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.


“The choice is in our hands”

After spoilers ipcccand seven years of waiting since the last Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, the full Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) was accepted and its final piece (the Synthesis Report) was approved on November 1, 2014. The Synthesis Report integrates the findings of the three 2013-2014 IPCC working group reports: physical basis for climate change; climate change impacts, adaptation and vulnerability; and climate change mitigation. The Synthesis Report, however, is considered the most influential part of the report for climate change negotiations. Its shorter version – 40 pages long – is written in a non-technical style to be used by policymakers and addresses policy questions, even though it does not prescribe specific policies to be adopted by governments.

The latest report is already being recognized as the most comprehensive IPCC report to date. But the news is not all good. Mother Jones listed what it considers the “most terrifying facts from the IPCC report”: human influence on climate change is clear, climate change is happening today and is going to get worse, oceans are keeping most of the heat and are turning more acidic, developing nations will be hit the hardest, and biodiversity is particularly vulnerable. However, IPCC’s conclusion does not come as a total surprise to those familiar with climate change studies.  In fact, several people have come forward to critique the report as underestimating the actual severity of the situation.

But the IPCC’s latest report comes at a time when the international community could use a little help from our (scientist) friends.  With the upcoming Conference of the Parties (COP) in Lima, and the roadmap to reach a post-2020 agreement in Paris next year, the strong language used in particular in the Synthesis Report could push forward the negotiations.  In the words of IPCC Chairman, Mr.  Rajendra. K. Pachauri, if we are aiming to keep within the 2oC increase limit, we must act now. In fact, the report affirms that if we do not change business-as-usual within the next 17 years, we are going to exceed the global carbon budget – calculated to keep us under the ‘safe level’ of 2oC increase. To avoid surpassing this number, we need to drastically reduce GHG emissions, or, as presented in the report, keep up to 86% of all proven fossil fuel reserves in the ground.

The clocking is ticking, and the message is clear. As 350.org founder Bill McKibben explains, it does not get clearer than the language used in Synthesis Report: “For scientists, conservative by nature, to use ‘serious, pervasive, and irreversible’ to describe the effects of climate falls just short of announcing that climate change will produce a zombie apocalypse plus random beheadings plus Ebola.”

The good news is that governments seem to finally understand the message.  On the same day the Synthesis Report was released, the Director of White House Office of Science & Technology, Dr. John P Holdren, affirmed that the IPCC report underscores the need for “continued engagement with other countries on ambitious emissions-reductions targets and the policies and technologies necessary to achieve them.” United Kingdom Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Mr. Ed Davey, also recognized the importance of the report, stating that “we must act on climate change now.” Now we need to wait and see if the message will continue strong in the next 27 seven days for COP21. But either way, according to WMO General Secretary Mr. Michel Jarraud, “ignorance can no longer be an excuse for no action.”