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Climate Change Outlook: What Europeans Can Expect

UN Climate's top climate negotiators at the COP24 ministerial meeting in Krakow on October 23, 2018, Patricia Espinosa center in lavender. (Photo courtesy COP24) Posted for media use.

UN Climate’s top climate negotiators at the COP24 ministerial meeting in Krakow on October 23, 2018, Patricia Espinosa center in lavender. (Photo courtesy COP24) Posted for media use.

By Sunny Lewis

BRUSSELS, Belgium, November 20, 2018 (Maximpact.com News) – If global warming rises more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels and no adequate adaptation measures are taken, Europe is at risk of being exposed to more frequent, intense extreme weather conditions with serious economic impacts.

This outlook results from a detailed assessment of the impact of climate change on Europe’s economy, society and environment made by the Joint Research Centre (JRC), the Commission’s science and knowledge hub and released on Friday.

The assessment, written by Ignacio Pérez Domínguez and Thomas Fellmann, shows that under a high warming (above 2°C) scenario:

  • Rising temperatures and increased hot spells could result in an additional 132,000 yearly heat fatalities, while labor productivity could drop by 10-15 percent in some southern European countries;
  • Shifts in flower/plant blooming, growing season and changes in soil water content will affect agriculture productivity and habitat suitability, with a potential doubling of the arid climate zone;
  • Sea levels will rise along Europe’s coastlines, resulting in a five-fold increase in coastal flood damages;
  • Three times more people will be exposed to river floods, while river flood damages could rise from 5.3 billion Euro/year to 17.5 billion Euro/year.
  • Energy demand for heating will decrease, yet energy requirements for cooling spaces will rise rapidly;
  • Southern parts of Europe may face increasing water shortage and more droughts, whereas water resources will generally increase in northern Europe;

Most of these climate damages would be greatly reduced under a scenario that keeps warming below the 2°C threshold.

The Joint Research Centre PESETA III report is an agro-economic analysis of climate change impacts in Europe.

The PESETA (Projection of Economic impacts of climate change in Sectors of the European Union based on bottom-up Analysis) project responds to the need to provide quantitative modelling support to the European Commission services regarding the impacts of climate change in Europe.

It brings together experts in economics, biology, physics and engineering to calculate the physical impacts and economic costs of climate change in Europe.

Understanding the possible consequences of climate change is important to design adaptation policies that can help to minimize negative consequences and maximize positive effects.

The European Commissioner for Climate Action and Energy Miguel Arias Cañete is reaching out to other high-emitting countries to foster understanding of the EU’s climate control policies. He spoke at the Tsinghua University in Beijing on November 9, explaining European climate policy and what actions the EU is taking to avert the most dangerous effects of rising temperatures.

Currently, the European Union is implementing its 2020 climate and energy package, said Arias Cañete. Agreed by EU leaders in 2007, this package has three key targets:

  • a 20 percent reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 compared to 1990
  • a 20 percent share of renewable energies in overall EU energy consumption by 2020
  • increasing energy efficiency in the EU so as to achieve the goal of saving 20 percent of the EU’s energy consumption

Southern Europe to Be Hardest Hit

It appears that the Mediterranean area will be the most impacted by climate change.

The PESETA III assessment shows that in several impact areas there is a clear geographical north-south divide; countries in southern Europe will be more affected by global warming than those in the north.

This is clearly the case for heat-related deaths, water resources, habitat loss, energy demand for cooling and forest fires.

Counting the Cost

The assessment analyzes the impact of climate change for 11 different impact categories: coastal floods, river floods, droughts, agriculture, energy, transport, water resources, habitat loss, forest fires, labor productivity, and heat-related mortality.

For most of these, the report compares a scenario where actions to limit warming to 2°C are successful, compared to one where they are not.

From the economic perspective, the losses associated with heat-related mortality represent “a very significant share of damages” in a high warming scenario.

Other shares, in order of importance, are: coastal flooding, labor productivity, agriculture and river flooding.

As the coverage of potential impacts is incomplete – damages due to possible climate tipping points and ecosystems services losses are not considered – the sum of the economic damage estimates is not equal to the total economic costs of climate change in Europe. The sum of the economic damage estimates is likely to be higher, the authors say.

The PESETA III report also estimates how climate change impacts in the rest of the world could affect Europe, considering four impact areas – residential energy demand, river flooding, labor productivity and agriculture.

The transboundary effect of these four impact categories was estimated to increase the EU welfare loss by 20 percent in a high warming scenario.

The authors stress that the boundary effects could be far greater when all potential impacts of climate change are considered.

In 2015, the world’s governments adopted the Paris Agreement on climate change, the first-ever universal and legally binding agreement to limit global warming, and deal with its dangerous impacts.

The Paris Agreement emerged after the world’s scientists concluded that global warming is happening, and that human activity – greenhouse gas emissions from our economies and industries – is the key cause.

Now, three years later, global negotiations are taking place to make sure that the Paris Agreement is properly implemented. In December, world leaders will gather in Katowice, Poland for the United Nations COP24 conference on climate, where they intend to finalize the Paris Agreement’s rules and guidelines.

Commitments Fall Short of 1.5°Celsius Goal

Miguel Arias Cañete Parlement européen Strasbourg 26 nov 2014 (Photo by Claude TRUONG-NGOC) Creative Commons license via Wikipedia

Miguel Arias Cañete Parlement européen Strasbourg 26 nov 2014
(Photo by Claude TRUONG-NGOC) Creative Commons license via Wikipedia

The 10-day COP24, which opens December 2, has a new global scientific assessment to guide policy-making and add urgency to negotiations. Released in October, the new special report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), shows that a temperature rise of 1.5 degrees would avoid some of the worst climate impacts, and reduce the likelihood of extreme weather events.

But the IPCC report warns that current climate commitments are not enough to achieve this goal.

The IPCC report shows that, “… 1.5 degrees is achievable – as long as we act urgently, and use every tool at our disposal,” Commissioner Arias Cañete told his audience in Beijing. “So,” he said, “it is clear that we must work together and raise the collective global ambition.”

At the opening of a ministerial meeting in Krakow on October 23, designed to prepare for the outcome of COP24, the Executive Secretary of UN Climate Change Patricia Espinosa outlined her expectations for the conference.

“The Special Report by the IPCC unequivocally states that the world is not on track to limiting global temperature rise to 1.5°C, as outlined in the Paris Agreement – and the window to achieve this is closing rapidly. We’re almost out of time,” Espinosa declared.

“It’s not rhetoric – it’s reality,” she said. “It’s not politics – it’s science.”

“And it’s not a suggestion – it’s a warning … a warning that we are in danger of running out of time before runaway climate change is beyond our control.”

“This is frightening – for everyone,” Espinosa said. “And people throughout the world have made it very clear. They expect their representatives – you – to do something about it.”

Espinosa, who hails from Brazil, is urging all nations to get to work immediately to begin resolving the climate crisis.

Success at COP24 means finalizing the Paris Agreement Work Program– period,” she said. “We no longer have the luxury of time, nor do we have the luxury of endless negotiations.”

“Let us never forget,” Espinosa told the ministerial meeting, “that climate change, if left unaddressed, will take almost every single challenge humanity faces and make it worse.”

“It will destabilize the global economy, which will affect all nations,” she warned. “By 2030, the loss of productivity caused by a hotter world could cost the global economy US$2 trillion.”

“It will create conflict over resources and impact migration. It’s estimated that climate change could displace between 50 million and 200 million people by 2050. Worse, it will result in incredible suffering and hardship for people and societies throughout the world,” Espinosa

But addressing climate change, and committing to a low-emissions future—one that is more resilient and sustainable—offers incredible opportunity.

It’s not just an opportunity to do the right thing—it’s an opportunity to completely transform the way we produce and consume, and the way we live.

And that means new markets, new businesses, and, for so many people throughout the world, new jobs…quality jobs…a just transition to a future that is just for all people.

Featured image source: Drought shrinks the reservoir at El Grado, a municipality located in the province of Huesca, Aragon, in northern Spain. August 2012 (Photo by Jorge Franganillo) Creative Commons license via Flickr


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Drier Than Dry, Dry to the Bone

Aerial View of Auwahi Dryland Forest Restoration Project, Maui. Restoration of drylands is possible, as shown in this replanted forest on Maui, Hawaii, USA. Thanks to the volunteerism of the Maui community and contributions of landowner Ulupalakua Ranch, restored forest patches at Auwahi. These small forests on the leeward flanks of the Haleakala volcano, despite their size, now provide sanctuaries for native Hawaiian species found nowhere else in the world. June 17, 2010 (Photo by Arthur Medeiros, USGS) -Public domain

Aerial View of Auwahi Dryland Forest Restoration Project, Maui. Restoration of drylands is possible, as shown in this replanted forest on Maui, Hawaii, USA. Thanks to the volunteerism of the Maui community and contributions of landowner Ulupalakua Ranch, restored forest patches at Auwahi. These small forests on the leeward flanks of the Haleakala volcano, despite their size, now provide sanctuaries for native Hawaiian species found nowhere else in the world. June 17, 2010 (Photo by Arthur Medeiros, USGS) -Public domain.

By Sunny Lewis

ORDOS, Inner Mongolia, China, September 5, 2017 (Maximpact.com News)  – Conflict, drought, displacement and disease are driving vast humanitarian crises in dryland areas of Africa and the Middle East, just as governments that are Parties to the UN Conference to Combat Desertification meet this week and next in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China.

Land degradation in drylands, known as desertification, could result in a 12 percent fall in global food production in the next 25 years. And it contributes to global carbon dioxide emissions, with about 60 percent of carbon in soils lost through land degradation, warns conference participant IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, as the 10-day conference gets underway in Ordos, a city of more than two million.

“Failure to increase investment in protecting and restoring drylands, soils in particular, could put future food supplies at risk and hamper efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change,” said IUCN Director General Inger Andersen.

“Drylands secure food and water supplies for local people, mitigate climate change and reduce the impacts of disasters. Their soils, however, form slowly and are easily damaged,” says Andersen.

Scientists estimate that between 25 and 35 percent of drylands are being degraded right now, suffering diminished productivity. Over 250 million people are directly affected, and a further one billion in over 100 countries are at risk, statistics show.

Ordos itself must cope with desert conditions. The city is surrounded by a hilly area in the east, high plateaus in the west and center, sandy deserts in the north and south, and plains at the southern bank of the Yellow River.

During the 20th century, dryland habitats expanded by four to eight percent and now cover 40 percent of the globe’s terrestrial surface. As the global climate warms, this expansion of drylands will likely continue, say climate scientists.

Often, it is the children who suffer – and die.

Under current conditions, “nearly 20 million people are at risk of famine across Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and northeast Nigeria, including some 1.4 million severely malnourished children at imminent risk of death,” calculates the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF.

In Somalia, the humanitarian situation is rapidly deteriorating because of a severe drought that started in the north in 2016 and is now affecting most of the country, reports the UK Mission to the United Nations.

Other countries in the Horn of Africa have also been affected, especially Djibouti, Ethiopia and Kenya. In South Sudan, seasonal dry weather has reinforced competition for water among people and animals, causing already scarce water sources to be overused.

West Africa’s Lake Chad has lost some 90 percent of its water mass since 1963 due to climatic variability and population pressure, with devastating consequences on food security in the region.

And these crises now are spreading to surrounding countries.

With severe drought parching the Horn of Africa; more than one million South Sudanese refugees fleeing conflict are stretching capacity and resources in Uganda.

Displacement throughout the Lake Chad Basin resulting from conflict, climate change, environmental degradation and poverty is affecting millions of people and animals.

And this is happening in one of the most fragile and important of the world’s priceless areas.

In July 2000, Lake Chad was declared a Transboundary Ramsar Site of International Importance. Conservationists hope to create a network of national and regional conservation areas in the Chad Basin and set up institutions to manage them sustainably. To that end, the Chad Wetlands Initiative (CHADWET) was launched in June 2003, organized by The Ramsar Wetland Convention Bureau and its Mediterranean Coordination Unit.

But meanwhile, the human beings in the Lake Chad Basin are in crisis – not only a crisis of food insecurity but also of clean water, sanitation, disease prevention and treatment.

Water and sanitation are just as important as food for children and families facing famine and food insecurity, says UNICEF, which is fighting famine in these areas by providing safe water to more than 2.5 million people.

UNICEF is keeping children alive by trucking thousands liters of water to displacement camps daily, supporting hospitals and cholera treatment centres, repairing large water and sanitation systems in cities and much more.

In Yemen, UNICEF has reached over five million people since the start of the year through support in operating water supply networks and waste water treatment plans; supplying fuel and electricity supply to keep water treatment and pumping stations working; chlorinating water sources, water trucking and distributing hygiene kits.

As the waterborne disease cholera spreads through South Sudan, UNICEF has dug 22 boreholes to reach over 210,000 people with safe water. Across the country, around 207,000 people have gained access to sanitation and 610,000 gained access to safe water.

At the Risk of Their Lives

In conflict-affected areas of north-east Nigeria, UNICEF has worked with partners to reach around 845,000 people with safe water. Some of the most dedicated workers are in the water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) offices.

“Staffers in many WASH offices are risking their lives to provide these essential services to people in need,” UNICEF says.

In Somalia, UNICEF says at least 1.66 million people have been given temporary access to safe water, and more than 890,000 have been given hygiene kits, critical to disease prevention.

It’s easy for diseases to spread in the drylands.

Drylands, including savannahs, mist forests and oases, cover 41 percent of all land on Earth. They are home to one-third of the world’s population and store 36 percent of all global terrestrial carbon.

They sustain 44 percent of the world’s cultivated systems and 50 percent of the world’s livestock.

Most of dryland biodiversity is found in the soil, which determines the overall fertility and productivity of the land.

“Species and ecosystems below and above ground are the engines of life in drylands, whose importance in sustaining billions of lives around the world is often underestimated,” says IUCN’s Andersen.

IUCN is urging countries to invest in conserving these ecosystems for the vital services they provide, and for the crucial role they play in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, unanimously agreed by world governments.

Contributing to the Carbon Cycle Dryland ecosystems, from deserts to dry shrublands, play a more important role in the global carbon cycle than previously thought, says Montana State University faculty member Ben Poulter.

Carbon dioxide moves constantly between land, oceans, vegetation and the atmosphere. When one of those absorbs more carbon dioxide than it releases, it’s considered a carbon sink, Poulter explains.

“La Nina-driven rainfall during 2010 and 2011, as well as the 30-year greening up of its deserts and other drylands contributed to significant changes across the globe,” he said.

Poulter and his collaborators have discovered surprising interactions between climate extremes and desert greening that increased in importance over the past 30 years. In this phase, dryland systems in the Southern Hemisphere, specifically Australia, had particularly high productivity in response to increased La Nina-phase rainfall.

But the large 2011 land carbon uptake is not expected to lead to long-term increases in ecosystem carbon dioxide (CO2) accumulation, the researchers warn. As the heat-trappiing blanket of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases thickens, drylands will become more degraded than ever.

IUCN calls for urgent investment in restoring and sustainably managing drylands as a high priority for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, including the goals of combating climate change, reducing poverty, increasing food and water security, and boosting health and economic growth.

“Sustainable land management practices can prevent the degradation, and improve the productivity and resilience of drylands,” says Jonathan Davies, coordinator of IUCN’s Global Drylands Initiative.

Some traditional crop farming and livestock production practices developed by dryland communities are helpful, such as minimizing tillage and planting trees alongside crops to maintain soil organic matter and moisture.

“These practices involve protecting biodiversity, including the bacteria, fungi and insects that live in the soil and which maintain nutrient and hydrological cycles,” said Davies. “Biodiversity is also vital for pollination which is a major factor in overall agricultural production.”

“Sustainable land management is a viable policy option for countries to address development and environmental challenges,” said Davies, hopefully.

The IUCN estimates that by sustainably managing soils, food production could increase by up to 58 percent. Improved livestock production and rangeland management could sequester up to 2,000 million metric tons of carbon dioxide by 2030, which is more than the 2015 CO2 emissions of Russia.

IUCN urges countries to sustainably manage land by strengthening the rights of local communities and by facilitating finance opportunities for small and medium agribusinesses that engage in sustainable land management.

Countries are also encouraged to restore large-scale degraded dryland landscapes.

But now, climate change is coming on strong, with devastating effects, making landscape restoration even more challenging.

Projected global warming will likely decrease the extent of temperate drylands by a third over the rest of the 21st century, a situation made worse by an increase in dry deep soil conditions during the agricultural growing season, an international scientific collaboration led by the U.S. Geological Survey with members from seven countries has found.

Their study is presented in the journal “Nature Communications.”

These researchers predict a loss of 15 to 30 percent of temperate grasslands by the end of the century with a “substantial increase in deep soil drought conditions.”

Their results suggest that changes in precipitation and soil moisture associated with climate change will convert much of the area currently occupied by temperate grasslands and deserts to subtropical vegetation.

“The impacts can have large consequences for humanity,” they warn.

Until recently, uncertainty existed about the fate of temperate drylands. But this uncertainty is now disappearing because of improved supercomputer modelling of the movement of water through ecosystems, based on 20,000 locations around the world.

“I was impressed by the scope of the computer model, with many components of the water cycle calculated daily for 30 years, at 20,000 sites. All of this to simulate the current climate as well as 16 possible future climates. The variety of possible future climates gave pretty consistent outcomes, lending credibility to the results,” said Professor Scott Wilson, CIRC researcher and visiting researcher at Umeå University in Sweden.

Wilson explains that with the expansion of subtropical drylands as temperate drylands warm, cool season crops such as wheat and potato would no longer be economically viable.”

Wilson also warns of diseases driven to spread by the changing climate. “These subtropical drylands are home to aggressive diseases such as dengue and schistosomiasis. Given the predicted changes to dryland habitats globally, the outcome of this research is essential for developing strategies for adaptation by policy makers,” Wilson said.

All these issues and more will be on the table at the UN Conference to Combat Desertification, which runs from September 4 through September 15 in Ordos, Inner Mongolia, China.

The high-level segment of the conference is scheduled on September 11 and 12.

Just last month, UNCCD joined the group of international observer organizations to the Green Climate Fund (GCF).

As a major source of climate finance, GCF offers many opportunities for UNCCD member countries to finance preparation and implementation of large scale transformative land-based climate action projects.

The observer status enables UNCCD representatives to attend GCF board meetings and to contribute better to the orientation of climate finance to achieve land degradation neutrality.

At COP 13, UNCCD and the Green Climate Fund are partnering to organize a training session on “How to access Green Climate Fund financing for land-based projects?” Staffers at UNCCD national focal points and land use practitioners will learn the key messages and methodologies that can increase the volume of financing for dryland restoration.


Featured Image: Displaced Lake Chad Basin Women in a meeting with representatives of the UN Security Council in the Teachers’ Village IDP Camp in Nigeria. Dec. 13, 2014. (Photo by Lorey Campese courtesy UK Mission to the UN) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

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Brutal Weather Hits Extremes

SmokeBCfires

Smoke from fires burning in British Columbia, Canada. Colin Seftor, an atmospheric scientist based at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, has published data maps collected by the Ozone Mapping Profiler Suite that show the smoke reaching as far as the U.S. Midwest and northern Quebec. July 18, 2017 (Image courtesy NASA) Public domain.

By Sunny Lewis

GENEVA, Switzerland, July 25, 2017 (Maximpact.com News) – France today activated the EU’s Civil Protection Mechanism as forest fires ravage southern regions of the country, threatening the resort of St. Tropez and the island of Corsica. French authorities have requested firefighting aircraft, and EU support is already on its way.

Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides said, “The EU stands in full solidarity with France. In an immediate response, the European Commission has helped mobilize a Canadair aircraft from Italy through our Civil Protection Mechanism.”

“Earlier this month, France helped Italy fighting forest fires and now Italy is showing its support to France. This is EU solidarity at its best,” said Stylianides. “Our thoughts are with all those affected and the brave first responders working in difficult conditions.”

Conditions are difficult around the world, with fires, floods and drought coming in waves of trouble.

June 2017 extended the spell of “exceptional global warmth” that has lasted since mid-2015. Average surface air temperatures were the second hottest on record, after June 2016, finds the latest analysis from the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service.

In addition to high temperatures, extreme weather affected many parts of the world in June and July.

Rescue services and troops in New Zealand’s South Island worked around the clock over the weekend to help those affected by a severe storm that released floods and forced the evacuation of hundreds of homes.

A state of emergency was declared in the South Island cities of Christchurch, Otago, Timaru and Dunedin after some areas were hit with more than 200 millimetres of rain in 24 hours.

The New Zealand Meteorological Service says all of July has been marked by severe weather events, caused by low pressure systems from the Tasman Sea.

Australia had the second driest June on record, with rainfall 62 percent below average for Australia as a whole, according to the Bureau of Meteorology. June was the driest on record for large areas of southern Australia because of persistent high pressure and a lack of cold fronts.

Chinese weather authorities report that the annual monsoon season was accompanied by torrential rainfall in many parts of China for extended periods in June and early July, causing considerable economic losses and transport disruption.

For instance, more than 600 flights were cancelled at Beijing airport alone on July 6 as a result of rainfall.

The rainfall was one of the contributing factors to a deadly landslide with many casualties on June 24 in  Maoxian County, Sichuan. In north and northeast China, the National Meteorological Center said that from June 21 to June 24, the maximum hourly rainfall was between 20-40 mm.

Authorities issued warnings about water levels along key tributaries of the Yangtzee River basin. There was a red alert on July 2 along the whole course of the Xiangjiang River that was near or above record levels. The water level in the section of the river in Changsha, capital of Hunan, reached a record 39.21 meters on July 2.

Since June 22, floodwaters have inundated parts of several cities in Hunan, forcing more than 311,000 people to evacuate, damaging crops and destroying more than 6,300 houses, according to the China Meteorological Administration.

In Japan, tropical storm Nanmadol brought torrential rainfall to the southern part of the country. The city of Hamada in Shimane, which faces the Sea of Japan, saw hourly precipitation of over 80 mm on July 6, according to the Japan Meteorological Agency. Local governments issued evacuation orders to nearly 60,000 residents in affected areas.

Tropical cyclone Mora caused Bangladesh authorities to evacuate nearly one million people from low-lying areas, At least 10 people died. Heavy monsoon rainfall in June caused severe flooding and deadly mudslides. Nearly 900,000 people were affected by floods as of July 5, authorities said.

In Myanmar, heavy monsoon rains have prevailed across the southeast Asian country since early July. Today, riverbank erosion washed away a Buddhist pagoda. Rising floodwaters across large parts of the country have claimed two lives, washed away entire villages and displaced tens of thousands of residents.

In Indonesia, drought is drying the crops as they stand in the fields.

Much of South America and Africa were warmer than average during this two month period, according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service.

The World Meteorological Organization (WMO) reports the Middle East is broiling. The Iranian city of Ahwaz recorded a temperature of 53.7°Celsius (128.66° Fahrenheit) on June 29 as part of a heatwave with temperatures in excess of 50°C across the region, including Iraq and Kuwait.

An even higher temperature of about 54°C (129.2°F) scorched the city of Turbat, southwestern Pakistan, in late May.

But this week in Turkey, it’s too much water, not too much heat. Istanbul traffic came to a standstill as severe storms inundated the city, flooding the streets.

Temperatures were much above average, and high in absolute terms, over Morocco and northern Algeria in June and July. Forest fires are burning across northern Algeria. An estimated 1,000 hectares have been consumed.

Southern and central Europe was very much warmer than the 1981-2010 average in June, especially over the Iberian Peninsula, where Portugal experienced devastating wildfires.

The heatwave shifted from the Iberian Peninsula to southeastern Europe, the Balkans and the Mediterranean towards the end of June, with temperatures well over 40°C ((104°F) in many countries. The high temperatures were sometimes accompanied by damaging summer storms, hailstorms, torrential rainfall and flash floods.

Fires this month in Croatia and Montenegro sparked requests for help in fighting the flames. Still, on July 18, the Adriatic coast was engulfed in wildfires.

The Deutscher Wetterdienst said July 7, “A period with significantly above-normal temperatures and heat waves, at least for the next week, is expected for most parts of the eastern Mediterranean – from Italy, Balkans to Caucasus and Middle East.”

Conversely, says the WMO, temperatures have been well below average over the northeast of Europe. The contrast between southwest and northeast continues a pattern that was present in April and May.

In Russia, June 2017 was widely called Junabre, meaning June plus November, because of the cold weather in the European parts of the country. June was the coldest month in the past 14 years for Moscow.

FloodingLondon

Caption: Flooded streets in London, UK, June 2, 2017 (Photo by Dmitry Dzhus) Creative Commons license via Flickr

The UK should be bracing for record rainfall, says Bob Ward, policy and communications director at the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The UK’s two wettest winters on record occurred in 2013-14 and 2015-16, leading to flooding in many parts of the country. As a result, the National Flood Resilience Review was begun, but it needs expansion to include surface water flooding, says Ward.

Commenting on the publication Monday of the paper, High risk of unprecedented UK rainfall in the current climate in the journal “Nature Communications,” Ward said, “I hope that the Environment Secretary, Michael Gove, will carefully read this important Met Office analysis because it highlights the risk of extreme rainfall that could cause flooding.”

“We know that the risk of record rainfall is increasing due to climate change. From 2000 onwards, the UK has experienced 6 of the 7 wettest years since records began in 1910, and its 8 warmest years. The period between January and June 2017 was the third warmest such period on record. As the atmosphere warms, it can hold more water, increasing the risk of heavy rainfall.”

The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said that starting around June 18 and continuing for over a week, scorching temperatures hit the western United States of America from Arizona to the Pacific Northwest.

June 20 was a particularly hot day for the southwestern United States. Las Vegas, Nevada (47.2°C or 117°F), and Needles, California (51.7°C or 125°F), both tied their all-time records.

Forest fires have been devouring forests across the U.S. West.

For instance, the Detwiler Fire in California began on July 15. It covers 79,400 acres and is 65 percent contained.

The Snowstorm Fire in Nevada began on July 13. It has burned 60,000 acres and is just 13 percent contained.

In Arizona, from June 17-27, Phoenix International Airport has had 11 straight days with temperatures of at least 110°F (43°C), with one day hitting 48.3°C (119°F). The heat caused multiple canceled flights. The hotter the air, the less dense it is, which means less lift for airplanes as they take off. In order to take off, the planes would have needed a longer runway, which is not available in Phoenix.

As the heat wave continued, the hot air spread west and north. On June 25, Portland Oregon, reach 38°C (101°F) and Seattle, Washington, hit 35.6°C (96°F), tying its hottest June day on record.

In July, the forests of south-central British Columbia were primed to burn. Abnormally hot, dry weather had dried out vegetation and soil, and many forests were full of dead trees left by mountain pine beetles. When lightning storms passed over the region on July 7, more than 100 fires were sparked. Some of these fires are still raging.

As of July 19, 2017, the British Columbia Wildfire Service reported 50 wildfires burning in the Cariboo region and another 21 in the Kamloops region. The fires have charred roughly 300,000 hectares (1,000 square miles) and have forced nearly 50,000 people to flee their homes.

To far south, June temperatures were way above average offshore of parts of Antarctica, where sea-ice cover was unusually low, the WMO reports. But the agency also says temperatures were well below average over East Antarctica.

So, investors can no longer count on business as usual. The climate is changing – tending toward extremes of heat, cold, drought and rainfall, and the physical impacts of climate change will affect assets and investments.

Climate change and extreme weather events will affect agriculture and food supply, infrastructure, precipitation and the water supply in ways that are only partly understood.

Yet, decisions made by private sector investors and financial institutions will have a major influence on how society responds to climate change.

There will be significant demand for capital, with governments looking to the private sector to provide much of it.


Featured Images: Wildfires send thousands fleeing the Provence resport of St. Tropez, France. July 25, 2017 (Photo by CCI Riviera & Monaco) Posted on Twitter

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CO2 Level Hits 15 Million-Year High

sudandrought

In 2016, 1.2 million people in the African country of Sudan have been affected by El Niño-induced drought as well as floods. August 24, 2016 (Photo by Anouk Delafortrie / EU/ECHO) Creative Commons license via Flickr.

By Sunny Lewis

GENEVA, Switzerland, October 4, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Record high global levels of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide, CO2, were measured in September at over 400 parts per million for the first time in 15 million years, jolting leaders into awareness that Earth’s climate is changing quickly.

The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) urged world leaders to take note of the profound implications of record-high carbon dioxide readings this month and appealed for their increased commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

It is deeply disturbing to learn that global levels of 400 parts per million have now been reached in September for the first time,” said Robert Glasser, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Disaster Risk Reduction.

The last time CO2 levels were this high was 15 to 20 million years ago,” Glasser exclaimed.

A 2009 study published in the journal “Science” found that the last time in Earth’s history when CO2 levels in the atmosphere were this high for a sustained period was between 15 and 20 million years ago.

Then, according to the study, temperatures were between three and six degrees Celsius warmer than today. Ice sheets, the study said, had melted to the point where sea levels rose between 25 and 40 metres.

The lowest levels of CO2 are traditionally recorded September. So, says Glasser, it is not likely that we will see CO2 levels below 400 parts per million anytime soon.

co2balloon

A balloon over seven metres high outside UN Headquarters in New York represents one metric tonne of carbon dioxide (CO2). The balloon is part of a project co-sponsored by the Government of Chile and the United Nations to draw attention to the quantities of CO2 produced per person per year. January 27, 2012 (Photo by Mark Garten / UN) Posted for media use .

We know that the safe level is well below this,” he said. “It also means that we are systematically raising levels of disaster risk for future generations and we can expect more severe weather events in the years ahead.

UNISDR serves as the focal point for disaster reduction coordination between the UN and regional organizations. Its work is applied to climate change adaptation; building disaster-resilient cities, schools and hospitals; and strengthening the international system for disaster risk reduction.

Climate disasters already account for 90 percent of all devastations caused by natural hazards – potentially catastrophic, especially for low and middle-income countries that contribute little to greenhouse gas emissions but have huge populations exposed to drought, floods and storms.

Much more vigorous action is necessary for a reasonable chance of limiting global warming to 2 degrees C while the Paris Agreement recognizes that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees C rather than 2 degrees C would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change,” Glasser concluded.

The year 2016 is on track to be the hottest year ever. August 2016 was the 16th straight warmest month on record, and there are no signs the warming is slowing down.

Global temperature peaked at 1.38°C above pre-industrial levels in February. In the Arctic, temperatures were 4°C above normal during the first quarter of the year.

Iraq and Kuwait experienced summer temperatures of 54°C (129.2°F) - the highest reliably measured temperature in the eastern hemisphere.

Certain parts of the Pacific Ocean are two degrees Celsius warmer than normal, which has helped spur massive cyclones, including super typhoons Winston and Nepartak.

Recently, Super Typhoon Merantiwould have been the equivalent of a Category 6 hurricane, if the Saffir-Simpson Hurricane Scale extended beyond five.

Warm temperatures have led to record breaking mass coral bleaching around the world. An estimated 93 percent of the Great Barrier Reef has been affected by bleaching.

Drought and rising temperatures have left over 36 million people in eastern and southern Africa facing hunger. This is the worst drought in Ethiopia’s recent history.

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Disaster Response Team conducts search and rescue operations by boat in Ascension Parish, Gonzales, Louisiana, August 19, 2016 (Photo by J.T. Blatty / FEMA) Public domain.

Catastrophic floods have hit many places, especially China, Pakistan and the U.S. state of Louisiana.

Rainfall in June led to one of the costliest disasters in China’s recent history. Louisiana faced several cases of extreme flooding - during the most recent case “some spots picked up more than a foot of rain in 24 hours and two feet in 72 hours.

Scientists confirmed that five islands have disappeared in the Solomon Islands due to sea level rise. Six others have been partially submerged. Officials from the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu have said that the country has already lost four of its islands to rising seas.

The Isle de Jean Charles band of the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw tribe were the first community in the United States to receive federal funding to relocate because of climate change. The indigenous village of Shishmaref in Alaska has voted to relocate due to rising sea levels.

On Monday a new report from the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (DESA) highlights increasing evidence that climate change is taking the largest toll on poor and vulnerable people. These impacts are caused by inequalities that increase the risks from climate hazards.

 “Sadly, the people at greater risk from climate hazards are the poor, the vulnerable and the marginalized who, in many cases, have been excluded from socioeconomic progress,” observed UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in the report, “World Economic and Social Survey 2016: Climate Change Resilience – an Opportunity for Reducing Inequalities.

 “We have no time to waste – and a great deal to gain – when it comes to addressing the socioeconomic inequalities that deepen poverty and leave people behind,” Ban urged.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Economic Development Lenni Montiel told reporters Monday at UN headquarters in New York, “Persistent inequalities in access to assets, opportunities, political voice and participation, and in some cases, outright discriminations leave large groups of people and communities disproportionally exposed and vulnerable to climate hazards.

While there is a large body of anecdotal evidence that the poor and the vulnerable suffer the greatest harm from climate-related disasters, the report determined that much of the harm is not by accident. It is due to the failure of governments to close the development gaps that leave large population groups at risk.

In the past 20 years, 4.2 billion people have been affected by weather-related disasters, and many have lost their lives.

Looking ahead, the report recommends improved access to climate projections, modern information and communications technologies, and geographical information systems to strengthen national capacity to assess the impacts of climate hazards and policy options to minimize them.


 

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Funding Key to Africa’s Clean Water Solutions

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Woman collects drinking water from a stream in Uganda, June 2015 (Photo by CAFOD) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

DAR es SALAAM, Tanzania, August 1, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Determination to find lasting solutions to Africa’a age-old water and sanitation problems characterized the mood of delegates to the 6th Africa Water Week conference in Dar es Salam last week.

Organized by African Ministers’ Council on Water in collaboration with the African Union Commission and other development partners, the meeting saw political commitments at the highest level to collectively seek solutions to Africa’s many water and sanitation challenges.

From July 18 through 22 government officials, scientists and civil society actors mapped pathways to success for Africa’s effort to achieve the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal 6 – the availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all.

Clean water is essential for life, human dignity, and the health of people and of the planet, the United Nations has declared many times, calling the human right to water and sanitation “foundational to the realization and enjoyment of all other human rights.”

In September 2015, all UN Member States committed themselves to ensuring access to safe drinking water and sanitation in Goal 6 of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, known as Sustainable Development Goal 6.

At the 6th Africa Water Week, 30 African water ministers and high-level delegations from 53 African nations adopted a plan aimed at achieving Goal 6 – sustainable and universal access to safe water and sanitation throughout Africa.

Adoption of the plan, “The Dar es Salaam Roadmap for achieving the N’gor Commitments on Water Security and Sanitation in Africa,” was the high point of the conference.

In her remarks, Tanzania’s Vice President Samia Suluhu focused on finding the funds to accomplish this gigantic task.

She urged delegates to “tackle present and future challenges by diversifying our sources of water and be innovative in financing mechanisms taking into account the huge funding requirements for the sector, and the urgency of mobilizing funds to put the right infrastructure and skilled manpower to develop and manage the sector more efficiently.”

Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture at the African Union Commission, called on Member States to step up efforts to realize the African Agenda 2063 on the “Africa we want” because water is key to reducing poverty in Africa.

There is need for us to put in place sound policies, legal and regulatory frameworks to support investments from various sources in water, sanitation and hygiene and also promote gender equality and women empowerment,” Tumusiime said.

Nigeria’s Water Resources Minister Suleiman Adamu told reporters at the conference, “We are working to ensure that all Nigerians have access to potable water by 2030 through urban water sector reform programme.

The continent’s most populous country, Nigeria is located on the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa. The government is tasked with providing clean water for its 184 million people.

Adamu said Nigeria was not able to meet its target under the Millennium Development Goals, the precursor to the Sustainable Development Goals, due to sole reliance on the government’s budget.

 Adamu emphasized the need for a change in the public’s attitude toward public utilities, saying “Nigeria must begin to see the importance of paying for water consumed.”

He said the ministry has created a data bank and census covering water supply and sanitation for all water infrastructures in the country to prepare for a renewed effort to reach all Nigerians with clean water.

 Nigeria will soon begin the National Programme on Partnerships for Extending Water, Sanitation and Hygiene, aimed at meeting the Sustainable Development Goal 6 of universal access to water.

 But there are disagreements among African countries over water. The longstanding dispute between Tanzania and Malawi about Lake Nyasa, in which an agreement for a project on the shared water resource has lasted over 40 years without a deal, for example, and the grand mega power project in the Democratic Republic of Congo, which has stalled for over 40 years.

Still, there are examples of benefits through cooperation. Speaking to members of the Pan African Media Alliance for Climate Change (PACJA),  John Rao Nyoro, executive director for the Nile Basin Initiative, said that the Nile Basin Sustainability Framework is now benefiting all the 10 riparian states along the Nile.

While it is not a legal framework, the NBSF, which is a suite of policies, strategies, and guidance documents, functions as a guide to national policy and planning process development and seeks to build consensus among countries that share the resource,” Nyaoro told the journalists.

The Dar es Salaam Roadmap recognizes the role of innovative financing and budgetary prioritization for the water sector, sanitation and monitoring.

 Water ministers at the 6th Africa Water Week agreed that by increasing transparency and accountability in the sector, governments across the continent can account for financial contributions.

They decided to focus on complementing existing initiatives while avoiding overlap and redundancy, and they pledged to ensure a participatory environment for civil society and citizens in policy formulation, sector planning and monitoring.

Other aspects of the ministers’ plan of action for the continent’s water resources include provision of drinking water, improved sanitation, hygiene, effective and efficient management of wastewater, transboundary water resources, and strengthening Africa’s capacity to respond to climate change.

 But the challenges are enormous. As the conference was underway, for instance, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) launched a relief program to feed families affected by the severe drought in Malawi.

The El Nino-related drought, the worst drought in more than 30 years, has led to food shortages in much of southern Africa, and more than 18 million people across the region are in need of food aid.

On Tuesday, the 15-country Southern African Development Community (SADC) declared a regional disaster and launched an appeal for US$2.4 billion to support the humanitarian needs and disaster response recovery of the millions affected by the drought caused by the Eastern Pacific ocean warming event known as El-Niño.

Botswana’s President Lt. General Dr. Seretse Khama Ian Khama, who serves as the SADC chair, said, “The 2016 regional food security and vulnerability assessments indicate that the number of food insecure people in the region is about 40 million, which is about 14 percent of SADC’s total population.

Responding to the appeal, the United States pledged US$300 million, while the United Kingdom pledged £72 million and the European Union pledged €60 million towards humanitarian assistance.

There is a strong effort this year to integrate water issues with climate issues and find mutual solutions for Africa.

Earlier this month, ahead of COP 22, the UN’s annual climate summit, taking place this year in Marrakesh, Morocco, 650 decision makers, researchers, technical experts, financiers and civil society members from 40 countries attended the Water Security for Climate Justice conference in Rabat.

There ministers from 22 African countries issued a statement on the importance of implementing and funding water initiatives in Africa. To be presented in Marrakesh, the “Water for Africa,” declaration noted the opportunities presented by the momentum toward integrating water and sanitation with the climate negotiations.

Underlining the urgency and necessity of acting on resilience and adaptation in the water and sanitation sectors, the ministers called for integrating water and climate, prioritizing water in adaptation discussions, adopting priority action plans for water and the SDGs in Africa, enhancing access to finance for water projects from climate funds, and encouraging civil society involvement.


A woman in Benin drinks clean water following implementation of the Community Driven Development project, September 2010 (Photo by Arne Hoel / World Bank) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Hope for the Hungry

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By Sunny Lewis

ROME, Italy, July 26, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Hundreds of millions of people throughout the world go to bed hungry while at the same time, a third of the world’s food is wasted, say the number-crunchers at the United Nations food agencies.

But there is fresh hope for the hungry. Leaders of two UN agencies fighting hunger worldwide are applauding new legislation in the United States that aims to strengthen global food assistance programs in the years ahead.

The UN World Food Programme (WFP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) praised U.S. President Barack Obama for his July 20th signing of the Global Food Security Act (GFSA). The United States is the largest donor to both UN agencies.

The measure was passed by the U.S. Congress on July 6 by members of both the Democratic and Republican parties, during a time of otherwise great division in the U.S. Congress and politics.

The United States is helping to put and even stronger emphasis on how food security and economic development are intertwined, while stressing the central role of small-scale family farmers in the fight against hunger and poverty,” said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

This law will have a dramatic impact on the lives of people throughout world, showing once again why the United States is a leader in promoting food security and helping those who struggle to feed their families so they can start to build their own future,” says WFP Executive Director Ertharin Cousin.

The new law supports initiatives to develop agriculture, assist small-scale food producers and improve nutrition, especially for women and children worldwide. It seeks improve the provision of water, sanitation and hygiene to poor communities and build their resilience to withstand shocks, such as conflict, droughts and floods.

President Obama signed into law the Feed the Future program, the U.S. government’s global hunger initiative, ensuring it will continue helping countries provide their people with enough food – even after the Obama presidency ends in January.

The new law authorizes for the first time USAID‘s International Disaster Assistance and Emergency Food Security Program. This means future White House administrations and future Congresses could more easily make cash assistance available to people experiencing hunger unexpectedly, due to natural disasters or war.

And it has never been more needed. One-third of all the food produced worldwide is lost or wasted as it moves from farm, ranch or orchard to table, at a global cost as high as US$940 billion a year, calculates the UN Food and Agriculture Organization.

At the same time, more than 800 million people around the world are undernourished, the FAO reminded everyone in June.

Food loss and food waste generates about eight percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, the UN agency says, adding that if it were a country, food loss and waste would be the third-largest greenhouse gas emitter – behind China and the United States.

In an attempt to lose less food and feed more people, a partnership of international organizations has launched a new global framework to giv businesses, governments, and other organizations ways to measure, report on and manage food loss and waste.

The Food Loss and Waste Protocol is the partnership, and they have developed the global Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard for quantifying and reporting on food removed from the food supply chain due to waste or loss.

The new Standard was launched at the Global Green Growth Forum (3GF) 2016 Summit June 6 in Copenhagen.

3GF enables public-private partnerships to support the large-scale adoption of green technologies, practices and policies that they hope will accelerate solutions to intractable problems that markets and governments have been unable to solve on their own.

This set of global definitions and reporting requirements comes as a growing number of governments, companies and other organizions are making commitments to reduce food loss and waste.

Waste makes everybody poorer,” Denmark’s Foreign Affairs Minister Kristian Jensen said. “I am pleased that a new strong alliance between public and private actors will provide an efficient answer to the global challenge of food loss and waste. 3GF has promoted yet another green and innovative solution to global challenges.

The new Food Loss and Waste Standard will reduce economic losses for the consumer and food industry, alleviate pressure on natural resources and contribute to realizing the ambitious goals set out in the Sustainable Development Goals,” said Jensen. “We need to push for more solutions like this for the benefit of people, profit and the planet.

The Food Loss and Waste Protocol is the multi-stakeholder partnership convened by the nonprofit World Resources Institute and begun at the Global Green Growth Forum in 2013.

This standard is a real breakthrough,” declared Andrew Steer, president and CEO, World Resources Institute. “There’s simply no reason that so much food should be lost and wasted. Now, we have a powerful new tool that will help governments and businesses save money, protect resources and ensure more people get the food they need.

FLW Protocol partners include some of the largest and most influential of organizations: The Consumer Goods Forum, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, the European Union-funded FUSIONS project, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), The Waste and Resources Action Programme and World Resources Institute.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner acknowledged, “The scale of the problem of food loss and waste can be difficult to comprehend. Having this new standard by which to measure food loss and waste will not only help us understand just how much food is not making it to our mouths, but will help set a baseline for action.

UNEP is urging all countries and companies to use the new Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard to start measuring and reporting food loss and waste, in parallel to taking action to deliver on Sustainable Development Goal SDG Target 12.3: Halve food waste by 2030.

Wasting a third of the food we produce is a clear symptom of a global food system in trouble,” said President and CEO of the World Business Council for Sustainable Development Peter Bakker. “The FLW Standard is pivotal to setting a reliable baseline for streamlined and efficient action on the ground for countries, cities, and small and big businesses along the food value chain.

Together with tangible business solutions,” said Bakker, “the FLW Standard can help to significantly reduce food loss and waste around the globe.”

The FLW Standard will also help reduce food loss and waste within the private sector.

In 2015, The Consumer Goods Forum, which represents more than 400 of the world’s largest retailers and manufacturers from 70 countries, adopted a resolution for its members to reduce food waste from their operations by 50 percent by 2025, with baselines and progress to be measured using the FLW Standard.

Some leading companies, like Nestle and Tesco, are already measuring and publicly reporting on their food loss and waste.

An executive summary of the Food Loss and Waste Protocol can be found at Food Loss and Waste Accounting and Reporting Standard


Main Image: In the Philippines, girls eat food offered by Feed My Starving Children, a Christian nonprofit organization. (Photo by Feed My Starving Children) Creative commons license via Flickr

In Search of a Water-Wise World

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The drought in Somalia has lasted for years. This image of two men carrying a water can on a dusty road was shot on December 14, 2013. (Photo by the African Union Mission in Somalia, AMISOM) Creative Commons license via Flickr

By Sunny Lewis

ENSCHEDE, Netherlands, July 4, 2016 (Maximpact.com News) – Rukiyo Ahmed, 26, discovered she was pregnant just as drought began to parch her village in the East African country of Somalia. Her household lost all its livestock. When the drought intensified, Ahmed and her family had to seek relief with extended family members living in the town of Dangoroyo, 35 kilometres away.

“I was so worried that I would have a miscarriage due to the effects of the drought,” said Rukiyo. “We had so little to eat. I became very weak and could barely walk.”

This story has a happy ending. With the help of the UN Population Fund , Ahmed eventually gave birth to a healthy boy.

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China fights the advancing desert by planting trees in Inner Mongolia, May 2010. (Photo by Cory M. Grenier) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Still, water scarcity is a real and present danger for the two-thirds of the global population – four billion people – who live without enough water for at least one month of each year. Half a billion face severe water scarcity all year round, many in China, India and Africa.

Professor of water management Arjen Hoekstra and his team at University of Twente in The Netherlands have come to this conclusion after years of extensive research in a study published in the journal “Science Advances“.

“Groundwater levels are falling, lakes are drying up, less water is flowing in rivers, and water supplies for industry and farmers are threatened,” Hoekstra warns.

Until now, scientists had thought that about two to three billion people were suffering severe water scarcity. Four billion thirsty people is “alarming,” he said.

Professor Hoekstra’s team is the world’s first research group to establish the maximum sustainable “water footprint” for every location on Earth, and then investigate actual water consumption by location.

“Up to now, this type of research concentrated solely on the scarcity of water on an annual basis, and had only been carried out in the largest river basins,” says Hoekstra.

Severe water scarcity exists if consumption is much greater than the water supply can sustain. That is the case particularly in Mexico, the western United States, northern and southern Africa, southern Europe, the Middle East, India, China, and Australia.

There, households, industries and farmers regularly experience water shortages. In other areas, water supplies are still fine but at risk in the long-term, the Dutch team reports.

In the United States, 130 million of the country’s 323 million people are affected by water scarcity for at least one month of each year, most in the states of California, Florida and Texas.

Hoekstra observes that the subject of water scarcity is climbing higher and higher on the global agenda. “The fact that the scarcity of water is being regarded as a global problem is confirmed by our research,” he said. “For some time now, the World Economic Forum has placed the world water crisis in the top three of global problems, alongside climate change and terrorism.”

“All over the world,” Hoekstra said, “it is clear that the risks associated with high water consumption are being increasingly recognized. The growing world population, changes in consumer behavior, and climate change are having a significant impact on the scarcity and quality of water.”

Hoekstra’s work is confirmed by many other authoritative research teams.

About one-third of Earth’s largest groundwater basins are being rapidly depleted by human consumption, according to two new studies from the University of California, Irvine, the first to identify global groundwater loses using data from space. The data is drawn from the Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) satellites flown by the U.S. National Aeronautic and Space Administration (NASA).

This means that millions of people are consuming groundwater quickly without knowing when it might run out, conclude the researchers, whose findings were published June 16 in “Water Resources Research.”

In the first paper, researchers found that 13 of the planet’s 37 largest aquifers studied between 2003 and 2013 were being depleted while receiving little to no recharge. In a companion paper, they conclude that the total remaining volume of the world’s usable groundwater is poorly known, with estimates that often vary widely.

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California fruit growers, farmers and ranchers are suffering through an epic drought, Coalinga, California, April 23, 2015 (Photo by ATOMIC Hot Links) Creative Commons license via Flickr

“Available physical and chemical measurements are simply insufficient,” said UCI professor and principal investigator Jay Famiglietti, who is also the senior water scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. “Given how quickly we are consuming the world’s groundwater reserves, we need a coordinated global effort to determine how much is left.”

“The water table is dropping all over the world,” said Famiglietti. “There’s not an infinite supply of water.”

A NASA study released in March finds that the drought that began in 1998 in the eastern Mediterranean Levant region of: Cyprus, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, and Turkey, is likely the worst drought of the past 900 years.

In a joint statement, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and the Famine Early Warning Systems Network said late last year, “El Niño will have a devastating effect on southern Africa’s harvests and food security in 2016. The current rainfall season has so far been the driest in the last 35 years.”

El Niño conditions, which arise from a natural warming of Pacific Ocean waters, lead to droughts, floods and more frequent cyclones across the world every few years.

Meteorologists say this year’s El Niño is the worst in 35 years and is now peaking. Although it is expected to decline in strength over the next six months, El Niño’s effects on farming, health and livelihoods in developing countries could last through 2018.

In Central America, El Niño conditions have led to a second consecutive year of drought – one of the region’s most severe in history,

In Africa, Abdoulaye Balde, the World Food Programme’s country director in Mozambique issued a dire warning. “Mozambique and southern African countries face a disaster if the rains do not come within a few weeks,” he said.

“South Africa is six million tonnes short of food this year, but it is the usual provider of food reserves in the region,” said Balde. “If they have to import six million tonnes for themselves, there will be little left for other countries. The price of food will rise dramatically.”

Zimbabwe declared a national food emergency this month, according to the WFP rep in the capital, Harare. Food production is just half of what it was last year, and the staple grain, maize, is 53 percent more expensive.

Water scarcity remedies range from simple conservation and efficiency, to tree planting and wastewater re-use, to highly technical and expensive facilities such as nuclear desalination plants as advocated by the International Atomic Energy Agency  that would turn seawater into freshwater.

Finding sustainable solutions to water scarcity will be the focus of the annual World Water Week in Stockholm, held this year from August 28 to September 2. Hosted and organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute (SIWI), this year’s theme is Water for Sustainable Growth.

Water experts, technicians, decision makers, business innovators and young professionals from more than 100 countries are expected in Stockholm to network, exchange ideas and foster innovations that could help satisfy the urgent needs of four billion people for water.

One such innovation is the world’s first certified green bond. It was just issued by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) under the Water Climate Bonds Standard, whose criteria was co-developed by SIWI and the Alliance for Global Water Adaptation.

The Water Climate Bonds Standard is a screening tool for investors that specifies the criteria that must be met for bonds to be labeled as “green” or earmarked for funding water-related, resilient, and low-carbon initiatives.

Proceeds from the SFPUC’s $240m Wastewater Revenue Bond  will fund projects in sustainable stormwater and wastewater management.


Featured image: California fruit growers, farmers and ranchers are suffering through an epic drought, Coalinga, California, April 23, 2015 (Photo by ATOMIC Hot Links) Creative Commons license via Flickr

Gates Funds Climate-Smart Rice Development

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By Sunny Lewis

LOS BANOS, Philippines, January 6, 2015 (Maximpact.com News) – Climate change-ready rice seeds of several varieties have reached millions of farmers in Asia and Africa under a forward-looking program known as Stress-Tolerant Rice for Africa and South Asia, or STRASA.

Developed by the Los Baños-based International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the program distributes new rice varieties tolerant of stresses such as the droughts and floods, salinity, and toxicity, to millions of farmers coping with these stresses.

STRASA began at the end of 2007 with IRRI in collaboration with AfricaRice. Conceived as a 10-year project with a vision to deliver the improved varieties to at least 18 million farmers on the two continents, the first two phases of the project have been funded with about US$20 million each.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is funding the third phase of the IRRI-led project with US$32.77 million through 2017.

Rice is the most important human food crop in the world, directly feeding more people than any other crop. In 2012, nearly half of world’s population, more than three billion people, relied on rice every day.

Rice is produced in a wide range of locations and under a variety of climatic conditions, from the wettest areas in the world to the driest deserts. Thousands of rice varieties are cultivated on every continent except Antarctica.

But as the climate changes, more varieties are being developed to help farmers produce their crops regardless of droughts that shrivel the rice plants and floods that rot them.

About three years into the STRASA program, in May 2011, Bill Gates described how he sees the revolution in rice production.

“What’s going on right now in Africa and South Asia is not a collection of anecdotes about improvements to a few people’s lives,” Gates said. “This is the early stage of sweeping change for farming families in the poorest parts of the world. It’s an historic chance to help people and countries move from dependency to self-sufficiency – and fulfill the highest promise of foreign aid.”

STRASA in Africa

Gary Atlin, senior program officer with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, told the 3rd Africa Rice Congress held in October 2013 in Yaoundé, Cameroon, “The best adaptation to climate change is a breeding and seed system that rapidly develops, deploys, and then replaces varieties so that farmers will always have access to varieties adapted to their current conditions.”

This strategy is at the heart of STRASA, which helps smallholder farmers who are vulnerable to flooding, drought, extreme temperatures, and soil problems, such as high salt and iron toxicity, that reduce yields.

Some of these stresses are forecast to become more frequent and intense with climate change.

Climate change is already having a negative impact on Africa through extreme temperatures, frequent flooding and droughts, and increased salinity according to Baboucarr Manneh, irrigated-rice breeder at Africa Rice Center and coordinator of the African component of the STRASA project.

More than 30 stress-tolerant rice varieties have already been released in nine African countries with support from the STRASA project, said Dr. Manneh.

“One of the key impact points for STRASA will be the quantity of seed produced and disseminated to farmers,” said Dr. Manneh. “As seed production continues to be a major bottleneck in Africa, the main thrust of our recent STRASA meeting was to help countries develop seed road maps.”

Sometimes, various stresses, such as salinity, cold, submergence, and iron toxicity, can occur at the same time.

“That’s why the third phase of the STRASA project will focus on breeding for multiple stress tolerance,” Dr. Manneh explained.

STRASA in India

“Use flood- and drought-tolerant rice to get maximum profit from your small landholdings in the stress-prone areas of Bihar,” said Radha Mohan Singh, Union minister for agriculture and farmers welfare, to a gathering of more than 1,000 farmers at the foundation ceremony of the National Integrated Agriculture Research Centre in Motihari, Bihar, India last August.

Minister Singh told the farmers of how scientists from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research took him to a pond planted with a new flood-tolerant rice variety that was fully submerged in water for 15 days. “I immediately asked them, ‘Why this much water? Wouldn’t the rice rot?’”

But the crop variety that survived 15 days of submergence had “very good yield,” the scientists said.

These flood-tolerant seeds now are available for farmers in Motihari. Trials of a drought-tolerant rice variety are also being conducted in several Motihari villages.

“Following the Minister’s speech, the IRRI booth received a rush of inquiries from farmers,” said Dr. Sudhanshu Singh, International Rice Research Institute scientist and rainfed-lowland agronomist for South Asia, who represented the Institute during the foundation ceremony and exhibit.

About 10 million of the poorest and most disadvantaged rice farmers have been given access to climate-smart rice varieties.

“Swarna-Sub1 changed my life,” said Trilochan Parida, a farmer at the Dekheta Village of Puri in Odisha, India.

Floods ravage Parida’s rice field every year. Flooding of four days or more usually means a loss of the crop as well as of any expected income. But in 2008, Parida saw his rice rise back to life after having been submerged for two weeks.

Swarna-Sub1 is a flood-tolerant rice variety developed by the Philippines-based IRRI. It was bred from a popular Indian variety, Swarna, which has been upgraded with SUB1, the gene for flood tolerance.

“Under the past phases of the project, 16 climate-smart rice varieties tolerant of flood, drought, and salinity were released in various countries in South Asia. About 14 such varieties were released in sub-Saharan Africa. Several more are in the process of being released,” said Abdelbagi Ismail, IRRI scientist and STRASA project leader.

In addition to improving varieties and distributing seeds, the STRASA project also trains farmers and scientists in producing good-quality seeds. Through the project’s capacity-building component, 74,000 farmers, including 19,400 women farmers, underwent training in seed production.

3,000 Rice Genomes Sequenced

Now a scientific advance has made even more progress possible.

A remarkable 3,000 rice genome sequences were made publicly available on World Hunger Day May 29, 2014.

This work is the completion of stage one of the 3000 Rice Genomes Project, a collaborative, international research program that has sequenced 3,024 rice varieties from 89 countries.

The collaboration is made up of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), and the Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI), and is funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Chinese Ministry of Science and Technology.

IRRI Director General Dr. Robert Zeigler said, “Access to 3,000 genomes of rice sequence data will tremendously accelerate the ability of breeding programs to overcome key hurdles mankind faces in the near future.”

“This collaborative project,” said Zeigler, “will add an immense amount of knowledge to rice genetics, and enable detailed analysis by the global research community to ultimately benefit the poorest farmers who grow rice under the most difficult conditions.”

The 3000 Rice Genomes Project is part of an ongoing effort to provide resources for poverty-stricken farmers in Africa and Asia, aiming to reach at least 20 million rice farmers in 16 target countries – eight in Asia and eight in Africa.

Dr. Jun Wang, director of the Beijing Genomics Institute, said, “The population boom and worsening climate crisis have presented big challenges on global food shortage and safety. BGI is dedicated to applying genomics technologies to make a fast, controllable and highly efficient molecular breeding model possible.”

“This opens a new way to carry out agricultural breeding. With the joined forces with CAAS, IRRI and Gates Foundation, we have made a step forward in big-data-based crop research and digitalized breeding,” said Dr. Wang. “We believe every step will get us closer to the ultimate goal of improving the wellbeing of human race.”


Award-winning journalist Sunny Lewis is founding editor in chief of the Environment News Service (ENS), the original daily wire service of the environment, publishing since 1990.

 

Editors note: Dr. Jun Wang is no longer the director of the Beijing Genomics Institute, although he was at the comment quoted. Dr. Jun Wang is now a scientist and research group leader with BGI.

Head image: A farmer planting rice in Pangkep, South Sulawesi, Indonesia, 2014 (Photo by Tri Saputro / Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) under creative commons license.
Featured image: Sample seeds from among the 127,000 rice varieties and accessions stored in the International Rice Genebank at the International Rice Research Institute.​​ (Photo courtesy IRRI)