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Monday, February 23, 2009

State of Fear

This recent article from the Washington Post raises some interesting questions about public perceptions of the risks of climate change. According to the article, people are migrating to new regions in response to climate disasters or in anticipation of future (sometimes distant future) risks. For example,

"Fier, 38, a computer security professional who used to work at NASA, said he thought hard about the risks of global climate change. He knew moving to a new country would be difficult but thought that the dangers of staying in the United States were worse. Several years ago, he drew up a list of countries and studied how they might fare over the next century. He examined their environmental policies, access to natural resources and whether they would be safe from conflict. He decided that New Zealand would offer a comparable quality of life, has an excellent environmental record and is isolated from global conflicts by large tracts of the Pacific Ocean. Its tropical, subtropical, temperate and arctic zones also offer a variety of "bioenvironments" as a hedge against the vagaries of climate change."

While forced displacement may be a common consequence of natural disasters, voluntary displacement in anticipation of some future risk would appear a bit alarmist. On the other hand, the recent bushfires in Victoria were a stark reminder that sometimes it is in fact better to be safe than sorry.

Disbursment of Climate Funds is Incomplete

As reported in The Guardian, work by the Overseas Development Institute has found that developed nations have failed (or rather continue to fail) to deliver funds pledged to the developing world to faciliate climate adaptation.

New York Climate Projections

The New York City Panel on Climate Change has released a new report summarising future climate changes projected for the region by the suite of IPCC AR4 models. According to Steve Cohen of the Earth Institute, the projections will support the Climate Change Adaptation Task Force's work in preparing the city's infrastructure to handle the effects of climate change . Interestingly (or perhaps confusingly), this report emerges months after the NYC Department of Environmental Protection released its "comprehensive adaptation strategy," which already contained a range of projections of future climate change for the region, also based on the work of the Earth Institute. Hence, it would seem that the Task Force is reinventing a few wheels, but in a town as big as New York, I guess there's a lot of work to be done.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Planning for Climate Change in South Australia

In the wake of Victoria's recent experience with unprecedented bushfires, South Australian Premier, Mike Rann, has indicated that SA will be the first Australian state to take climate change into account in statutory state planning processes. However, if one peeks at the planning codes in question (currently available in draft form), it's certainly not apparent how climate change is being taken into consideration. For example, while the draft code has the typical language requiring new housing to be constructed with floor levels at least 30 cm above the 1:100 year flood ARI (a common standard throughout Australia), but no indication about what assumptions one should make about how to entertain the possibility that the ARI may change in the years ahead.

Pacific Insitute for Climate Solutions

British Columbia has launched a new institute focused on driving Canada toward a low-carbon economy while adapting to climate change. The $90 million Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions is a partnership of four of BC's universities, University of Victoria, the University of British Columbia, the University of Northern British Columbia, and Simon Fraser University.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Washington Releases Climate Assessment

The final draft of the Washington Climate Change Impacts Assessment is now publicly available through the Climate Impacts Group at the University of Washington. The report discusses new work characterising the implications of climate change on several of the state's sectors including,

  • agriculture,
  • coasts,
  • energy,
  • forests,
  • human health,
  • urban stormwater infrastructure,
  • salmon, and
  • hydrology and water resources.

In addition, the report closes with a discussion of the role of adaptation in addressing some of these potential impacts, which includes the identification of adaptation policies and measures as well as policy instruments to facilitate their implementation and enhance adaptive capacity.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

A Day for the Record Books

All last week in Melbourne, the forecasts for today were ominous, with talk of a return of last week's heatwave conditions as well as some of the most extreme fire weather in memory. The forecasts proved quite accurate, with temperatures in Melbourne topping out this afternoon at over 46C (117F), the highest temperature ever recorded within the city. Meanwhile, high winds played havoc with bushfires - fires that were relatively small and isolated 24 hours ago erupted into massive fires that burned out-of-control (go here for some photos). By early afternoon, the view from our balcony was totally obscured by smoke from the Bunyip Ridge fire to the east of Melbourne. At present, the death toll stands at 14, with some victims being caught by fast moving fires that provided little warning. But that number is projected to rise. While temperatures have dropped back down to normal levels, the changing wind direction threatens to simply push fire fronts off into new areas.

Update: 8/2/2009: 24 hours later and temperatures have returned to normal levels in Victoria, but the bushfires continue to rage. As of 7:45 Sunday evening, the death toll stood at 66 and climbing, making this one of the worst fires (if not the worst) in Victoria's history. Over 700 houses have been destroyed, and in some instances, entire townships have been erased including the town of Marysville, where I once spent a couple of pleasant nights attending a conference.

Update: 14/2/2009: As the immediate fire threats begin to subside (for the moment), the full weight of the losses that have been experienced are starting to sink in. The death toll from Victoria's bushfires has stood at 181 for the past few days, but this is almost certain to rise further as search efforts wrap-up. Approximately 2000 homes have been lost. Meanwhile, the finger pointing has started in earnest, with some pointing to climate change and others pointing to "green" policies and ideology that have hindered fuel-reduction efforts through burn-offs and vegetation thinning around properties.

Official Statistics for Climate Change

The United Nations Statistical Commission is examining climate change metrics that can be integrated into official national and international statistics. Current thinking on the matter is captured within a report prepared by the Australian Bureau of Statistics entitled, Report of the Programme Reviewer on Climate Change and Official Statistics:

"Based on a wide consultation process, this report provides a review and analysis of user needs and challenges and defines the scope of climate change statistics in relation to official statistics. It explores the areas where official statistics can provide input and added value to the analysis of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change and the related adaptation and mitigation measures. The report further makes specific recommendations for a work programme to mainstream climate change in official statistics at national and international levels. The Commission will be invited to express its views on the substance of the report and provide recommendations for future work in this area."

Thursday, February 5, 2009

America's Climate Choices


From americasclimatechoices.org. . .

"In response to a request from Congress, the National Academies have launched America's Climate Choices, a suite of activities that will provide policy advice, based on science, to guide the nation's response to climate change. Experts representing various levels of government, the private sector, nongovernmental organizations, and research and academic institutions have been selected to serve on four panels and an overarching committee.

The Summit on America's Climate Choices, to be held March 30-31, 2009 in Washington, D.C., provides an opportunity for study participants to interact with major thought leaders and key constituencies to frame the questions and issues that the study will address.Four panels of experts will release consensus reports in late 2009:

The Committee on America's Climate Choices will issue a final report in 2010 that will integrate the findings and recommendations from the four panel reports and other sources to identify the most effective short-term actions and most promising long-term strategies, investments, and opportunities for responding to climate change."

Australian Inquiry into Adaptation Assistance for Farmers

The Australian Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Tony Burke, has asked the House Primary Industries and Resources Committee to launch an inquiry into how the Australian government can assist farmers in adapting to climate change. The Committee has requested submissions (by Friday, 20 March, 2009) addressing various topics:

  • Current and prospective adaptations to the impacts of climate change on agriculture and the potential impacts on downstream processing;
  • The role of government in augmenting the shift towards farming practices which promote resilience in the farm sector in the face of climate change;
  • The role of government in promoting research, extension and training which assists the farm sector to better adapt to climate change; and
  • The role of rural research and development in assisting farmers to adapt
    to the impacts of climate change.

U.S. Senate EPW Committe's Climate Change Principles

The Environment and Public Works Committee of the U.S. Senate has released a brief set of "legislative principles" that presumably will be used to guide climate change policy development in the 111th Congress. The principles are dominated by the development of an emissions cap-and-trade system, but some of the revenue from emissions trading would be used to,

  • "Assist states, localities and tribes in addressing and adapting to global warming impacts"
  • "Support efforts to conserve wildlife and natural systems threatened by global warming"