UN wants early warning systems for natural disasters worldwide within five years

Read the full story at The Hill.

United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres on Wednesday announced that the U.N. will spearhead an effort to make early weather-warning systems available in the range of everyone on Earth in the next five years.

That effort will be led by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), a U.N. agency, Guterres said in a press release from the WMO. It will focus on making alert systems available in the developing world, as they are already widely used by many wealthy countries.

FEMA Hazard Mitigation: A First Step Toward Climate Adaptation

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With the increasing severity and frequency of natural disasters, attributed at least in part to climate change, policymakers often view mitigation funding as a way to control disaster-related spending. The importance of federal mitigation funding is illustrated by a recent study that looked at the impacts of 23 years of federal mitigation grants and found that for every $1 invested by federal grant programs, society as a whole saved $6 due to reduced future losses.

FEMA has a lead role in guiding nationwide mitigation of extreme weather events, including those resulting from the impacts of climate change. In particular, FEMA administers the federal government’s most significant grant programs for pre-and post-disaster mitigation. FEMA has identified hazard mitigation as one of the main ways in which the agency will enhance resilience to the effects of climate change and lead federal climate change adaptation efforts…

This report gives an overview of FEMA funding for mitigation, including issues related to equity, and suggests considerations for Congress that may enhance FEMA’s support for hazard mitigation and climate adaptation.

Transformational change is coming to how people live on Earth, UN climate adaptation report warns: Which path will humanity choose?

Weather and climate extremes are already here, and communities will have to adapt. Michael Hall via Getty Images

by Edward R. Carr, Clark University

Governments have delayed action on climate change for too long, and incremental changes in energy and food production will no longer be enough to create a climate-resilient future, a new analysis from scientists around the world warns.

The world is already seeing harmful impacts from climate change, including extreme storms, heat waves and other changes that have pushed some natural and human systems to the limits of their ability to adapt. As temperatures continue to rise, transformational change is coming to how people live on Earth. Countries can either plan their transformations, or they can face the destructive, often chaotic transformations that will be imposed by the changing climate.

I’m one of the authors of the climate impacts and adaptation report, released Feb. 28, 2022, as part of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Sixth Assessment Report. The increasing alarm in these reports, which review the latest research every six or seven years, echoes what I’ve seen over years of work in international development and climate change.

Climate change is having damaging effects today

Global temperatures have risen 1.1 degrees Celsius (2 F) since 1890. This warming has already produced substantial environmental changes.

Heat waves and extreme downpours have become more severe in many areas. These impacts have already contributed to water scarcity and complex food price spikes, and they can exacerbate health risks for vulnerable populations, such as low-income communities that can’t afford cooling when temperatures rise.

Climate models show these effects will worsen in a warming future as people continue releasing greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel use, agriculture and other activities, compromising humanity’s ability to adapt.

Where people cannot adapt, lives will be transformed in reactive, expensive ways. For example, research shows that if warming increases beyond 1.5 C (2.7 F) compared to preindustrial times, some small island states will lose much of their area to rising seas. Climate change will transform where their residents live, what they do for a living and indeed the very way they live.

A woman stands at the edge of a flooded road looking at a home's roof across the water.
Climate change is already contributing to humanitarian disasters, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s new report explains. On the island nation of Kiribati, which is at high risk from sea level rise, the village of Tebunginako had to be relocated. Justin McManus/The AGE/Fairfax Media via Getty Images

Rising temperatures and increasingly frequent droughts in the breadbaskets of the global food system, such as the American Midwest or Australia’s Murray-Darling Basin, will compromise harvests. In our tightly interconnected global food system, such events create radiating shortages and price spikes across different crops and places.

In the United States, these spikes are generally limited, but can resemble price increases under current inflation. For the most vulnerable Americans, such increases can strain their food security and increase pressure on social safety nets. In less wealthy parts of the world, these spikes can induce profound food crises, social unrest and political instability.

The impacts of a warming future will compromise the achievement of societal goals like ending poverty and malnutrition, in the United States and abroad.

People, companies and governments can cut risks

The world is not helpless in the face of these risks.

If countries, communities and individuals recognize the need for transformation, they can identify what they want to transform and what they want to preserve. They can ask who will be most affected by such transformations, and then plan for and manage these impacts, bringing as many people as possible into a climate resilient future. This does more than secure material safety. It changes people’s relationship with each other and the environment.

Dry soil trickles through the fingers of farmer Roland Hild as he demonstrates the dryness of his field in Germany.
As global temperatures rise, many crops face risks from weather and climate extremes. Thomas Kienzle/AFP via Getty Images

There are emerging examples of transformational adaptation to climate change that show what is possible.

In Australia, farmers who adopted regenerative agriculture practices, which help to store more carbon in the soil, found that the health of their soil increased. This allowed the farmers to buffer their fields against drought and floods. They also became more collaborative and ecologically aware, and they articulated more holistic goals for their farming that went beyond income to well-being and conservation.

Preservation vs. transformation: A false choice

The slow global response so far makes it clear that addressing climate change is fundamentally a problem of people and their motivations.

Some politicians and others promote false choices between expensive adaptation and the status quo. But arguments that mitigating climate change is too expensive obscure the fact that people pay for this losing battle against the transformative impacts of climate change all the time.

A chart of CO2 concentrations based on ice core reconstructions and modern observations
Levels of carbon dioxide, a powerful greenhouse gas that is released by burning fossil fuels and drives global warming, have risen quickly in the atmosphere over the past 70 years. NOAA

The IPCC report notes that in East Africa, the economic impact of climate change on a single crop, maize, has been estimated at US$1 billion each year. This is far more than these countries or the international community spends on agricultural aid and other support for these farmers. Their production is part of the same global food system that shapes food prices everywhere. It’s one example of how humanity is already paying for adaptation, often in indirect ways.

Focusing on the status quo also sidesteps the thorny politics of deciding what aspects of our current lives, societies and economies should be preserved and what can and should be transformed. Shifting from cars to public transportation can improve access jobs and amenities for lower-income populations. At the same time, housing near transportation can be priced out of reach. Building a seawall might protect properties along one part of the coast while shifting erosion to communities with fewer resources.

What countries and communities decide to transform, and how, will depend greatly on who gets to participate in these decisions. Their outcomes, in turn, will have significant implications for justice and equity.

Reactive approach hides the accumulating costs

But the status quo isn’t cheap in the long run, and studies show that the harm from more drastic warming would be extensive.

The Urban Climate Change Research Network, an international consortium of scientists, estimates that the current cost of adaptation for urban areas alone is between $64 billion and $80 billion each year. The same assessment found the annual costs of inaction are likely to be 10 times as large by midcentury. The longer countries wait to mitigate climate change, the fewer transformational options they will have.

The choice is not between expensive transformation and no-cost status quo. The difference lies in how people will pay, how much they pay, and how often they pay. If we do not choose the transformations we want, environmentally imposed transformations lurk very near for some, and eventually for all.

The IPCC assessment offers a stark choice: Does humanity accept this disastrous status quo and the uncertain, unpleasant future it is leading toward, or does it grab the reins and choose a better future?

Edward R. Carr, Professor and Director, International Development, Community, and Environment, Clark University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Our hospitals are at greater risk of flooding as the climate changes. We need better evacuation plans.

Rick Rycroft/AP

by Martin Loosemore, University of Technology Sydney; Maziar Yazdani, UNSW Sydney, and Mohammad Mojtahedi, UNSW Sydney

With hospitals under strain from COVID-19, we need to safeguard them against another threat set to increase as the world warms.

That threat? Flooding. Many Australian hospitals were built on cheap land near rivers. But as climate change loads the dice in favour of larger floods, areas previously safe may no longer be so. We must plan ahead to ensure patients and healthcare workers are not trapped by floodwaters.

Our new research shows future floods in low-lying areas of Western Sydney are likely to disrupt road networks, preventing safe evacuation of patients. Only last year, this region suffered its worst floods in decades, and more are expected as we enter a flooding cycle. This fast-growing region is rated one of Australia’s highest flooding risks, and hosts a number of healthcare facilities built in flood-prone areas.

The solution? We believe new approaches to mathematical modelling can help decision makers optimise plans for safe evacuation in different flooding scenarios. By cutting evacuation time, we hope these approaches can save lives.

Hospitals were not built to cope with larger floods

Around 80% of Australians live within 50 kilometres of the coast. As a result, many hospitals were built on low-lying land adjacent to seas or rivers. Most were designed without climate change risks in mind.

The major floods brought by La Nina last year, and the catastrophic 2010-2011 Queensland floods, have shown us how exposed many of our cities are to floods. Already in 2022, we have seen large floods up and down the east coast.

Climate change is predicted to bring Australia less rain overall, except for the tropical north. The rain that does fall will be more likely to fall in intense bursts. River flash floods from intense rain events or cyclones will pose an increasing threat to health facilities.

Some urban areas are on highly flood-prone areas. For example, the NSW Hawkesbury Nepean flood plan anticipates a flood similar to the infamous 1867 flood would result in around 90,000 people being evacuated.

That’s to say nothing of flooding from the sea. Around Australia, 75 hospitals and health service facilities are within 200 metres of the sea. That puts them at real risk from coastal inundation and erosion by the end of the century, if the seas rise by one metre as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts.

This is not a hypothetical scenario. Hospitals have already been left without power for days due to flooding, while others have been forced to evacuate patients. Only last year, floods up and down the east coast cut roads and forced authorities to find alternatives to hospitals for people unable to get through.

Clearly, this matters. Hospitals play a vital role in creating a disaster-resilient society, and it is critical they can keep operating in disaster situations.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has called for a better understanding of the threat posed by flooding.

What can we do to prepare?

In our region, very little is known about how we might best evacuate hospitals in the event of a major flood. We simply haven’t done enough research.

What we found in our work is that the issue is extremely complex. Where would patients be evacuated to, for instance? How do you do it safely? Which routes would be safe in a major flood? How would medical staff get to other hospitals?

Evidence from recent floods suggests many hospitals in flooded areas will face major challenges transferring patients and resources to other healthcare facilities.

So what can hospitals do better?

At present, hospital administrators rely heavily on evacuation drills to test and improve emergency evacuation planning. These drills are expensive and disruptive and their effectiveness is difficult to assess.

We have found new approaches to mathematical modelling could greatly assist hospital managers plan for a flood to prevent them becoming disasters.

For example, analysis of Western Sydney’s Hawkesbury-Nepean Valley can visually show how different size flood events would impact on hospitals, healthcare and aged care facilities, as well as roads, bridges and electricity lines.

figure showing different flood sizes in Western Sydney
Modelling outcomes for a range of flooding scenarios in Western Sydney’s Hawksbury-Nepean valley. Author provided

Imagine the Hawksbury-Nepean Valley area floods again like last year. In a scenario where a hospital floods and patients need evacuation, hospital administrators will face a conundrum. Which roads do they send the patients down?

Sophisticated modelling our team is undertaking will let us predict which routes are best, based on the roads most likely to flood, ambulance and staff availability, health needs of patients and the availability of suitable beds and staff in other hospitals. The models allow us to optimise routes for the most urgent patients.

For hospital administrators, the benefit of these models is the ability to glimpse the likeliest scenarios and plan ahead, before the floods happen.

Climate change can supercharge floods, as we are seeing more and more. Decision makers must plan ahead accordingly. Running flood and evacuation simulations now could help save lives in the future.

Martin Loosemore, Professor of Construction Management, University of Technology Sydney; Maziar Yazdani, Doctoral candidate, UNSW Sydney, and Mohammad Mojtahedi, Senior lecturer, School of Built Environment, UNSW Sydney

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Beavers offer lessons about managing water in a changing climate, whether the challenge is drought or floods

Wetlands created by beavers, like this one in Amherst, Massachusetts, store floodwaters and provide habitat for animals and birds. Christine Hatch, CC BY-ND

by Christine E. Hatch, UMass Amherst

It’s no accident that both the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the California Institute of Technology claim the beaver (Castor canadensis) as their mascots. Renowned engineers, beavers seem able to dam any stream, building structures with logs and mud that can flood large areas.

As climate change causes extreme storms in some areas and intense drought in others, scientists are finding that beavers’ small-scale natural interventions are valuable. In dry areas, beaver ponds restore moisture to the soil; in wet zones, their dams and ponds can help to slow floodwaters. These ecological services are so useful that land managers are translocating beavers in the U.S. and the United Kingdom to help restore ecosystems and make them more resilient to climate change.

Scientists estimate that hundreds of millions of beavers once dammed waterways across the Northern Hemisphere. They were hunted nearly to extinction for their fur in the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe and North America but are making comebacks today in many areas. As a geoscientist specializing in water resources, I think it’s important to understand how helpful beavers can be in the right places and to find ways for humans to coexist with them in developed areas.

Scientists are studying ways to use beavers to mitigate wildfire and drought risks in the western U.S.

How beavers alter landscapes

Beavers dam streams to create ponds, where they can construct their dome-shaped lodges in the water, keeping predators at a distance. When they create a pond, many other effects follow.

Newly flooded trees die but remain standing as bare “snags” where birds nest. The diverted streams create complicated interwoven channels of slow-moving water, tangled with logs and plants that provide hiding places for fish. The messy complexity behind a beaver dam creates many different kinds of habitats for creatures such as fish, birds, frogs and insects.

Human dams often block fish passage upstream and downstream, even when the dams include fish ladders. But studies have shown that fish have no trouble migrating upstream past beaver dams. One reason may be that the fish can rest in slow pools and cool pond complexes after navigating the tallest parts of the dams.

The slow-moving water behind beaver dams is very effective at trapping sediment, which drops to the bottom of the pond. Studies measuring total organic carbon in active and abandoned beaver meadows suggest that before the 1800s, active and abandoned beaver ponds across North America stored large amounts of carbon in sediment trapped behind them. This finding is relevant today as scientists look for ways to increase carbon storage in forests and other natural ecosystems.

Curved dam in a marsh, made of wood, grass and mud.
A beaver dam in Mason Neck State Park in Lorton, Virginia, creates a pond behind it that can spread out and slow down floodwaters during a storm. Virginia State Parks, CC BY

Beavers may persist in one location for decades if they aren’t threatened by bears, cougars or humans, but they will move on if food runs out near their pond. When abandoned beaver dams fail, the ponds drain and gradually become grassy meadows as plants from the surrounding land seed them.

Dried meadows can serve as floodplains for nearby rivers, allowing waters to spill out and provide forage and spawning areas for fish during high flows. Floodplain meadows are valuable habitat for ground-nesting birds and other species that depend on the river.

The value of slowing the flow

As human settlements expand, people often wish to make use of every acre. That typically means that they want either land that is solid and dry enough to farm or waterways they can navigate by boat. To create those conditions, humans remove floating logs from streams and install drains to draw water off of fields and roads as quickly and efficiently as possible.

But covering more and more land surface with barriers that don’t absorb water, such as pavement and rooftops, means that water flows into rivers and streams more quickly. Rainfall from an average storm can produce an intense river flow that erodes the banks and beds of waterways. And as climate change fuels more intense storms in many places, it will amplify this destructive impact.

Some developers limit this kind of damaging flow by using nature-based engineering principles, such as “ponding” water to intercept it and slow it down; spreading flows out more widely to reduce the water’s speed; and designing swales, or sunken spots, that allow water to sink into the ground. Beaver wetlands do all of these things, only better. Research in the United Kingdom has documented that beaver activity can reduce the flow of floodwaters from farmlands by up to 30%.

Beaver meadows and wetlands also help cool the ground around and beneath them. Wet soil in these zones contains a lot of organic matter from buried and decayed plants, which holds onto moisture longer than soil formed only from rocks and minerals. In my wetland research, I have found that after a storm, water entering the ground passes through pure mineral sand in hours to days but can remain in soils that are 80%-90% organic matter for as long as a month.

Cool, wet soil also serves as a buffer against wildfires. Recent studies in the western U.S. have found that vegetation in beaver-dammed river corridors is more fire-resistant than in areas without beavers because it is well watered and lush, so it doesn’t burn as easily. As a result, areas near beaver dams provide temporary refuge for wildlife when surrounding areas burn.

Making room for beavers

The ecological services that beavers provide are most valuable in zones where nobody minds if the landscape changes. But in the densely developed eastern U.S., where I work, it’s hard to find open areas where beaver ponds can spread out without flooding ditches or roads. Beavers also topple expensive landscaped trees and will feed on some cultivated crops, such as corn and soybeans.

Beavers are frequently blamed for flooding in developed areas, even though the real problem often is road design, not beaver dams. In such cases, removing the beavers doesn’t solve the problem.

Pipe in the middle of a flooded rural road
Debris carried by intense rains in July 2021 overtopped a beaver dam (still standing in the background) and washed out this undersized 3-foot culvert in western Massachusetts. It has since been replaced by a more resilient 9-foot structure. Christine Hatch, CC BY-ND

Culvert guards, fences and other exclusion devices can keep beavers a safe distance from infrastructure and maintain pond heights at a level that won’t flood adjoining areas. Road crossings over streams that are designed to let fish and other aquatic animals through instead of blocking them are beaver-friendly and will be resilient to climate change and extreme precipitation events. If these structures are large enough to let debris pass through, then beavers will build dams upstream instead, which can help catch floodwaters.

A growing body of research shows that setting aside pockets of land for beavers is good for wetland ecosystems, biodiversity and rivers. I believe we can learn from beavers’ water management skills, coexist with them in our landscapes and incorporate their natural engineering in response to weather and precipitation patterns disrupted by climate change.

Christine E. Hatch, Professor of Geosciences, UMass Amherst

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Urban greening ‘not a panacea’ for dealing with extreme weather

Read the full story from Cardiff University.

Urban greening is unlikely to provide a single fix for tackling extreme weather events brought on by climate change, scientists have suggested.

Future-proofing food crops in a warming climate

Read the full story at AZoCleantech.

AZoCleantech speaks to Amanda Cavanagh from the University of Essex about the future of agriculture in a changing climate and how bypassing a photosynthetic glitch could help us to future-proof our food crops.

The heat is on: Researchers show ability to future-proof crops for changing climate

Read the full story from the University of Illinois.

The world is warming quickly with no indication of slowing down. This could be catastrophic for the production of food crops, particularly in already warm areas. New research from The University of Illinois and the US Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service shows that bypassing a photosynthetic glitch common to crops like soybean, rice, and wheat, can confer thermal protection under heat stress in the field.

Adapting to climate change will only get more expensive

Read the full story in Hakai Magazine.

A new estimate puts the cost of adapting and repairing coastal infrastructure damaged by climate change in the United States at hundreds of billions annually. The sooner adaptation planning begins, the less expensive it will be.

Scientists issue new climate adaptation ‘scorecard’

Read the full story from the Wildlife Conservation Society.

A new study offers a ‘scorecard’ for climate adaptation projects — a set of 16 criteria that can be used to evaluate climate adaptation projects and inform their design.