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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Victoria Bushfire Royal Commission Final Report

Victoria's Bushfire Royal Commission has released its final report on the Black Saturday bushfires of February 7, 2009, which claimed the lives of 173 Victorians, with most victims in the periurban regions of Melbourne. Interestingly, the Commission didn't shy away from controversial recommendations, including proposing that at-risk communities in bushfire prone areas should be depopulated under a "retreat and resettlement" policy:

"Applying land-use planning and building controls to minimise or reduce bushfire
risk presents challenges. In particular, the planning and building systems operate prospectively and have little capacity to deal with past decisions and existing settlements or buildings in bushfire-prone areas, so they cannot account for people who are already living in areas of extremely high risk. The Commission therefore proposes that action be taken to help people move away from those areas where other bushfire risk-mitigation measures are not viable. In particular, the State should develop and implement a voluntary retreat and resettlement strategy—including non-compulsory land acquisition—for existing developments in areas at unacceptably high bushfire risk."

The Commission therefore highlights some of the difficult choices that decision-makers and individuals will have to make. Robust risk management for such events is difficult to envision if development continues to proliferate in at-risk periurban regions. On the other hand, risk minimization has traditionally been difficult to reconcile with individual property rights and demand for amenity lifestyles. Whether the political powers that be are willing to implement such dramatic vulnerability reduction measures remains to be seen, but Australia's development has never shied away from hazards. That seems unlikely to change now.

Update 8/26/2010: The Victoria government has responded to the Commission's recommendations and, not surprisingly, has opted to support those recommendations which represent incremental, uncontroversial responses, while dismissing some of the more transformational changes recommended by the Commission as too disruptive or costly.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Knowledge Sharing Innovation Fund v.2.0

AfricaAdapt has announced the launch of its second edition of its Knowledge Sharing Innovation Fund. The fund provides support in the form of US$6,500 grants for new knowledge sharing initiatives about climate change adaptation that engage marginalised communities on the continent.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Climate Change South of the Border

Feng et al. recently released this paper in PNAS on climate change, crop yields in Mexico, and migration. Although quite timely, the study unfortunately stops short of discussing the larger equity implications of the work. The idea that increased migration pressure could result as a consequence of climate change could add a new dimension to the immigration debate. What responsibilities do developed nations have to environmental migrants given historical responsibilities for greenhouse gas emissions and climate change?


Climate change is expected to cause mass human migration, including
immigration across international borders. This study quantitatively examines the
linkages among variations in climate, agricultural yields, and people’s
migration responses by using an instrumental variables approach. Our method
allows us to identify the relationship between crop yields and migration without
explicitly controlling for all other confounding factors. Using state-level
data from Mexico, we find a significant effect of climate-driven changes in
crop yields on the rate ofemigration to the United States. The estimated
semielasticity of emigration with respect to crop yields is approximately −0.2,
i.e., a 10% reduction in crop yields would lead an additional2%of the population
toemigrate.Wethen use the estimated semielasticity to explore the potential
magnitude of future emigration. Depending on the warming scenarios used and
adaptation levels assumed, with other factors held constant, by approximately
the year 2080, climate change is estimated to induce 1.4 to 6.7 million adult
Mexicans (or 2% to 10% of the current population aged 15–65 y) to emigrate as a
result of declines in agricultural productivity alone. Although the results
cannot be mechanically extrapolated to other areas and time periods, our
findings are significant from a global perspective given that many regions,
especially developing countries, are expected to experience significant declines
in agricultural yields as a result of projected warming.

Economic Evaluation of Climate Change Adaptation Projects

The World Bank has produced an overview report on the topic of evaluation of adaptation projects - an issue that is likely to become increasingly important, yet methods and approaches for evaluation are currently quite limited. This report focuses on understanding the economic basis of evaluation with an emphasis on cost/benefit analysis. However, the report also discusses the role of multi-criteria analysis and real options, both of which provide pathways for expanding the evaluation of adaptation to consider a broader set of values.

From the World Bank:

"Approaches for the Agricultural Sector and Beyond identifies challenges and solutions for carrying out project-level economic analysis of adaptation to climate change, both stand-alone and integrated into broader development projects. The focus is on the agricultural sector, where the impacts of climate change have the potential to disrupt the livelihoods of rural populations and where adaptation must be given urgent consideration."

Monday, July 19, 2010

Den-gue in the US-A

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, multiple cases of locally-acquired dengue emerged in Florida in 2009-2010. The cause of the sudden reappearance of dengue is, of course, unknown. Chances are it's the result of increased international travel, particularly between Florida and other areas of the Carribean and Central and South America were dengue is endemic. Nevertheless, I'm sure someone somewhere is blaming climate change.

IPCC AR5 Authors

The IPCC has released the names of those who will endure the slings and arrows of journalists, skeptics and governments over the next several years as they endeavor to produce the Fifth Assessment Report. The blog pages have been filled with praise and damnation for the IPCC process and/or the quality of the selected authors. As a lead author of WGII Chapter 16, I am, therefore, either contributing to the injection of fresh new insights into the IPCC process or, depending on one's perspective, enabling the IPCC's continued stealth issue advocacy (as Roger Pielke Jr. might phrase it) through the politicization of science. I prefer the former framing over the latter, but in any case, it will be a learning experience.

Mapping Migration

The Center for International Earth Science Information Network at Columbia University and others released a report last month on climate change and migration. While title suggests the report maps climate-related migration, which would be a fairly impressive feat indeed, the maps within largely reflect different determinants of biophysical and socioeconomic vulnerability in different global regions. As such, it seems rather strange that the report suggests (in the Executive Summary) it contains "empirical evidence" of environmental change and migration, particularly given this statement is contradicted in the report's introduction. Nevertheless, it is a nice overview of the issue, which at least attempts to dig deeper into the geography of potential drivers of environmental migrants than most prior treatments of the subject.

From the Executive Summary:

"This report explores how environmental shocks and stresses, especially those
related to climate change, can push people to leave their homes in search of
'greener pastures' … or just to survive. In order to make informed decisions,
policymakers and development actors need a better understanding of the linkages
between environmental change, displacement and migration. This report,
therefore, offers:
  • empirical evidence from a first-time, multi-continent survey of environmental change and migration;
  • original maps illustrating how, and where, the impacts of climate change may prompt significant displacement and migration;
  • policy recommendations that reflect the collective thinking of key multi-lateral and research institutions, as well as nongovernmental organizations working directly with many of the world’s most vulnerable populations."

Temperatures Back at Record-Breaking Levels

After all the pomp and circumstance at the end of the last decade regarding the mythological "cooling" of the planet, global temperatures have stage a bit of a comeback as of late. June, 2010 proved to be the warmest June on record, following on the heels of record average monthly temperatures for March, April and May. Half-way through the year, the Earth seems poised for a new Arctic sea ice minimum and 2010 could prove to claim the #1 spot for global temperature anomalies. But December is a long way away. . .

Stephen Schneider