created by the Rhine and other major European rivers.

The Netherlands has already budgeted euro1 billion (US$1.4 billion) annually for urgent water defense projects over the next 20 years, in addition to the euro500 million (US$720 million) spent annually to maintain existing sea and river dikes.

The worst flood in living memory was a 1953 disaster in which a storm surge drove water along the Dutch coast more than 13 feet (4 meters) above normal levels, breaching defenses and killing more than 1,800 people. The first Delta Commission created after that deluge undertook a massive 40-year building project that made the country’s water defenses among the strongest in the world.

The new commission was created last September, after the damage caused by Hurricane Katrina spurred a new round of reflection and preparations. Those included drawing up worst-case scenario plans for evacuations — a politically unthinkable task just a few years ago.

Dutch policymakers are now preparing for a rise in sea level of around 80 centimeters (30 inches) in the coming century regardless of the ongoing scientific debate on global warming. Strategies introduced in the last decade include pumping sand into strategic offshore locations where North Sea currents sweep them into place, bulking up dunes; re-establishing minor waterways and canals to accommodate sudden water influxes; and designating intentional flooding zones for emergencies. Some long-term ideas previously proposed include altering the course of the Rhine or creating “breaker islands” off the country’s North Sea coast to defend against storm surges.


Lovelock Warns Against Putting Too Much Faith in Engineering Solutions to Climate Change

Engineering solutions to modify the Earth’s environment and climate may be necessary if humanity is to adapt to global warming, a group of influential scientists announced today. Technological fixes such as encouraging cloud formation and increasing the amount of carbon dioxide absorbed by the oceans have the potential to limit climate change, according to papers published in a special issue of the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society.

The experts, however, also give warning that there is no guarantee that such ingenious schemes will work, and that so-called geo-engineering needs to be assessed properly to ensure that it does not cause more problems than it solves.

Professor James Lovelock, the environmental scientist who developed the Gaia hypothesis of the Earth as a self-regulating organism, likened geo-engineering to 19th-century medicine — a tool that might sometimes work, but was generally too primitive to stave off disaster.

“Whether or not we use … geo-engineering, the planet is likely, massively and cruelly, to cull us, in the same merciless way we have eliminated so many species by changing their environment into one where survival is difficult,” he said. “Before we start geo-engineering, we have to raise the following question: are we sufficiently talented to take on what might become the onerous permanent task of keeping the Earth in homeostasis [balance]?”

He raised the example of introducing aerosols into the stratosphere to induce a cooling effect. While this might have positive effects, it would not address ocean acidification, a separate problem caused by rising carbon emissions, which would then require another engineering solution. “We have to consider seriously that as with 19th-century medicine, the best option is often kind words and painkillers but otherwise do nothing and let Nature take its course,” Professor Lovelock said.

Page 81 of 84« First...102030...7980818283...Last »