How Does a 2⁰C Increase in Global Temperature Impact Food Security?

Climate change, food security821 million people.

Nearly 821 million people across the world are food insecure, according to the 2018 State of Food Insecurity (SOFI) report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). This means that they do not have adequate access to sufficient, safe, nutritious food to maintain a healthy life. Evidence indicates that this number will likely increase if the global atmospheric temperature continues to rise.

The Guardian recently reported on a study by the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A on the impacts of allowable temperature rise of 1.5⁰C and 2⁰C. It found that vulnerability to food insecurity increases more at 2°C global warming than at 1.5°C, due to climate-induced drought and precipitation changes. Of all natural hazards, the SOFI report highlights that “floods, droughts and tropical storms affect food production the most. Drought causes more than 80 percent of the total damage and losses in agriculture.”

Maximum temperature, the percentage of days with extreme daily temperatures, the number of consecutive dry days, and the maximum rainfall in a 5-day period were measured to reach temperature impact conclusions. At a 2°C warmer world, the land areas mostly warm by more than 2°C. In some regions, like North America, China, and Europe, the daily high temperature increases could be double that of the globe on average. Southern Africa, the Mediterranean, Australia and northeast South America are projected to have increased dry spell lengths. Rainfall is projected to increase over many regions including parts of southeast Asia, northern Australia and the east coast of the USA.food-security

The impacts on food security at an increase of 1.5°C global temperature are smaller than at 2°C. Drought and flooding are more extreme at an increase in global temperature of 2°C. The SOFI report noted the number of extreme climate-related disasters has doubled since the early 1990s. These disasters harm agricultural productivity contributing to shortfalls in food availability, hiked up food prices, and the loss of income reducing people’s access to food.

Why are these temperatures important? The Paris Agreement’s goal is to keep the global temperature rise this century “well below 2⁰C” above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5⁰C. This goal is outlined in Art 2 of the PA and aligns with the UNFCCC’s Art 2 objective to “stabilize greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system.”

Current IPCC reports model proposed mitigation pathways on limiting warming to 2°C. In early October, the IPCC will publish a report that remodels needed mitigation outcomes based on a 1.5°C limit. FAO has sounded the alarm for why less warming is critical to our food security and underscored why this new IPCC report is needed.  At COP24, Parties will be faced with this new evidence as they negotiate the rules for implementing the Paris Agreement.

 

 

 


A Caffeine Constrained World

At the 23rd Conference of Parties (COP 23), Denise Loga, Co-founder and Managing Director of the Sustainable Food Academy, brought to light the issue of food security in changing climate. She recognized that the earth cannot sustain humanity’s current food systems. Unsustainable patterns of human consumption paired with climate change lends kindling to an already robust fire.

Climate change is resulting in sea level rise, increased extreme weather variability, and fluctuating temperatures. These characteristics of climate change affect crop yields and survival, threaten the livelihoods of farmers, disrupt economic production and supply chains, and threaten food security within vulnerable countries. According to State of Food Insecurity in the World (SOFI), approximately 815 million people are undernourished. This number is likely to rise as climate change decreases food security, which puts pressure on government food security strategies.

For example, coffee is a particularly climate-sensitive plant and is already experiencing decreased yield due to climate change. In a joint study by the the International Center for Tropical Agriculture under the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, coffeedownload production in Brazil is predicted to see a drop by 25% by 2050 and Indonesia production is likely to drop by 37% by 2050. The loss of the valuable coffee trade is likely to impact developing countries disproportionally as coffee as a key export of developing nations. These countries are also tend to have the highest malnourishment and poverty rates. Adding economic pressure to countries in this position would further exacerbate domestic issues. This is one example among many in which the loss of a food resource has drastic impacts upon humans.

Loss of food security is an natural consequence of a rapidly changing climate. Due to the disproportionate impact upon developing countries, measures should be taken to ensure food security within those countries most vulnerable. This requires countries to take action to mitigate the effects of climate change and provide relief and aid to those countries in need. Without action on a significant scale, impacts on food security will be felt globallymap_c3_a3_50map_c1_a1_50


Conflict & Climate Change: The Real Triple C

You read this title and say to yourself, “There is no war in climate change!” “What? Scientists don’t go to war!”  Often the discussions on climate change center around the environmental effects. Experts do not attribute climate change as a direct cause of war, but it is a catalyst for conflict. The connection between conflict and climate change is not a game of six degrees of separation. Many governments and NGOs have already generated reports on the effects of climate change and security.

Climate change causes sea-level rise, natural resource scarcity, and natural disasters. These external pressures pose a considerable threat, particularly to developing nations. Climate change makes forced migration and climate refugees more prevalent. Climate change can contribute to armed conflict in two ways. First, scarcity of natural resources can change the political economy of a state. Second, climate impacts can stimulate conflict by changes in social systems. Climate change causes environmental stress which asserts an influence on peace and security.

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Examples.

Sudan. The conflict in Darfur began because of an ecological crisis that arose from climate change. Southern Sudan started experiencing drought as a result of sea level temperature rise in the Indian Ocean. This drought caused scarcity in food and water resources, and heightened tensions between the Arab herders and nomadic farmers. The conflict in Darfur arose during this drought when there was not enough food and water for all.

Somalia. Somalia is located in the Horn of Africa, which is particularly susceptible to climate change. Somalia has subtle connections between drought, food insecurity, and conflict. Drought and food insecurity plague Somalia, which has caused food crises. The food crises result in internal displacement within Somalia. Civil conflicts have coincided with the food crises. Militant groups have taken advantage of the current environmental vulnerabilities to expand their power, making climate change an external pressure on Somalia.

Syria. Similar to Sudan, the civil war in Syria arose in a time of drought. The drought was ongoing between 2006-2009 in the fertile crescent. As a result, rural Syrians along with Iraqi refugees were forced to migrate to larger cities. After the drought, the Syrian conflict arose in 2011.  Scientists believe that the drought played a role in Syrian unrest because food became expensive and water scarce. The expensive food and water scarcity put external pressures on the political climate in Syria.

The effects of climate change place external pressure on the political climate of nations. As nations seek to keep global temperature rise below 2 degrees Celsius from pre-industrial levels, we face the challenges of how climate change impacts affect security and civil unrest. As we go into climate change negotiations, we should realize the threat of armed conflict that climate change poses.


Implementing Adaptation for Resilient Mediterranean-climate Regions

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One of the side events at COP 22 today presented best practices and case studies for implementing adaptation in Mediterranean-climate regions, with a focus on: consumer behavior; stakeholder and citizen participation; health; and climate policy. The speakers identified ways that sub-national governments can increase adaptation efforts. Surprisingly, few of the case studies involved countries along the Mediterranean Sea. Instead, the speakers focused primarily on initiatives and policies in South Africa and California, both of which are primarily mediterranean climates. In fact, mediterranean-climate regions can be found on every continent but Antarctica.

The Mediterranean basin gives the climate its name, and more than half of world’s mediterranean climates are found in this region. However, the mediterranean climate can also be found in regions in southwestern Australia, central Chile, coastal California, northern Iran, and southwestern South Africa. Mediterranean climate zones are characterized by hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. These regions experience pronounced climactic changes between season, most notably in terms of temperature and rainfall changes. Mediterranean climates cover just 3% of world but account for 20% of plant biodiversity and house over 200 million people.  Most large, historic cities of the Mediterranean basin, including Athens, Barcelona, Beirut, Jerusalem, Rome, and Tunis, lie within mediterranean climatic zones, as do major cities outside of the Mediterranean basin, such as Casablanca, Cape Town, Perth, Los Angeles, and San Francisco. Many of these cities are major coastal cities and biological hotspots supported by tourism-based economies that are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

The dense populations in these cities concentrate the demand for services and infrastructure, which increases the city’s vulnerability to climate change. These regions will experience an increase in their average temperatures, declining air and water quality, increased frequency and intensity of droughts and heat waves, and an increase in ground-level ozone. These impacts will lead to loss of habitat, decreased biodiversity, and water shortages. Climate change will also greatly impact human health. For example, during a prolonged heat wave in Los Angeles in 2006 more than 16,000 excess emergency room visits were reported. Just last year Jerusalem experience 5 straight days of snowfall, something that has not happened in decades, which shut down highways and crippled the city’s infrastructure. Additionally, as food and water become more scarce, populations will begin to migrate to cities in search of subsistence and further exacerbate the impacts of climate change. The first step governments should take in addressing this problem is changing how they view these migrants. Instead of seeing migrants as a political issue that is separate from climate change they must change the paradigm to one that views them as what they really are: climate refugees.

While cities are the source of many climate-related problem, they can also be the source of the solutions. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change underscored the urgent need for cities to act in its last assessment report. The building sector has the greatest potential for delivering significant and cost-effective adaptation benefits through improved design and smarter technologies to conserve energy. Many of these measures would have co-benefits too, including reductions in noise and waste. Cities can also adapt to climate change by improving their infrastructure. For example, Los Angeles is investing in bus line, pedestrian walkways, and improving bike safety. Cities must continue working to keep the lights on, people employed, and emissions down. These concerns are not limited to mediterranean-climate regions and should be comprehensively addressed by all levels of government to reduce their vulnerability and increase their capacity to adapt to climate change.


Ecological Migration and Migrating Towards Ambitious Climate Change Commitments at COP22

In 2011, the UN projected that the world will have 50 million environmental refugees by 2020. These are people who need to resettle due to climate change impacts such as drought, food shortage, disease, flooding, desertification, soil erosion, deforestation, and other environmental problems. This past week the New York Times released two stories about the plight of “ecological migrants” in the deserts of northern China. The first is a visual narrative about people living in the expanding Tengger Desert. The second article highlights the world’s largest environmental migrant resettlement project, in Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region.

“Ecological migrants” are the millions of people whom the Chinese government had to relocate from lands distressed by climate change, industrialization, and human activity to 161 hastily built villages. China has already resettled 1.14 million residents of the Ningxia Hui Autonomous Region, where the average temperature has risen 3.8 degrees Fahrenheit in the last 50 years (more than half of that increase occurring from 2001 to 2010) and annual precipitation has dropped about 5.7 millimeters every decade since the 1960s.

China is only one example of a region where people have had to relocate due to climate change. Where will everyone go? This is a problem that all countries need to figure out quickly because, if the UN’s prediction is accurate, the current system of asylum, refugee resettlement, and Temporary Protected Status (TPS) may prove inadequate.

The Marshall Islands need to figure out where their people will go as their island nation is quickly disappearing underwater. Predictions of dangerous tropical storms and rising salt levels in their drinking water may force citizens to flee even before the entire island is lost. In Bangladesh, about 17% of the land could be inundated by 2050, displacing an additional 18 million people.

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Road leading to Isle de Jean Charles often floods, cutting off the community.Credit: Josh Haner/The New York Times.

Climate change relocations are not limited to small, developing nations. The United States has begun preparing for its own. In January, the Department of Housing and Urban Development announced grants up to $1 billion in 13 states to help communities adapt to climate change, including the first allocation of federal money to move an entire community due to the impacts of climate change: a $48 million grant for Isle de Jean Charles.

Other than the overcrowding of cities and uprooting and destruction of rural lifestyles, the global refugee crisis presents a larger concern: national security. Last year at COP21 in Paris, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry tied the conflict in Syria and the resulting global refugee crisis to climate change. Secretary Kerry linked Syria’s drought and resulting urban migration—first domestic, then international—as a key factor to the civil war. This was a relevant example of how climate change can exacerbate existing political turmoil within a country.

Thus, all countries must stay committed to climate change goals, not only for maintaining millions of people’s lives and homes, but for national safety throughout the world. Whether they consider it a focus or not, many countries are currently facing the problem of creating new domestic policies on immigration. While it may be too late for some vulnerable areas to completely avoid the need to relocate its people, every climate change action helps mitigate the problem. Hopefully the issue of relocation and climate change refugees or “ecological migrants” will push countries to be more ambitious about their climate change actions at the upcoming COP22.


Climate Change influences extreme weather events, but by how much?

 

08extremeweather.adapt_.1190.1 We know that our climate system is changing as global temperatures rise. It is also now possible, in many cases, for science to credibly speak to the influence of climate change on the likelihood and/or the extent/severity of a certain type of event. However, according to a pre-publication version of a new National Academies of Sciences (NAS) report, there is still a long way to go to make credible claims about how much and in what ways a particular extreme weather event was affected by climate change.

PrintThe NAS report, Attribution of Extreme Weather Events in the Context of Climate Change (free pdf download available), is the work of the Committee on Extreme Weather Events and Climate Change Attribution. To create it, the Committee drew on more than 300 published papers, and conducted a 3-month process of multiple webinar meetings and a community workshop with leading scientists and other researchers working in the arena of event attribution.

The report provides the most up to date assessment of current capabilities in event attribution, guidance on presenting and interpreting studies, and priorities for both future research and its application (operationalization). While the report notes significant gains in the science of extreme event attribution, especially over the past decade, it cautions that this science is still emerging, and substantially more study is required.

On methodology, the report identifies two classes of approaches to event attribution – observational-based and model-based – noting that most studies use both to varying degrees. The model-based approach must, of course, account for multiple uncertainties, and the report looks at how those have been quantified. The suite of “individual classes of extreme events” examined includes extreme heat and cold events, droughts, wildfires, extreme rainfall, cyclones, and more.

The authors assign a confidence level (high, medium, low) to the attribution science for each of these event classes by evaluating three different measures:

  • “the capabilities of climate models to simulate an event class,
  • the quality and length of the observational record from a climate perspective, and
  • understanding of the physical mechanisms that lead to changes in extremes as a result of climate change.”Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 1.59.21 PM

The attribution analyses of extreme heat and cold events garner the highest level of confidence. There is medium confidence in those of hydrological drought and heavy precipitation, and little or no confidence in those of severe convective storms and extratropical cyclones. (See Fig. S.4) (Severe convective storms are severe thunderstorms, often characterized by hail, lightning, and/or high wind gusts. Extratropical cyclones are low pressure, generally mid-latitude systems associated with cold or warm fronts, e.g., blizzards, Nor-easters.)

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

(AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

In particular, the authors caution that, “there is no single best method or set of assumptions for event attribution.” How the question is framed and the time constraints imposed on a study play a significant role in the choices made for such parameters as: defining event duration, setting geographical area affected, identifying the physical variables to study, and choosing methodology. Natural variability is also always a player in an extreme event. Instead of “Did climate change cause this event?”, the authors suggest reasonable questions might be: “Are events of this severity becoming more or less likely because of climate change?” and “To what extent was the storm intensified or weakened, or its precipitation increased or decreased, because of climate change?”

The report recommends more study of 9 specific areas of weather and climate extremes, suggests the creation of standards based on event classes, and proposes ways to improve systemic evaluation.

While policymakers and the public need the science in order to better manage the risks around these events and enhance our adaptive capacity, those most vulnerable to climate change are looking toward the day that blame for these events can be apportioned and thus restitution sought. That day is getting closer, but it is definitely not here yet.


Is Climate Change a Threat to National Security?

paris-peace-signCOP21 began Monday with a moment of silence for victims of the November 13 terror attacks in Paris, and the tragedy served as a touchstone for world leaders urging unity and action. Nearly every speaker at the daylong Leaders Event expressed condolences for the Paris attacks, and some, including the Prince of Wales who opened the event, highlighted the connection between climate change and national security.

In his speech, President Obama declared “what greater rejection of those who would tear down our world than marshaling our best efforts to save it.” Later, in a press briefing room at COP21, President Obama doubled down on this sentiment stating that “in some ways, [climate change] is akin to the problem of terrorism and ISIL.” Both threats, President Obama said, require a long, sustained effort by the United States to assess and neutralize them.

French Foreign Minister and COP21 President Laurent Fabius has called climate change “a threat to policepeace,” describing a world where floods, desertification, and droughts will intensify conflicts over
ever-scarcer resources and spark a massive wave of environmental refugees. “Terrorism is significant, but naked hunger is as significant as terrorism,” he said. “And the relationship between terrorist activities and naked hunger are obvious. If you look at the vectors of recruitment into terrorist cells, most of the most vulnerable are hunger-prone areas.”

Also vocal on this issue is presidential hopeful Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders who stated publicly during the First Democratic Presidential Debate that climate change is the single greatest threat to the U.S.’s national security. Understandably, debate moderators revisited this question just one day after the Paris attacks during the second debate on November 14, asking Senator Sanders if he stood by his previous statement in light of the growing security threat from ISIS. “Absolutely,” said Sanders. “In fact, climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism.” Like Fabius, he explained that climate change impacts will increase international conflicts as people struggle over limited amounts of water and land to grow their crops.

Criticizing this correlation to terrorism, an Op-Ed published in the New York Times soon after the Paris attacks called out climate change advocates, among others, and asked incredulously, “must we instantly bootstrap obliquely related agendas and utterly unconnected grievances to the carnage in Paris, responding to it with an unsavory opportunism instead of a respectful grief?”

However, recent reports suggest that this correlation is warranted. In July, a report by the U.S. Defense Department called climate change an “urgent and growing threat” to national security, and this October NATO’s parliament demanded stronger action by member states to tackle a warming planet. The repeated discussion of the nexus between climate change and national security Monday makes clear that this is no longer a political question – it’s a fact.

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Growing Pains: Are GMOs an Adaptation Solution for Growing, Hungry Populations Affected by Climate Change?

Chronic hunger plagues 805 million people worldwide. Although this is 100 million less than 10 years ago, the future of food security remains uncertain in the face of climate change. The world is growing, and so is the demand for food. The World Resources Institute projects the world will face a 69% food gap in 2050 if food production remains the same.

Adaptation efforts will be particularly challenging due to changing precipitation patterns, warming temperatures, and extreme weather events resulting from climate change. The agriculture sector accounts for 55% of total world GHG emissions; paradoxically, it must strive to reduce GHG emissions and to increase food production simultaneously. Ideally this will be done without increasing deforestation and consequently decreasing carbon storage. To face these climate change hurdles and maintain consistent crop yields, countries will likely consider using or expanding current use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

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Photo Credit: www.darkgovernment.com

GMOs are organisms that have been inserted with another organism’s genetic material to achieve new properties. The new properties for crops typically include herbicide tolerance, virus resistance, and water-uptake efficiency. The new genetic material can come from plants, animals, viruses, or bacteria. For example, in the US the majority of soybeans, corn, and cotton are GMOs with genetic material from soil bacterium, bacillus thuringiensis; the bacteria produces a protein toxic to certain insect larvae, but not to humans and animals.

In addition to the US, many countries have already taken stances on this divisive topic. Others remain undecided as they weigh the pros and cons. The US along with Argentina, Brazil, Canada, and India are leading producers of GMOs. Among countries limiting GMOs are: EU countries, requiring approval of all genetically modified products prior to distribution; Switzerland, banning GMO farming since 2005; Russia, banning all imported GMO products; and China, banning GMOs for human consumption but allowing them for livestock.

Monsanto, a producer of GM seeds and Roundup herbicide, advocates for using heat and drought resistant GM seeds to adapt to climate change impacts. Other proponents argue GMO crops can adapt more quickly to sudden weather changes than conventional breeding methods.  They also maintain that farmers can produce more with fewer resources, thus having less climate affecting impacts.

Opponents of GMOs champion alternatives like ecological agriculture and conventional breeding that, they say, are just as good if not better. They also site environmental hazards, unknown human health risks, biodiversity loss, and economic concerns as reasons to ban or at least label GMO crops.  Mark Spitznagel, professor of risk engineering at NYU School of Engineering, compares the “GMO experiment” to the US financial system before the 2008 crash, which many people believed to be “too big to fail.”  He differentiates the two explaining that there are no possible bailouts when the GMO enterprise fails, and that the consequences would be much more devastating. Genetic engineering is only 40 years old. Uncertain future consequences of using this new technology is troubling to many people who believe the risks outweigh the potential benefits.

As more countries submit their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and consider adaptation methods to climate change, it will be interesting to see how the global dialogue surrounding GMOs develops. The agriculture sector is the largest contributor to global anthropogenic non-CO2 GHGs. The agriculture sector directly impacts climate change. Climate change directly impacts the agriculture sector. Deciding how to feed a growing, hungry planet and also curb temperature increases will be one controversial topic stemming from this paradoxical challenge.

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Loss and Damage – Hot Topic for Climate Negotiations

UNFCCC ADP2-10.CreativeCommons.SmallThrough multiple meetings this year, the ADP (Ad Hoc Working Group on the Durban Platform) is seeking to craft a viable negotiating text for a new, legally binding and long-lasting international climate change accord for consideration at the 21st meeting of the UNFCCC Conference of Parties meeting (COP21), being held in Paris in December. By all accounts, there was far less progress than hoped for at ADP2-10, held in Bonn, Germany from Aug. 31-Sept. 4. Climate Action Network (CAN) International characterized it as “incremental.” The Earth Negotiations Bulletin (ENB) noted the unresolved “deep differences” on the Paris package elements, structure, and approaches to crosscutting issues. And, ActionAid, calling the progress “fragile,” concluded that the week’s work shortchanged poorer countries on key issues.

One of those key issues was Loss and Damage (L&D). (For a refresher on L&D within the UNFCCC, please see our coverage over the last two years.) L&D has become an exceedingly hot button issue for the poorest and most vulnerable countries, given what they are already facing, and even more so, what’s ahead.TyphoonDamage-CreativeCommons.Small

The 3,253 hydrometeorological (weather, climate and water) hazards reported around the globe between 2005 and 2014 caused more than 283,000 deaths and more than $980 million in economic losses. According to the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, nearly 3.4 million people were affected by drought between mid-2014 and mid-2015, with Haiti and Honduras topping the list; the heat waves in India and Pakistan led to 3,700 deaths in the first half of 2015; and, storms and floods in Sri Lanka, Lebanon, Malawi and Bangladesh impacted a reported 2 million citizens over that same period.

Support to address these losses has been and continues to be insufficient, and the need for far more help is widely predicted. This situation, combined with the glaringly inadequate global mitigation of GHGs to date, creates an urgency that developed countries are no longer able to ignore in the climate negotiations.

Discussions on L&D did deepen during ADP2-10, primarily focusing on institutional arrangements and technical support, crystallizing as the week went on around a nagging sticking point – will L&D be substantively addressed in the core agreement (developing countries’ position), or not (most developed countries’ position)? Specifically, the G77+China and the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) called for “[p]lacing a loss and damage mechanism with a climate displacement coordination facility in the [core] agreement,” to replace the Warsaw International Mechanism for L&D (WIM) after 2020. Developed countries pushed back, not wanting to grant L&D such prominent status from which the spectre of compensation could more credibly arise. The Sept. 4 Working Document from the ADP2-10 break-outs on Adaptation and Loss and Damage gives a summary.

Our VLS delegation head, Tracy Bach, reported that continued brainstorming and strategizing yielded a discussion proposal from the U.S. and several other developed countries on the final day. It suggested making the WIM permanent through a COP decision and having it serve the new agreement after 2020. In this way, L&D would be kept from a place in the core agreement, even as it is recognized.

This proposal may pave the way for compromise on location of institutional arrangements. However, the issues of current and long-term sustainable funding for L&D and for any institutional arrangements will likely continue to haunt the road to Paris.SeaLevelRise

Photo credits:

1) <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/38709469@N08/8699594602″>Dais</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>

2) <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/27825503@N04/10962769056″>Destroyed</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>

3) <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/65162298@N07/6029132512″>Ethiopische nomadevrouw met haar dochter</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0.(license),/a>

4) Bing images


As goes California, so goes the Nation?

California solarJust a month after the U.S. submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDC) to the UNFCCC Secretariat, California Governor Jerry Brown has announced new, ambitious GHG emission mitigation goals for the state. While the U.S. is being chided internationally for its INDCs’ lack of mitigation and adaptation “ambition,” California is getting the limelight for stepping up.Brown’s executive order issued on April 29th “sharply speeds up this state’s already ambitious program” to reduce GHG emissions by 80% by 2050 (off the 1990 baseline emissions). This goal, ensconced in California’s first-in-the-nation climate change law, AB32, was viewed as visionary – if not unachievable – when enacted in 2006. Under this week’s order, the state will have the interim goal of reducing emission by 40% – the halfway point – by 2030.

In announcing the new target, Governor Brown highlighted its role in giving more precise direction to the energy industry and the state itself for making investment and regulatory decisions that move one of the top ten economies in the world toward its 2050 goal.

“It’s a real test,” Mr. Brown, a Democrat, said in a speech at an environmental conference in downtown Los Angeles. “Not just for California, not just for America, but for the world. Can we rise above the parochialisms, the ethnocentric perspectives, the immediacy of I-want-I-need, to a vision, a way of life, that is sustainable?”

But of course it comes at a cost. A recent study reports that to reach this new goal, California will need to double the energy efficiency of buildings and industry, source 50-60% of its electricity from wind and solar, and spur a significant increase in hybrid and zero-emission cars. It also projects that doing so will cost each Californian household $14/month.

With these targets, California becomes a major player in the upcoming COP21 negotiations in Paris, in the “ambition” company of the EU. Said Christiana Figueres, UNFCCC executive secretary of the conference, “California’s announcement is a realization and a determination that will gladly resonate with other inspiring actions within the United States and around the globe. It is yet another reason for optimism in advance of the U.N. climate conference in Paris in December.”


NPR on Climate Change and Health

mcmichaelAlthough the UNFCCC negotiators express concerns about climate change’s impact on human health, there is little in the treaty’s governance structure to induce specific action on the issue.  A 2014 round up on NPR this week singled out the contribution of Tony McMichael, an Australian doctor and epidemiologist who said of dealing with climate change impacts before his death this year that “it’s likely to be an extraordinary century and we’re going to have to have our wits about us to get through it.”

In 1993, McMichael led the health team on the IPCC’s second report, AR2. That same year, he published the first scholarly book devoted to the health effects of climate change, Planetary Overload: Global Environmental Change and the Health of the Human Species. During his career, he published more than 300 scientific papers describing how increasingly erratic weather and climate (think heat waves, ice storms, droughts, floods, and disease-carrying insects expanding their habitat) can cause health problems. Recently McMichael’s work has inspired research on the mental health effects of climate change, for example on rates of anxiety and depression among people in both drought-stricken and flooded areas.


Mapping resilience

As delegates begin arriving in Lima for the start of COP20/CMP10 on Monday, a new report from the Royal Society underscores the need for more urgency in climate change mitigation negotiations.  The Royal royal societySociety, which was founded in 1660 and serves as the United Kingdom’s independent scientific academy, released today Resilience to Extreme Weather, which projects the human impacts of coastal and river flooding, droughts, and heat waves using data provided by the IPCC in its recently published AR5.  The report also provides an on-line “chart of defensive options,” through which the user may explore different policy options for reducing the impacts of these four extreme weather events and determine each option’s effectiveness and cost. The Royal Society, along with BirdLife International, will host a side event at COP20 on Friday, December 12, 11:30am-1pm, to encourage policymakers to look beyond “traditional engineering options” to adaptation policies and practices based in ecosystems management.


Climate Resilience and the California Drought

California’s forward looking climate change policy has definitely staked out significant policy-making ground as the U.S. formulates its “nationally determined” commitments/contributions for the post-2020 international agreement.

Will its current drought do even more?

CA droughtCheck out this post on our VLS Environmental Health blog about President Obama’s recent creation of a Climate Resilience Fund, a U.S. domestic version of the UNFCCC’s Adaptation Fund.  Drought-plagued California doesn’t need convincing about climate change impacts, just assistance in adapting.  Recall that the Golden Bear State has led the way in U.S. climate change mitigation, with the passage of AB32, the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006, which seeks to reduce GHG emissions to 1990 levels by 2020.  Despite dire predictions about job loss and state GDP impact, Californians voted against suspending it in November, 2010, with 62% of the electorate voting down Proposition 23.  Now if they could only vote for rain!