Halfway through the year, Paula Caballero, Environment and Natural Resources Global Practice Senior Director at the World Bank, wrote that 2015 would be the year the world was going to connect the dots for sustainable development. And girl, was she right!
This week is unique. December 1 was World AIDS Day –a moment to unite with the community touched by HIV and push forward in the fight. December 4 is Ocean Day at COP21 – an opportunity to advance the global ocean and climate agenda toward meaningful impact and action. Two important days with two very different purposes. And yet, each significant in commemorating critical causes that are often just outside the realm of everyday consideration. But it is not only this marginality that links them– and understanding this connection can only strengthen our imperative to act.
Playing out this week and next in Paris is a high-stakes match between science and political will.
The science part is quite clear: 2015 is set to be the hottest year on record – a full degree over pre-industrial averages. Climate change is already taking a toll on countries. Add to that we have El Nino wreaking havoc in many parts of the world. And it is going to get warmer.
The political analysis is more complicated. On the one hand, if the national plans, the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) drawn up by countries to tackle climate change were implemented, including actions that have been conditioned on available finance, this would likely put the planet on about a 2.7 C degree trajectory that would be catastrophic for the economic, social and natural systems on which we depend. Clearly more needs to be done. On the other hand, it is a sign of welcome progress. The fact that almost all the world’s countries (Carbon Brief tracks 184 climate pledges to date) have put forward INDCs is a remarkable feat many would have considered impossible just a few years ago. So there is progress, just not fast enough.
Paris should be seen as an important milestone in an arduous journey– a platform for generating an ever upward spiral of ambition in many fields of climate action.
One area that promises innumerable wins for people and the planet is land use change, agriculture, and forestry. Together these sectors account for about 24 percent of global emissions, but represent a much greater share of emissions in many developing countries. A preliminary analysis of INDCs shows strong commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation, forest degradation, land use change and agriculture. And there is evidence of a growing appetite for landscape restoration measures in many of those countries.
If you think about it, snow is a pretty amazing thing. It is nature’s way of storing water in the winter, and then using it in the summer when it is needed, namely during the growing season. If it gets too warm, the water does not stay locked up as snow till the summer. Too much warmth also means that more snow and ice may melt than usual, resulting in floods. But at the same time, if the water comes down the mountain too abundantly and too early, there may not be enough water during the growing season, causing drought-like conditions.
Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are among the Europe and Central Asia Region’s most vulnerable countries to climate change. In these five landlocked Central Asian countries, water resources depend on glaciers and snow pack. In this region, we have already seen average annual temperatures increase since the mid-20th century by 0.5°C in the south to 1.6°C in the north, and impacts are already being observed, from melting glaciers in upland areas (where glaciers have lost one-third of their volume since the 1900s), to droughts and floods in the lowlands (where weather-related disasters are estimated to cause economic losses from 0.4 to 1.3 percent of Gross Domestic Product per year for Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Kyrgyz Republic, for instance).
The future looks even more challenging. According to a World Bank report “Turn Down the Heat: Confronting the New Climate Normal,” the region’s glaciers, which account today for 10 percent of the annual stream flow in the Amu Darya and Syr Darya basins, are projected to lose up to 50 percent in volume in a 2°C warmer world, and potentially up to 75 percent in a 4°C warmer world. Melting glaciers and a shift in the timing of rivers’ flow will result in a lot more water in the rivers but this excess availability will not be in sync with growing season’s water needs. In the second half of the century, there would then be too little water flow in the rivers when the glacier volume is reduced. The timing of peak flow of key rivers is projected to shift towards spring with a 25 percent reduction in flow during the critical crop growing season. The report also projects increased heat extremes which mean more of a reliance on irrigated agriculture (the report projects a 30 percent increase in irrigation demand) leading to an increase in water demand, exactly when water availability becomes more unpredictable. In this region, water is also connected to energy security, given the reliance on hydropower, creating further challenges.
Named by Peruvian fishermen because of its tendency to appear around Christmastime, El Niño is the planet’s most large-scale and recurring mode of climate variability. Every 2-7 years, a slackening of trade winds that push sun-warmed water across the Pacific contributes to a rise in water temperature across large parts of the ocean. As the heat rises, a global pattern of weather changes ensues, triggering heat waves in many tropical regions and extreme drought or rainfall in others.
The fact that we are undergoing a major El Niño event should cause major concern and requires mobilization now. Already, eight provinces in the Philippines are in a state of emergency due to drought; rice farmers in Vietnam and Thailand have left fields unplanted due to weak rains; and 42,000 people have been displaced by floods in Somalia.
And this is before the event reaches its peak. Meteorologists see a 95% chance of the El Niño lasting into 2016, with its most extreme effects arriving between now and March. Coastal regions of Latin America are braced for major floods; India is dealing with a 14% deficit in the recent monsoon rains; and poor rainfalls could add to insecurity in several of Africa’s fragile states. Indeed, Berkeley Professor Soloman Hsiang has used historical data to demonstrate that the likelihood of new conflict outbreaks in tropical regions doubles from 3% to 6% in an El Niño year.
But despite its thousand-year history, the devastation associated with El Niño is not inevitable. Progress made by many other countries since the last major event, in 1997-98, shows that we can get a grip on its effect – and others caused by climate trends.
- weather risks
- Disaster Repsonse
- disaster relief
- disaster recovery
- disaster prevention
- disaster preparedness
- Disaster management
- Sustainable Communities
- Public Sector and Governance
- Agriculture and Rural Development
- Climate Change
- The World Region
Agriculture is an inherently risky business. From natural disasters and erratic rainfall to pests, few other sectors are as exposed or as vulnerable to shocks.
Climate change is a source of significant risks for agricultural and food systems: Climate projections suggest that average growing conditions will shift and there will be more uncertainty in predicting climate and weather conditions. More concretely, these impacts will translate into an overall warming trend, an increasingly erratic distribution of precipitation, more frequent and more devastating extreme weather events, and spatial shifts in the occurrence of pests and diseases. These impacts can cause production losses which lead to market volatility and in some cases, reactionary shifts in policies and regulations.
Here are some facts that you might not know:
- Over the last 60 years, Guatemala has lost almost half of its forests, much of it due to illegal logging.
- Built-up area around Lake Laguna in the Philippines has more than doubled between 2003 and 2010.
- The mining sector accounts for 10-15 percent of total water use in Botswana.
The results above are among the numerous NCA findings that are being generated every year, with support from a World Bank-led global partnership called Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES). In response to the growing appetite for information on NCA, WAVES has set up a new Knowledge Center bringing together resources on this topic.
- Knowledge Center
- Carbon Tax
- united nations
- natural capital accounting (NCA)
- Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES)
- Sustainable Development
- Latin America & Caribbean
- United States
- Trinidad and Tobago
- South Africa
- Costa Rica
“If we don’t take action now…the city of Nouakchott will soon be underwater.” These words, spoken by Mauritania’s Minister on Environment and Sustainable Development Amedi Camara, during a recent workshop in the country’s capital city, echoed a recurrent theme during our visits with Mauritanian authorities and local communities alike. They have stuck with me since.
Floods are not a new phenomenon for Nouakchott. A busy port city on Africa’s west coast, Nouakchott is mostly below sea level and is particularly vulnerable to rising groundwater levels, seawater intrusions, porous soils, sand extractions, and heavy rains in low-lying areas. Poorly planned port infrastructure has dramatically altered the dynamic and flow of sediments along the coast leading to substantial erosion in the city’s south (up to 25 meters annually in some years).
To make matters worse, severe and sometimes deadly floods have struck the city in recent decades. Extreme weather and human interventions have played a significant role in making the capital, with one-third of the population, or 1 million people, increasingly vulnerable to floods.