Tag Archives: Rainfall

Early rain as Arctic warms means more methane

As spring advances, so does the rain to warm the permafrost. It means more methane can get into the atmosphere to accelerate global warming.

LONDON, 18 February, 2019 − As the global temperature steadily rises, it ensures that levels of one of the most potent greenhouse gases are increasing in a way new to science: the planet will have to reckon with more methane than expected.

Researchers who monitored one bog for three years in the Alaskan permafrost have identified yet another instance of what engineers call positive feedback. They found that global warming meant earlier springs and with that, earlier spring rains.

And as a consequence, the influx of warm water on what had previously been frozen ground triggered a biological frenzy that sent methane emissions soaring.

One stretch of wetland in a forest of black spruce in the Alaskan interior stepped up its emissions of natural gas (another name for methane) by 30%. Methane is a greenhouse gas at least 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

“The microbes in this bog on some level are like ‘Oh man, we’re stuck making methane because that’s all this bog is allowing us to do’”

As a consequence, climate scientists may have to return yet again to the vexed question of the carbon budget, in their calculations of how fast the world will warm as humans burn more fossil fuels, to set up ever more rapid global warming and climate change, which will in turn accelerate the thawing of the permafrost.

The evidence so far comes from a detailed study of water, energy and carbon traffic from just one wetland. But other teams of scientists have repeatedly expressed concern about the integrity of the northern hemisphere permafrost and the vast stores of carbon preserved in the frozen soils, beneath the shallow layer that comes to life with each Arctic spring.

“We saw the plants going crazy and methane emissions going bonkers,” said Rebecca Neumann, an environmental engineer at the University of Washington in Seattle, who led the study. “2016 had above average rainfall, but so did 2014. So what was different about this year?”

What mattered was when the rain fell: it fell earlier, when the ground was still colder than the air. The warmer water saturated the frozen forest, flowed into the bog, and created a local permafrost thaw in anoxic conditions: the subterranean microbial communities responded by converting the once-frozen organic matter into a highly effective greenhouse gas.

Alarm rises

“It’d be the bottom of the barrel in terms of energy production for them,” Dr Neumann said. “The microbes in this bog on some level are like ‘Oh man, we’re stuck making methane because that’s all this bog is allowing us to do’.”

As global average temperature levels creep up, so does alarm about the state of the vast tracts of permafrost, home to huge stores of frozen carbon in the form of semi-decayed plant material that could be released into the atmosphere to fuel further global warming, with devastating consequences.

Spring has been arriving earlier everywhere in the northern hemisphere, including the Arctic, with unpredictable impacts on high latitude ecosystems.

The permafrost itself has been identified as a vulnerable region, change in which could tip the planet into a new and unpredictable climate regime, and geographers only this year have started to assess the direct hazard to the communities that live in the high latitudes as once-solid ground turns to slush under their feet.

More evaporation

Much more difficult to assess is how the steady attrition of the permafrost plays out in terms of the traffic of carbon between rocks, ocean, atmosphere and living things: researchers are still teasing out the roles of all the agencies at work, including subterranean microbes.

In a warmer world, evaporation will increase. Warmer air has a greater capacity for water vapour. In the end, it means more rain will fall. If it falls in spring or early summer, the research from one marshland in Alaska seems to suggest, more methane will escape into the atmosphere.

Right now, the rewards of the study are academic. They throw just a little more light on the subtle machinery of weather and climate. The test is whether what happens in one instance is likely to happen in other, similar terrain around the high latitudes.

“The ability of rain to transport thermal energy into soils has been under-appreciated,” Dr Neumann said. “Our study shows that by affecting soil temperature and methane emissions, rain can increase the ability of thawing permafrost to warm the climate.” − Climate News Network

As spring advances, so does the rain to warm the permafrost. It means more methane can get into the atmosphere to accelerate global warming.

LONDON, 18 February, 2019 − As the global temperature steadily rises, it ensures that levels of one of the most potent greenhouse gases are increasing in a way new to science: the planet will have to reckon with more methane than expected.

Researchers who monitored one bog for three years in the Alaskan permafrost have identified yet another instance of what engineers call positive feedback. They found that global warming meant earlier springs and with that, earlier spring rains.

And as a consequence, the influx of warm water on what had previously been frozen ground triggered a biological frenzy that sent methane emissions soaring.

One stretch of wetland in a forest of black spruce in the Alaskan interior stepped up its emissions of natural gas (another name for methane) by 30%. Methane is a greenhouse gas at least 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.

“The microbes in this bog on some level are like ‘Oh man, we’re stuck making methane because that’s all this bog is allowing us to do’”

As a consequence, climate scientists may have to return yet again to the vexed question of the carbon budget, in their calculations of how fast the world will warm as humans burn more fossil fuels, to set up ever more rapid global warming and climate change, which will in turn accelerate the thawing of the permafrost.

The evidence so far comes from a detailed study of water, energy and carbon traffic from just one wetland. But other teams of scientists have repeatedly expressed concern about the integrity of the northern hemisphere permafrost and the vast stores of carbon preserved in the frozen soils, beneath the shallow layer that comes to life with each Arctic spring.

“We saw the plants going crazy and methane emissions going bonkers,” said Rebecca Neumann, an environmental engineer at the University of Washington in Seattle, who led the study. “2016 had above average rainfall, but so did 2014. So what was different about this year?”

What mattered was when the rain fell: it fell earlier, when the ground was still colder than the air. The warmer water saturated the frozen forest, flowed into the bog, and created a local permafrost thaw in anoxic conditions: the subterranean microbial communities responded by converting the once-frozen organic matter into a highly effective greenhouse gas.

Alarm rises

“It’d be the bottom of the barrel in terms of energy production for them,” Dr Neumann said. “The microbes in this bog on some level are like ‘Oh man, we’re stuck making methane because that’s all this bog is allowing us to do’.”

As global average temperature levels creep up, so does alarm about the state of the vast tracts of permafrost, home to huge stores of frozen carbon in the form of semi-decayed plant material that could be released into the atmosphere to fuel further global warming, with devastating consequences.

Spring has been arriving earlier everywhere in the northern hemisphere, including the Arctic, with unpredictable impacts on high latitude ecosystems.

The permafrost itself has been identified as a vulnerable region, change in which could tip the planet into a new and unpredictable climate regime, and geographers only this year have started to assess the direct hazard to the communities that live in the high latitudes as once-solid ground turns to slush under their feet.

More evaporation

Much more difficult to assess is how the steady attrition of the permafrost plays out in terms of the traffic of carbon between rocks, ocean, atmosphere and living things: researchers are still teasing out the roles of all the agencies at work, including subterranean microbes.

In a warmer world, evaporation will increase. Warmer air has a greater capacity for water vapour. In the end, it means more rain will fall. If it falls in spring or early summer, the research from one marshland in Alaska seems to suggest, more methane will escape into the atmosphere.

Right now, the rewards of the study are academic. They throw just a little more light on the subtle machinery of weather and climate. The test is whether what happens in one instance is likely to happen in other, similar terrain around the high latitudes.

“The ability of rain to transport thermal energy into soils has been under-appreciated,” Dr Neumann said. “Our study shows that by affecting soil temperature and methane emissions, rain can increase the ability of thawing permafrost to warm the climate.” − Climate News Network

Melting polar ice sheets will alter weather

Sea level rise and melting polar ice sheets may not cause a climate catastrophe, but they will certainly change weather patterns unpredictably.

LONDON, 15 February, 2019 – The global weather is about to get worse. The melting polar ice sheets will mean rainfall and windstorms could become more violent, and hot spells and ice storms could become more extreme.

This is because the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are melting, to affect what were once stable ocean currents and airflow patterns around the globe.

Planetary surface temperatures could rise by 3°C or even 4°C by the end of the century. Global sea levels will rise in ways that would “enhance global temperature variability”, but this might not be as high as earlier studies have predicted. That is because the ice cliffs of Antarctica might not be so much at risk of disastrous collapse that would set the glaciers accelerating to the sea.

The latest revision of evidence from the melting ice sheets in two hemispheres – and there is plenty of evidence that melting is happening at ever greater rates – is based on two studies of what could happen to the world’s greatest reservoirs of frozen freshwater if nations pursue current policies, fossil fuel combustion continues to increase, and global average temperatures creep up to unprecedented levels.

“Even if we do include ice-cliff instability … the most likely contribution to sea level rise would be less than half a metre by 2100”

“Under current global government policies, we are heading towards 3 or 4 degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels, causing a significant amount of melt water from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to enter Earth’s oceans. According to our models, this melt water will cause significant disruptions to ocean currents and change levels of warming around the world,” said Nick Golledge, a south polar researcher at Victoria University, in New Zealand.

He and colleagues from Canada, the US, Germany and the UK report in Nature that they matched satellite observations of what is happening to the ice sheets with detailed simulations of the complex effects of melting over time, and according to the human response so far to warnings of climate change.

In Paris in 2015, leaders from 195 nations vowed to contain global warming to “well below” an average rise of 2°C by 2100. But promises have yet to become concerted and coherent action, and researchers warn that on present policies, a 3°C rise seems inevitable.

Sea levels have already risen by about 14 cms in the last century: the worst scenarios have proposed a devastating rise of 130 cms by 2100. The fastest increase in the rise of sea levels is likely to happen between 2065 and 2075.

Gulf Stream weakens

As warmer melt water gets into the North Atlantic, that major ocean current the Gulf Stream is likely to be weakened. Air temperatures are likely to rise over eastern Canada, central America and the high Arctic. Northwestern Europe – scientists have been warning of this for years – will become cooler.

In the Antarctic, a lens of warm fresh water will form over the surface, allowing uprising warm ocean water to spread and cause what could be further Antarctic melting.

But how bad this could be is re-examined in a second, companion paper in Nature. Tamsin Edwards, now at King’s College London, Dr Golledge and others took a fresh look at an old scare: that the vast cliffs of ice – some of them 100 metres above sea level – around the Antarctic could become unstable and collapse, accelerating the retreat of the ice behind them.

They used geophysical techniques to analyse dramatic episodes of ice loss that must have happened 3 million years ago and 125,000 years ago, and they went back to the present patterns of melt. These losses, in their calculations, did not cause unstoppable ice loss in the past, and may not affect the future much either.

Instability less important

“We’ve shown that ice-cliff instability doesn’t appear to be an essential mechanism in reproducing past sea level changes and so this suggests ‘the jury’s still out’ when it comes to including it in future predictions,” said Dr Edwards.

“Even if we do include ice-cliff instability, our more thorough assessment shows the most likely contribution to sea level rise would be less than half a metre by 2100.”

At worst, there is a one in 20 chance that enough of Antarctica’s glacial burden will melt to raise sea levels by 39 cms. More likely, both studies conclude, under high levels of greenhouse gas concentrations, south polar ice will only melt to raise sea levels worldwide by about 15 cms. – Climate News Network

Sea level rise and melting polar ice sheets may not cause a climate catastrophe, but they will certainly change weather patterns unpredictably.

LONDON, 15 February, 2019 – The global weather is about to get worse. The melting polar ice sheets will mean rainfall and windstorms could become more violent, and hot spells and ice storms could become more extreme.

This is because the ice sheets of Greenland and Antarctica are melting, to affect what were once stable ocean currents and airflow patterns around the globe.

Planetary surface temperatures could rise by 3°C or even 4°C by the end of the century. Global sea levels will rise in ways that would “enhance global temperature variability”, but this might not be as high as earlier studies have predicted. That is because the ice cliffs of Antarctica might not be so much at risk of disastrous collapse that would set the glaciers accelerating to the sea.

The latest revision of evidence from the melting ice sheets in two hemispheres – and there is plenty of evidence that melting is happening at ever greater rates – is based on two studies of what could happen to the world’s greatest reservoirs of frozen freshwater if nations pursue current policies, fossil fuel combustion continues to increase, and global average temperatures creep up to unprecedented levels.

“Even if we do include ice-cliff instability … the most likely contribution to sea level rise would be less than half a metre by 2100”

“Under current global government policies, we are heading towards 3 or 4 degrees of warming above pre-industrial levels, causing a significant amount of melt water from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to enter Earth’s oceans. According to our models, this melt water will cause significant disruptions to ocean currents and change levels of warming around the world,” said Nick Golledge, a south polar researcher at Victoria University, in New Zealand.

He and colleagues from Canada, the US, Germany and the UK report in Nature that they matched satellite observations of what is happening to the ice sheets with detailed simulations of the complex effects of melting over time, and according to the human response so far to warnings of climate change.

In Paris in 2015, leaders from 195 nations vowed to contain global warming to “well below” an average rise of 2°C by 2100. But promises have yet to become concerted and coherent action, and researchers warn that on present policies, a 3°C rise seems inevitable.

Sea levels have already risen by about 14 cms in the last century: the worst scenarios have proposed a devastating rise of 130 cms by 2100. The fastest increase in the rise of sea levels is likely to happen between 2065 and 2075.

Gulf Stream weakens

As warmer melt water gets into the North Atlantic, that major ocean current the Gulf Stream is likely to be weakened. Air temperatures are likely to rise over eastern Canada, central America and the high Arctic. Northwestern Europe – scientists have been warning of this for years – will become cooler.

In the Antarctic, a lens of warm fresh water will form over the surface, allowing uprising warm ocean water to spread and cause what could be further Antarctic melting.

But how bad this could be is re-examined in a second, companion paper in Nature. Tamsin Edwards, now at King’s College London, Dr Golledge and others took a fresh look at an old scare: that the vast cliffs of ice – some of them 100 metres above sea level – around the Antarctic could become unstable and collapse, accelerating the retreat of the ice behind them.

They used geophysical techniques to analyse dramatic episodes of ice loss that must have happened 3 million years ago and 125,000 years ago, and they went back to the present patterns of melt. These losses, in their calculations, did not cause unstoppable ice loss in the past, and may not affect the future much either.

Instability less important

“We’ve shown that ice-cliff instability doesn’t appear to be an essential mechanism in reproducing past sea level changes and so this suggests ‘the jury’s still out’ when it comes to including it in future predictions,” said Dr Edwards.

“Even if we do include ice-cliff instability, our more thorough assessment shows the most likely contribution to sea level rise would be less than half a metre by 2100.”

At worst, there is a one in 20 chance that enough of Antarctica’s glacial burden will melt to raise sea levels by 39 cms. More likely, both studies conclude, under high levels of greenhouse gas concentrations, south polar ice will only melt to raise sea levels worldwide by about 15 cms. – Climate News Network

World is halfway through its hottest decade

Things are warming up: already the world is halfway through its hottest decade on record, if predictions prove correct.

LONDON, 13 February, 2019 – Here is a climate forecast that climate scientists, meteorologists, politicians, voters and even climate sceptics can check: the next five years will be warm, and will probably help to complete the hottest decade ever.

They will on a global average be at least 1°C higher than the average temperature of the planet 200 years ago, before the accelerating combustion of fossil fuels.

That is because the planet is already midway through what may well prove to be its warmest 10 years since records began on a planetary scale in 1850. There is even a possibility that within the next five years, the global temperature rise could tip 1.5°C above the long-term average for human history.

This is the ambitious limit to global warming that the world set itself at an historic meeting in Paris in 2015, for the year 2100.

And the forecasters can make such predictions with some confidence because tomorrow’s temperature chart is already inscribed in the air we breathe: the pattern of warming over the last century is consistent with the steady rise in greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, and these are still increasing because fossil fuel use is still going up.

“Predictions now suggest around a 10% chance of at least one year between 2019 and 2023 temporarily exceeding 1.5°C”

Adam Scaife, who heads long-range prediction research at the UK Met Office, said: “2015 was the first year that global annual average surface temperatures reached 1.0°C above pre-industrial levels and the following three years have all remained close to this level.

“The global average temperature between now and 2023 is predicted to remain high, potentially making the decade from 2014 the warmest in more than 150 years of records.”

Climate is what people can reasonably bank on; weather is what they get. The forecast is significant because it is evidence of swelling confidence in the understanding of global warming and climate change science.

Climate researchers began warning at least 40 years ago of the potentially calamitous consequences of climate change: they were, at the time, unwilling to link any single weather event – flood, drought, windstorm or heat wave – to long-term global warming as a consequence of the steady increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, released from power stations, factory chimneys and vehicle exhausts.

Possible catastrophe predicted

Not any more: in 2013, one group of geographers in Hawaii even predicted the possible onset of catastrophic climate change in some regions of the globe as early as 2020.

And the Met Office prediction is accompanied by a danger that – for a short while at least – the global increase could reach or exceed the level that 195 nations in Paris agreed would be potentially disastrous for human civilisation.

“A run of temperatures of 1.0°C or above would increase the risk of a temporary excursion above the threshold of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels,” said Doug Smith, a researcher at the Met Office. “Predictions now suggest around a 10% chance of at least one year between 2019 and 2023 temporarily exceeding 1.5°C.”

Global temperatures in 2018 were around 0.91°C above the long-term average. This would make 2018 the fourth warmest year ever, although oceanographers recently warned that the oceans – and 70% of the planet is covered by ocean – reached their warmest ever in 2018.

Almost imperceptible

The three warmest years on record are 2015, 2016 and 2017. Climate scientists – and health chiefs – have consistently warned that the average global increase is at almost imperceptible pace, and is a trend rather than a year-on-year rise. This made it possible for some to argue about the interpretation of the data, and to even claim that global warming had paused.

But within this slow increase in average temperatures, there has been a pattern of increasing extremes of rainfall and temperature with the threat of increasingly frequent and potentially lethal heat waves to come.

And, researchers warned recently, the changes seem inexorable: by multiplying in number to more than 7bn in two centuries, by clearing forests and by burning fossil fuels, humans have managed to reverse a long-term climate trend and make the future uncomfortably hot.

A third UK researcher, Tim Osborn of the University of East Anglia’s Cllimatic Research Unit, spelled it out: “The warmth of 2018 is in line with the long-term warming trend driven by the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases.” – Climate News Network

Things are warming up: already the world is halfway through its hottest decade on record, if predictions prove correct.

LONDON, 13 February, 2019 – Here is a climate forecast that climate scientists, meteorologists, politicians, voters and even climate sceptics can check: the next five years will be warm, and will probably help to complete the hottest decade ever.

They will on a global average be at least 1°C higher than the average temperature of the planet 200 years ago, before the accelerating combustion of fossil fuels.

That is because the planet is already midway through what may well prove to be its warmest 10 years since records began on a planetary scale in 1850. There is even a possibility that within the next five years, the global temperature rise could tip 1.5°C above the long-term average for human history.

This is the ambitious limit to global warming that the world set itself at an historic meeting in Paris in 2015, for the year 2100.

And the forecasters can make such predictions with some confidence because tomorrow’s temperature chart is already inscribed in the air we breathe: the pattern of warming over the last century is consistent with the steady rise in greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere, and these are still increasing because fossil fuel use is still going up.

“Predictions now suggest around a 10% chance of at least one year between 2019 and 2023 temporarily exceeding 1.5°C”

Adam Scaife, who heads long-range prediction research at the UK Met Office, said: “2015 was the first year that global annual average surface temperatures reached 1.0°C above pre-industrial levels and the following three years have all remained close to this level.

“The global average temperature between now and 2023 is predicted to remain high, potentially making the decade from 2014 the warmest in more than 150 years of records.”

Climate is what people can reasonably bank on; weather is what they get. The forecast is significant because it is evidence of swelling confidence in the understanding of global warming and climate change science.

Climate researchers began warning at least 40 years ago of the potentially calamitous consequences of climate change: they were, at the time, unwilling to link any single weather event – flood, drought, windstorm or heat wave – to long-term global warming as a consequence of the steady increase of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, released from power stations, factory chimneys and vehicle exhausts.

Possible catastrophe predicted

Not any more: in 2013, one group of geographers in Hawaii even predicted the possible onset of catastrophic climate change in some regions of the globe as early as 2020.

And the Met Office prediction is accompanied by a danger that – for a short while at least – the global increase could reach or exceed the level that 195 nations in Paris agreed would be potentially disastrous for human civilisation.

“A run of temperatures of 1.0°C or above would increase the risk of a temporary excursion above the threshold of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels,” said Doug Smith, a researcher at the Met Office. “Predictions now suggest around a 10% chance of at least one year between 2019 and 2023 temporarily exceeding 1.5°C.”

Global temperatures in 2018 were around 0.91°C above the long-term average. This would make 2018 the fourth warmest year ever, although oceanographers recently warned that the oceans – and 70% of the planet is covered by ocean – reached their warmest ever in 2018.

Almost imperceptible

The three warmest years on record are 2015, 2016 and 2017. Climate scientists – and health chiefs – have consistently warned that the average global increase is at almost imperceptible pace, and is a trend rather than a year-on-year rise. This made it possible for some to argue about the interpretation of the data, and to even claim that global warming had paused.

But within this slow increase in average temperatures, there has been a pattern of increasing extremes of rainfall and temperature with the threat of increasingly frequent and potentially lethal heat waves to come.

And, researchers warned recently, the changes seem inexorable: by multiplying in number to more than 7bn in two centuries, by clearing forests and by burning fossil fuels, humans have managed to reverse a long-term climate trend and make the future uncomfortably hot.

A third UK researcher, Tim Osborn of the University of East Anglia’s Cllimatic Research Unit, spelled it out: “The warmth of 2018 is in line with the long-term warming trend driven by the world’s emissions of greenhouse gases.” – Climate News Network

Coffee harvests face risk from rising heat

Global coffee harvests, which provide the drink of choice for millions and the livelihoods of many more, are in peril, not least from rising temperatures.

LONDON, 28 January, 2019 – Coffee drinkers, be warned. A combination of factors – including climate change – is threatening supplies of the beans on which the coffee harvests depend.

Latest analysis by a team of scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London found that more than 60% of over 120 coffee species known across Africa, Asia and Australasia are threatened with extinction.

For many people, coffee is their favourite tipple. In the UK alone, more than 80 million cups of coffee are drunk every day. The experts at Kew say a total of 100 million people around the world depend on coffee for their livelihoods.

Climate change, together with fungal diseases and the impact of land clearances and deforestation, are all having negative impacts on coffee plants.

Coffee plants are fragile and often acutely sensitive to temperature changes, particularly those belonging to the Arabica species (Coffea arabica), the source of the world’s most popular coffee variety.

“Climate change will have a damaging impact on commercial coffee production worldwide”

The Coffee Research Institute says Arabica plants need year-round temperatures of between 15°C and 24°C in order to maintain high production levels and good quality.

Wild coffee plants play an essential role in building up more robust plants for cultivation; cross-bred with plantation plants, they provide the genetic resources to help withstand pests and diseases. They also encourage resilience to changes in climate and improve the flavour and quality of the coffee beans.

The Kew scientists, together with colleagues in Ethiopia,
the biggest producer of Arabica coffee in Africa, used climate change models and temperature projections to gauge the future health and survival rates of wild Arabica plants.

The results of the analysis, the first ever comprehensive survey linking climate change with Arabica coffee production, will have coffee drinkers crying into their cups.

Wide extinction threat

Dr Justin Moat, who headed up the Kew study, says more than 60% of wild Arabica plants are threatened with extinction.

“The worst case scenario, as drawn from our analyses, is that wild Arabica could be extinct by 2080.

“This should alert decision makers to the fragility of the species.”

The highlands of Ethiopia and of South Sudan are the natural home of Arabica coffee. Researchers found that deforestation over the past 70 years plus more recent changes in climate could result in wild Arabica becoming extinct in South Sudan within the next two years.

“The climate sensitivity of Arabica is confirmed, supporting the widely reported assumption that climate change will have a damaging impact on commercial coffee production worldwide”, says Dr Moat.

Pay growers more

In coffee-growing areas around the world, including Ethiopia and Brazil, temperatures have been rising while amounts of rainfall have been decreasing.

The Kew study says that while bumper coffee harvests over the last two years have led to generally low prices, this pattern is unlikely to continue as crop yields decline and demand grows.

The study says coffee growers, mostly smallholders, should be paid more for their produce in order not only to improve living standards but to encourage more sustainable and innovative cultivation methods. The Yayu Project in Ethiopia is seen as a model for this form of development.

There should also be more research into wild coffee species and investment in building up collections and seed banks. – Climate News Network

Global coffee harvests, which provide the drink of choice for millions and the livelihoods of many more, are in peril, not least from rising temperatures.

LONDON, 28 January, 2019 – Coffee drinkers, be warned. A combination of factors – including climate change – is threatening supplies of the beans on which the coffee harvests depend.

Latest analysis by a team of scientists at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew in London found that more than 60% of over 120 coffee species known across Africa, Asia and Australasia are threatened with extinction.

For many people, coffee is their favourite tipple. In the UK alone, more than 80 million cups of coffee are drunk every day. The experts at Kew say a total of 100 million people around the world depend on coffee for their livelihoods.

Climate change, together with fungal diseases and the impact of land clearances and deforestation, are all having negative impacts on coffee plants.

Coffee plants are fragile and often acutely sensitive to temperature changes, particularly those belonging to the Arabica species (Coffea arabica), the source of the world’s most popular coffee variety.

“Climate change will have a damaging impact on commercial coffee production worldwide”

The Coffee Research Institute says Arabica plants need year-round temperatures of between 15°C and 24°C in order to maintain high production levels and good quality.

Wild coffee plants play an essential role in building up more robust plants for cultivation; cross-bred with plantation plants, they provide the genetic resources to help withstand pests and diseases. They also encourage resilience to changes in climate and improve the flavour and quality of the coffee beans.

The Kew scientists, together with colleagues in Ethiopia,
the biggest producer of Arabica coffee in Africa, used climate change models and temperature projections to gauge the future health and survival rates of wild Arabica plants.

The results of the analysis, the first ever comprehensive survey linking climate change with Arabica coffee production, will have coffee drinkers crying into their cups.

Wide extinction threat

Dr Justin Moat, who headed up the Kew study, says more than 60% of wild Arabica plants are threatened with extinction.

“The worst case scenario, as drawn from our analyses, is that wild Arabica could be extinct by 2080.

“This should alert decision makers to the fragility of the species.”

The highlands of Ethiopia and of South Sudan are the natural home of Arabica coffee. Researchers found that deforestation over the past 70 years plus more recent changes in climate could result in wild Arabica becoming extinct in South Sudan within the next two years.

“The climate sensitivity of Arabica is confirmed, supporting the widely reported assumption that climate change will have a damaging impact on commercial coffee production worldwide”, says Dr Moat.

Pay growers more

In coffee-growing areas around the world, including Ethiopia and Brazil, temperatures have been rising while amounts of rainfall have been decreasing.

The Kew study says that while bumper coffee harvests over the last two years have led to generally low prices, this pattern is unlikely to continue as crop yields decline and demand grows.

The study says coffee growers, mostly smallholders, should be paid more for their produce in order not only to improve living standards but to encourage more sustainable and innovative cultivation methods. The Yayu Project in Ethiopia is seen as a model for this form of development.

There should also be more research into wild coffee species and investment in building up collections and seed banks. – Climate News Network

Global water supply shrinks in rainier world

The global water supply is dwindling, even though rainfall is heavier. Once again, climate change is to blame.

LONDON, 20 December, 2018 – Even in a world with more intense rain, communities could begin to run short of water. New research has confirmed that, in a warming world, extremes of drought have begun to diminish the world’s groundwater – and ever more intense rainstorms will do little to make up the loss in the global water supply.

And a second, separate study delivers support for this seeming paradox: worldwide, there is evidence that rainfall patterns are, increasingly, being disturbed. The number of record-dry months has increased overall. And so has the number of record-breaking rainy months.

Both studies match predictions in a world of climate change driven by ever-higher ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, from ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels. But, unlike many climate studies, neither of these is based on computer simulation of predicted change.

Each is instead based on the meticulous analysis of huge quantities of on-the-ground data. Together they provide substance to a 40-year-old prediction of climate change research: that in a warming world, those regions already wet will get ever more rain, while the drylands will tend to become increasingly more arid.

As global temperatures creep up – and they have already risen by 1°C in the past century, and could be set to reach 3°C by 2100 – so does the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb more moisture. It follows that more rain must fall. But at the same time more groundwater evaporates, and the risk of damaging drought increases.

“What we did not expect, despite all the extra rain everywhere in the world, is that the large rivers are drying out”

Australian scientists report in the journal Water Resources Research that they studied readings from 43,000 rainfall stations and 5,300 river monitoring sites in 160 countries. And they confirm that even in a world of more intense rain, drought could become the new normal in those regions already at risk.

“This is something that has been missed. We expected rainfall to increase, since warmer air stores more moisture – and that is what climate models predicted too,” said Ashish Sharma, an environmental engineer at the University of New South Wales.

“What we did not expect, despite all the extra rain everywhere in the world, is that the large rivers are drying out. We believe the cause is the drying of soils in our catchments. Where once these were moist before a storm event – allowing excess rainfall to run off into rivers – they are now drier and soak up more rain, so less water makes it as flow.”

The study matches predictions. Just in the last few months, climate scientists have warned that catastrophic climate change could be on the way, and that the double hazard of heat waves and sustained drought could devastate harvests in more than one climatic zone in the same season; and that those landlocked rainfall catchment areas that are already dry are becoming increasingly more parched.

But over the same few months, researchers have established repeatedly that tomorrow’s storms will be worse and that more devastating flash floods can be expected even in one of the world’s driest continents, Australia itself.

Less water available

Of all rainfall, only 36% gets into aquifers, streams and lakes. The remaining two thirds seeps into the soils, grasslands and woodlands. But more soil evaporation means less water is available from river supplies for cities and farms.

US researchers have already confirmed that if soils are moist before a storm, 62% of rainfall leads to floods that fill catchments. If soils are dry, only 13% of the rain leads to flooding.

“It’s a double whammy. Less water is ending up where we can’t store it for later use. At the same time, more rain is overwhelming drainage infrastructure in towns and cities, leading to more urban flooding,” said Professor Sharma.

“Small floods are very important for water supply, because they refill dams and form the basis of our water supply. But they’re happening less often, because the soils are sucking up extra rain. Even when a major storm dumps a lot of rain, the soils are so dry they absorb more water than before, and less reaches the rivers and reservoirs”, he said. “We need to adapt to this emerging reality.”

In the second close look at change so far, researchers based in Germany report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters  that they analysed data from 50,000 weather stations worldwide to measure rainfall on a monthly basis.

Climate drives aridity

The US has seen a more than 25% increase of record wet months in the eastern and central regions between 1980 and 2013. Argentina has seen a 32% increase. In central and northern Europe the increase is between 19% and 37%; in Asian Russia, it has been about 20%.

But in Africa south of the Sahara the incidence of very dry months has increased by 50%. “This implies that approximately one out of three record dry months in this region would not have occurred without long-term climate change,” said Dim Coumou, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Generally, land regions in the tropics and sub-tropics have seen more dry records, and the northern mid- to high-latitudes more wet records. This largely fits the patterns that scientists expect from human-caused climate change.”

His colleague and lead author Jascha Lehmann said: “Normally, record weather events occur by chance and we know how many would happen in a climate without warning. It’s like throwing a dice: on average one out of six times you get a six.

“But by injecting huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, humankind has loaded the dice. In many regions, we throw sixes much more often, with severe impacts for society and the environment.

“It is worrying that we see significant increases of such extremes with just one degree of global warming.” – Climate News Network

The global water supply is dwindling, even though rainfall is heavier. Once again, climate change is to blame.

LONDON, 20 December, 2018 – Even in a world with more intense rain, communities could begin to run short of water. New research has confirmed that, in a warming world, extremes of drought have begun to diminish the world’s groundwater – and ever more intense rainstorms will do little to make up the loss in the global water supply.

And a second, separate study delivers support for this seeming paradox: worldwide, there is evidence that rainfall patterns are, increasingly, being disturbed. The number of record-dry months has increased overall. And so has the number of record-breaking rainy months.

Both studies match predictions in a world of climate change driven by ever-higher ratios of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, from ever-increasing combustion of fossil fuels. But, unlike many climate studies, neither of these is based on computer simulation of predicted change.

Each is instead based on the meticulous analysis of huge quantities of on-the-ground data. Together they provide substance to a 40-year-old prediction of climate change research: that in a warming world, those regions already wet will get ever more rain, while the drylands will tend to become increasingly more arid.

As global temperatures creep up – and they have already risen by 1°C in the past century, and could be set to reach 3°C by 2100 – so does the capacity of the atmosphere to absorb more moisture. It follows that more rain must fall. But at the same time more groundwater evaporates, and the risk of damaging drought increases.

“What we did not expect, despite all the extra rain everywhere in the world, is that the large rivers are drying out”

Australian scientists report in the journal Water Resources Research that they studied readings from 43,000 rainfall stations and 5,300 river monitoring sites in 160 countries. And they confirm that even in a world of more intense rain, drought could become the new normal in those regions already at risk.

“This is something that has been missed. We expected rainfall to increase, since warmer air stores more moisture – and that is what climate models predicted too,” said Ashish Sharma, an environmental engineer at the University of New South Wales.

“What we did not expect, despite all the extra rain everywhere in the world, is that the large rivers are drying out. We believe the cause is the drying of soils in our catchments. Where once these were moist before a storm event – allowing excess rainfall to run off into rivers – they are now drier and soak up more rain, so less water makes it as flow.”

The study matches predictions. Just in the last few months, climate scientists have warned that catastrophic climate change could be on the way, and that the double hazard of heat waves and sustained drought could devastate harvests in more than one climatic zone in the same season; and that those landlocked rainfall catchment areas that are already dry are becoming increasingly more parched.

But over the same few months, researchers have established repeatedly that tomorrow’s storms will be worse and that more devastating flash floods can be expected even in one of the world’s driest continents, Australia itself.

Less water available

Of all rainfall, only 36% gets into aquifers, streams and lakes. The remaining two thirds seeps into the soils, grasslands and woodlands. But more soil evaporation means less water is available from river supplies for cities and farms.

US researchers have already confirmed that if soils are moist before a storm, 62% of rainfall leads to floods that fill catchments. If soils are dry, only 13% of the rain leads to flooding.

“It’s a double whammy. Less water is ending up where we can’t store it for later use. At the same time, more rain is overwhelming drainage infrastructure in towns and cities, leading to more urban flooding,” said Professor Sharma.

“Small floods are very important for water supply, because they refill dams and form the basis of our water supply. But they’re happening less often, because the soils are sucking up extra rain. Even when a major storm dumps a lot of rain, the soils are so dry they absorb more water than before, and less reaches the rivers and reservoirs”, he said. “We need to adapt to this emerging reality.”

In the second close look at change so far, researchers based in Germany report in the journal Geophysical Research Letters  that they analysed data from 50,000 weather stations worldwide to measure rainfall on a monthly basis.

Climate drives aridity

The US has seen a more than 25% increase of record wet months in the eastern and central regions between 1980 and 2013. Argentina has seen a 32% increase. In central and northern Europe the increase is between 19% and 37%; in Asian Russia, it has been about 20%.

But in Africa south of the Sahara the incidence of very dry months has increased by 50%. “This implies that approximately one out of three record dry months in this region would not have occurred without long-term climate change,” said Dim Coumou, of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“Generally, land regions in the tropics and sub-tropics have seen more dry records, and the northern mid- to high-latitudes more wet records. This largely fits the patterns that scientists expect from human-caused climate change.”

His colleague and lead author Jascha Lehmann said: “Normally, record weather events occur by chance and we know how many would happen in a climate without warning. It’s like throwing a dice: on average one out of six times you get a six.

“But by injecting huge amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, humankind has loaded the dice. In many regions, we throw sixes much more often, with severe impacts for society and the environment.

“It is worrying that we see significant increases of such extremes with just one degree of global warming.” – Climate News Network

New plane can show geoengineering works

With new aircraft, humans could potentially mimic volcanic action, dim the sunlight and slow global warming, showing that geoengineering works. It’s a controversial idea.

LONDON, 26 November, 2018 – Nobody knows for sure whether we shall ever see if geoengineering works. But now somebody knows how to do it.

Engineers have designed an aircraft that could lift a cargo of sulphur dioxide to an altitude of 20 kilometres and spray it into the stratosphere to darken the skies, dim the sunlight and damp down climate change driven by emissions from factory chimneys, power stations and vehicle exhausts.

The aircraft – already dubbed SAIL, or the stratospheric aerosol injection lofter, could cost no more than $2.35 billion a year for airframe and engine, and the first eight could be rolling down the runway 15 years from now to begin flying 4,000 missions a year. By the end of another 15 years, a fleet of 100 high-flying sulphate dumpsters could be in business, making 60,000 high altitude deliveries a year to combat global warming.

US scientists report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they addressed the costs and practicalities of what is certainly the most-frequently invoked and hotly disputed form of climate engineering on a global scale.

Possible catastrophe

It is considered necessary because, if humans go on burning fossil fuels at the present rates, greenhouse gas build-up in the atmosphere could increase planetary average temperatures to a catastrophic 3°C or more by 2100.

Darkened skies do lower planetary temperatures: violent volcanic eruptions have in recent history injected cubic kilometres of fine ash, smoke and sulphur into the upper atmosphere on scales that lower global average temperatures measurably.

For more than a decade, researchers have argued that – since humankind collectively still shows no great sign of drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions – some radical form of solar geoengineering might be necessary. Others have opposed the case, citing possible unwelcome consequences.

But the first question was: could it be done at all? The latest answer is that it can, but not with existing hardware.

“This plan is a distraction that may well encourage weaker action on emissions reduction by governments in the hope they will no longer be necessary”

“While we don’t make any judgment about the desirability of SAI, we do show that a hypothetical deployment programme, starting 15 years from now, while both highly uncertain and ambitious, would be technically possible from an engineering perspective,” said Gernot Wagner, of Harvard University.

“It would also be remarkably inexpensive, at an average of around $2 bn to $2.5 bn per year over the first 15 years.”

His co-author Wake Smith, who moved from the aviation business to lecture at Yale College, and who led the study, said he had become intrigued by research that suggested that existing aircraft could be modified to lift huge quantities of sulphur dioxide to great heights, and then release it.

“Turns out that is not so,” he said. “It would indeed take an entirely new plane design to do SAI under reasonable albeit entirely hypothetical parameters. No existing aircraft has the combination of altitude and payload capabilities required.”

Detailed design

The scientists outlined a solution: it had the same weight as a large, narrow-bodied jet passenger aircraft. But to sustain level flight at 20kms, it needed roughly double the wing surface of such an airliner, and double the thrust, with four engines rather than two. “At the same time, its fuselage would be stubby and narrow, sized to accommodate a heavy but dense mass of molten sulphur rather than the large volume of space and air required for passengers,” Mr Smith said.

They then calculated the rate at which such planes could be built, and the numbers needed to make a significant difference to global warming. Global projects on such a scale need international agreement, and the two authors rule out the possibility that any individual nation could hope to secretly operate such a high-flying programme, involving so many flights, without detection. But they do not see it as excessively costly.

“Given the potential benefits of halving average projected increases to radiative forcing from a particular date onward, these numbers invoke the ‘incredible economics’ of solar geoengineering,” Dr Wagner said. “Dozens of countries could fund such a programme, and the required technology is not particularly exotic.”

Political tensions

But solar radiation management or SRM – the catch-all term for any plans to cool the world by dimming the sunlight, rather than reducing greenhouse gas emissions – remains politically fraught, and in any case an incomplete answer: it would, for instance, do nothing to slow the increasing acidification of the world’s oceans, and it could seriously affect rainfall patterns in so far unpredictable ways.

The world has already warmed by 1°C in the last century. In Paris in 2015 the nations of almost the entire world agreed to try to contain global warming to 1.5°C if at all possible. And the world now has only about a dozen years to make this happen.

“Why then set out a plan to implement solar radiation management from a date 15 years hence? This plan is a distraction that may well encourage weaker action on emissions reduction by governments in the hope they will no longer be necessary”, said Joanna Haigh, co-director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College in the UK.

“Previously, proponents of SRM have suggested that it be used to delay the onset of the inevitable warming arising from human greenhouse gas emissions. This paper, however, seems to suggest that the implementation should be ongoing. Forever?” – Climate News Network

With new aircraft, humans could potentially mimic volcanic action, dim the sunlight and slow global warming, showing that geoengineering works. It’s a controversial idea.

LONDON, 26 November, 2018 – Nobody knows for sure whether we shall ever see if geoengineering works. But now somebody knows how to do it.

Engineers have designed an aircraft that could lift a cargo of sulphur dioxide to an altitude of 20 kilometres and spray it into the stratosphere to darken the skies, dim the sunlight and damp down climate change driven by emissions from factory chimneys, power stations and vehicle exhausts.

The aircraft – already dubbed SAIL, or the stratospheric aerosol injection lofter, could cost no more than $2.35 billion a year for airframe and engine, and the first eight could be rolling down the runway 15 years from now to begin flying 4,000 missions a year. By the end of another 15 years, a fleet of 100 high-flying sulphate dumpsters could be in business, making 60,000 high altitude deliveries a year to combat global warming.

US scientists report in the journal Environmental Research Letters that they addressed the costs and practicalities of what is certainly the most-frequently invoked and hotly disputed form of climate engineering on a global scale.

Possible catastrophe

It is considered necessary because, if humans go on burning fossil fuels at the present rates, greenhouse gas build-up in the atmosphere could increase planetary average temperatures to a catastrophic 3°C or more by 2100.

Darkened skies do lower planetary temperatures: violent volcanic eruptions have in recent history injected cubic kilometres of fine ash, smoke and sulphur into the upper atmosphere on scales that lower global average temperatures measurably.

For more than a decade, researchers have argued that – since humankind collectively still shows no great sign of drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions – some radical form of solar geoengineering might be necessary. Others have opposed the case, citing possible unwelcome consequences.

But the first question was: could it be done at all? The latest answer is that it can, but not with existing hardware.

“This plan is a distraction that may well encourage weaker action on emissions reduction by governments in the hope they will no longer be necessary”

“While we don’t make any judgment about the desirability of SAI, we do show that a hypothetical deployment programme, starting 15 years from now, while both highly uncertain and ambitious, would be technically possible from an engineering perspective,” said Gernot Wagner, of Harvard University.

“It would also be remarkably inexpensive, at an average of around $2 bn to $2.5 bn per year over the first 15 years.”

His co-author Wake Smith, who moved from the aviation business to lecture at Yale College, and who led the study, said he had become intrigued by research that suggested that existing aircraft could be modified to lift huge quantities of sulphur dioxide to great heights, and then release it.

“Turns out that is not so,” he said. “It would indeed take an entirely new plane design to do SAI under reasonable albeit entirely hypothetical parameters. No existing aircraft has the combination of altitude and payload capabilities required.”

Detailed design

The scientists outlined a solution: it had the same weight as a large, narrow-bodied jet passenger aircraft. But to sustain level flight at 20kms, it needed roughly double the wing surface of such an airliner, and double the thrust, with four engines rather than two. “At the same time, its fuselage would be stubby and narrow, sized to accommodate a heavy but dense mass of molten sulphur rather than the large volume of space and air required for passengers,” Mr Smith said.

They then calculated the rate at which such planes could be built, and the numbers needed to make a significant difference to global warming. Global projects on such a scale need international agreement, and the two authors rule out the possibility that any individual nation could hope to secretly operate such a high-flying programme, involving so many flights, without detection. But they do not see it as excessively costly.

“Given the potential benefits of halving average projected increases to radiative forcing from a particular date onward, these numbers invoke the ‘incredible economics’ of solar geoengineering,” Dr Wagner said. “Dozens of countries could fund such a programme, and the required technology is not particularly exotic.”

Political tensions

But solar radiation management or SRM – the catch-all term for any plans to cool the world by dimming the sunlight, rather than reducing greenhouse gas emissions – remains politically fraught, and in any case an incomplete answer: it would, for instance, do nothing to slow the increasing acidification of the world’s oceans, and it could seriously affect rainfall patterns in so far unpredictable ways.

The world has already warmed by 1°C in the last century. In Paris in 2015 the nations of almost the entire world agreed to try to contain global warming to 1.5°C if at all possible. And the world now has only about a dozen years to make this happen.

“Why then set out a plan to implement solar radiation management from a date 15 years hence? This plan is a distraction that may well encourage weaker action on emissions reduction by governments in the hope they will no longer be necessary”, said Joanna Haigh, co-director of the Grantham Institute for Climate Change at Imperial College in the UK.

“Previously, proponents of SRM have suggested that it be used to delay the onset of the inevitable warming arising from human greenhouse gas emissions. This paper, however, seems to suggest that the implementation should be ongoing. Forever?” – Climate News Network

Hotter climate will cost Europe dear

Unrestrained global warming and a hotter climate will cost Europe dear in lives lost and economies squeezed. Even if it’s limited, there’ll be a price to pay.

LONDON, 23 November, 2018 – The continent must brace itself for the big heat: a hotter climate will cost Europe dear if average global temperatures soar by 3°C near the end of the century, when heat extremes could claim an additional 132,000 deaths a year.

Labour productivity in some southern European countries could fall by 10 to 15%. As sea levels rise, there could be a five-fold increase in coastal flood damage, to affect more than 2 million people and wreak economic tolls of €60 billion (US$68 bn) a year.

As extremes of rainfall increase, swollen rivers could expose three times as many people to inland flooding, and the damage from river floods could rise from €5.3m a year to €17.5m.

If, on the other hand, the world keeps the promise it made to itself in Paris in 2015, and contains global warming to 2°C or less by the century’s end, coastal flooding – which already affects 100,000 people and costs €1.25 bn a year – will affect only an estimated 436,000 and total €6 bn a year in annual damage.

Grim appraisal

But right now the world is on course to tip 3°C by the century’s end, and a new study by the European Commission’s joint research centre has made a sombre assessment of the likely costs.

There will be significant shifts in the times at which seeds sprout, flowers bloom and crops ripen, with big changes in soil water: this is going to affect agricultural productivity. Europe’s arid climate zone is expected to double in area.

Demand for energy to heat homes and offices is likely to fall, but any gains will be wiped out by a rapid rise in energy demand to cool cities and towns. Northern Europe can expect to get wetter, but some parts of southern Europe will, increasingly, face drought and water shortages.

Some of the forecasts are not new: researchers have repeatedly examined the impact of climate change on European harvests, and of sea level rise, for instance, on European coastal cities.

Terse summary

The latest report, labelled with the acronym Peseta III, presents a wider picture of change. It has been four years in the making, and is the product of consultation with experts in economics, biology, physics and engineering: its opening abstract says it all in three pithy sentences.

“The study assesses how climate change could affect Europe in eleven impact areas. Under a high warming scenario, several climate impacts show a clear geographical north-south divide. Most of the welfare losses, assessed for six impact areas, would be greatly reduced under a 2°C scenario.”

It attempts to put a crude measurement on the consumer cost to Europe’s economic welfare of various levels of possible climate change, and the headline figure is that 3°C warming could impose losses on the European Union nations of 1.9% of gross domestic product, or €240bn a year.

But this is an understatement “because key climate impacts cannot be quantified,” the researchers say. And once again, losses would be considerably lower if warming was contained to within 2°C.

Some winners

Under a lower warming regime, there could even be some benefits: Eastern Europe in particular could expect to see measurably higher agricultural yields, especially of wheat and maize.

In southern Europe, which will be both drier and warmer, yields are expected to decline. Irrigation may not be the answer: the harvest from irrigated fields is likely to start showing a decline by the mid-2030s.

By 2050, crop prices are likely to be depressed by the impacts of climate change. In effect, farmers could expect lower output, and on top of that, lower incomes per unit of output.

And these calculations do not include the direct impact of weather extremes – the heatwaves that shrivel seedlings, the hailstorms and high winds that damage blossom and so on – that are likely to be amplified by overall global warming.

“Under a high warming scenario, several climate impacts show a clear geographical north-south divide. Most of the welfare losses … would be greatly reduced under a 2°C scenario”

Transport, too, will be at the mercy of ever more intense and more frequent extremes of weather. By the century’s end, 200 airports and 850 seaports – large and small – could be affected by flooding from either rising sea levels or heavier downpours.

And the Mediterranean climate zone – with its unique mix of habitat, ground cover, biodiversity and crops – would become increasingly vulnerable to droughts, fires, pests and invasive alien species.

Labour productivity will fall, especially in the south, and in some places employers might have to plan to shift some work to the cooler night, with the additional costs of chronic fatigue, anxiety and depression associated with night work.

At 3°C, heat extremes could lead to additional deaths per year up to 132,000. But even at 2°C this figure could soar to 58,000 extra deaths per year. – Climate News Network

Unrestrained global warming and a hotter climate will cost Europe dear in lives lost and economies squeezed. Even if it’s limited, there’ll be a price to pay.

LONDON, 23 November, 2018 – The continent must brace itself for the big heat: a hotter climate will cost Europe dear if average global temperatures soar by 3°C near the end of the century, when heat extremes could claim an additional 132,000 deaths a year.

Labour productivity in some southern European countries could fall by 10 to 15%. As sea levels rise, there could be a five-fold increase in coastal flood damage, to affect more than 2 million people and wreak economic tolls of €60 billion (US$68 bn) a year.

As extremes of rainfall increase, swollen rivers could expose three times as many people to inland flooding, and the damage from river floods could rise from €5.3m a year to €17.5m.

If, on the other hand, the world keeps the promise it made to itself in Paris in 2015, and contains global warming to 2°C or less by the century’s end, coastal flooding – which already affects 100,000 people and costs €1.25 bn a year – will affect only an estimated 436,000 and total €6 bn a year in annual damage.

Grim appraisal

But right now the world is on course to tip 3°C by the century’s end, and a new study by the European Commission’s joint research centre has made a sombre assessment of the likely costs.

There will be significant shifts in the times at which seeds sprout, flowers bloom and crops ripen, with big changes in soil water: this is going to affect agricultural productivity. Europe’s arid climate zone is expected to double in area.

Demand for energy to heat homes and offices is likely to fall, but any gains will be wiped out by a rapid rise in energy demand to cool cities and towns. Northern Europe can expect to get wetter, but some parts of southern Europe will, increasingly, face drought and water shortages.

Some of the forecasts are not new: researchers have repeatedly examined the impact of climate change on European harvests, and of sea level rise, for instance, on European coastal cities.

Terse summary

The latest report, labelled with the acronym Peseta III, presents a wider picture of change. It has been four years in the making, and is the product of consultation with experts in economics, biology, physics and engineering: its opening abstract says it all in three pithy sentences.

“The study assesses how climate change could affect Europe in eleven impact areas. Under a high warming scenario, several climate impacts show a clear geographical north-south divide. Most of the welfare losses, assessed for six impact areas, would be greatly reduced under a 2°C scenario.”

It attempts to put a crude measurement on the consumer cost to Europe’s economic welfare of various levels of possible climate change, and the headline figure is that 3°C warming could impose losses on the European Union nations of 1.9% of gross domestic product, or €240bn a year.

But this is an understatement “because key climate impacts cannot be quantified,” the researchers say. And once again, losses would be considerably lower if warming was contained to within 2°C.

Some winners

Under a lower warming regime, there could even be some benefits: Eastern Europe in particular could expect to see measurably higher agricultural yields, especially of wheat and maize.

In southern Europe, which will be both drier and warmer, yields are expected to decline. Irrigation may not be the answer: the harvest from irrigated fields is likely to start showing a decline by the mid-2030s.

By 2050, crop prices are likely to be depressed by the impacts of climate change. In effect, farmers could expect lower output, and on top of that, lower incomes per unit of output.

And these calculations do not include the direct impact of weather extremes – the heatwaves that shrivel seedlings, the hailstorms and high winds that damage blossom and so on – that are likely to be amplified by overall global warming.

“Under a high warming scenario, several climate impacts show a clear geographical north-south divide. Most of the welfare losses … would be greatly reduced under a 2°C scenario”

Transport, too, will be at the mercy of ever more intense and more frequent extremes of weather. By the century’s end, 200 airports and 850 seaports – large and small – could be affected by flooding from either rising sea levels or heavier downpours.

And the Mediterranean climate zone – with its unique mix of habitat, ground cover, biodiversity and crops – would become increasingly vulnerable to droughts, fires, pests and invasive alien species.

Labour productivity will fall, especially in the south, and in some places employers might have to plan to shift some work to the cooler night, with the additional costs of chronic fatigue, anxiety and depression associated with night work.

At 3°C, heat extremes could lead to additional deaths per year up to 132,000. But even at 2°C this figure could soar to 58,000 extra deaths per year. – Climate News Network

Tropical forests flee uphill to escape heat

The tropical forests of the Andes are responding to climate change. But a tree can climb only so far before it has nowhere to go.

LONDON, 22 November, 2018 − Tropical forests are racing uphill to escape global warming. Some of them may lose the race.

A meticulous and sustained study of nearly 200 plots of forest in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and northern Argentina has found that where they can, tropical species are moving uphill as the thermometer rises. But there is a problem: can a species that flourished in one ecosystem in the Andes and Amazon migrate and colonise another at higher altitude?

A new study in the journal Nature finds that some of them cannot. “Andean forests must be added to the growing list of ecosystems and species that lack the ability to quickly and cohesively respond to climate change and thus face high risk of extinction, biodiversity loss and functional collapse,” they conclude.

Plants and animals in mountain communities everywhere in the temperate world seem to be on the move: many of the studies however focus on observations of selected species in one country or mountain zone, or even on one mountain.

Wider perspective

Belén Fabrique and Kenneth Feeley of the University of Miami and colleagues went looking for the big picture. They selected 186 closely-monitored tracts of forest in what scientists call the Tropical Andes Biodiversity Hotspot, at altitudes of from 300 to 3,000 metres. These forest plots together are home to 120 different plant families divided into 528 genera and 2,024 tree named species, including palms, tree ferns and lianas.

They then looked for a way to measure change in a mix of such diversity − in effect, a local ecosystem − and selected a measure called the community temperature index, already used to monitor shifts in bird and butterfly populations elsewhere. Since most of the plots had been surveyed each year over a 20-year period, they had a way of detecting and tracking change.

Temperate species of trees are adapted to big seasonal shifts in temperature. Trees in the lowland tropics are not. Tropical trees that migrate uphill run the risk of encountering an environmental roadblock, a shift in the ecosystem.

“In the Andes, the ecosystems can change very fast and very dramatically, for example from sunny and dry premontane forests to sopping wet cloud forests. These changes, called ecotones, appear to be blocking species migrations,” said Belén Fabrique, who designed the study.

“The faster climate change happens, the faster we will lose our tropical forests, which means that climate change will happen even faster”

“These ecotone barriers make it harder for plants to relocate their populations – and if they can’t relocate, they will go extinct.”

In response to climate change – driven by ever-higher emissions of greenhouse gases from the combustion of fossil fuels – the researchers confirmed that the thermophilic or heat-loving species were shifting to higher ground, while the abundance of the species adapted to cool conditions was declining. But the rate of change in the mix of these forest plots was not uniform: some Andean species were being driven out as rainfall and cloud cover conditions became intolerable.

“Thermophilisation is a mouthful of a word but it means that forests are becoming more heat-loving over time because as the world warms up, the species that prefer cold are being kicked out or are dying off and the heat-loving species are moving up and taking their place,” said Professor Feeley.

“Everything is moving up the mountain, so the species near the tops of the mountains are running out of places to go and may soon face the risk of mountain-top extinction.”

Taxonomical logjam

The next step is to try to work out how climate operates on specific Andean plants: a challenge because many of them have yet to be identified and named. Only then can researchers work out the ecological consequences of their loss.

The irony is that forest ecosystems play a key role in moderating climate change.

“Tropical forests are one of the most important players in the world’s global carbon cycle. They slow down climate change by taking a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it into their growth,” Professor Feeley said.

“So the faster climate change happens, the faster we will lose our tropical forests, which means that climate change will happen even faster.” – Climate News Network

The tropical forests of the Andes are responding to climate change. But a tree can climb only so far before it has nowhere to go.

LONDON, 22 November, 2018 − Tropical forests are racing uphill to escape global warming. Some of them may lose the race.

A meticulous and sustained study of nearly 200 plots of forest in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and northern Argentina has found that where they can, tropical species are moving uphill as the thermometer rises. But there is a problem: can a species that flourished in one ecosystem in the Andes and Amazon migrate and colonise another at higher altitude?

A new study in the journal Nature finds that some of them cannot. “Andean forests must be added to the growing list of ecosystems and species that lack the ability to quickly and cohesively respond to climate change and thus face high risk of extinction, biodiversity loss and functional collapse,” they conclude.

Plants and animals in mountain communities everywhere in the temperate world seem to be on the move: many of the studies however focus on observations of selected species in one country or mountain zone, or even on one mountain.

Wider perspective

Belén Fabrique and Kenneth Feeley of the University of Miami and colleagues went looking for the big picture. They selected 186 closely-monitored tracts of forest in what scientists call the Tropical Andes Biodiversity Hotspot, at altitudes of from 300 to 3,000 metres. These forest plots together are home to 120 different plant families divided into 528 genera and 2,024 tree named species, including palms, tree ferns and lianas.

They then looked for a way to measure change in a mix of such diversity − in effect, a local ecosystem − and selected a measure called the community temperature index, already used to monitor shifts in bird and butterfly populations elsewhere. Since most of the plots had been surveyed each year over a 20-year period, they had a way of detecting and tracking change.

Temperate species of trees are adapted to big seasonal shifts in temperature. Trees in the lowland tropics are not. Tropical trees that migrate uphill run the risk of encountering an environmental roadblock, a shift in the ecosystem.

“In the Andes, the ecosystems can change very fast and very dramatically, for example from sunny and dry premontane forests to sopping wet cloud forests. These changes, called ecotones, appear to be blocking species migrations,” said Belén Fabrique, who designed the study.

“The faster climate change happens, the faster we will lose our tropical forests, which means that climate change will happen even faster”

“These ecotone barriers make it harder for plants to relocate their populations – and if they can’t relocate, they will go extinct.”

In response to climate change – driven by ever-higher emissions of greenhouse gases from the combustion of fossil fuels – the researchers confirmed that the thermophilic or heat-loving species were shifting to higher ground, while the abundance of the species adapted to cool conditions was declining. But the rate of change in the mix of these forest plots was not uniform: some Andean species were being driven out as rainfall and cloud cover conditions became intolerable.

“Thermophilisation is a mouthful of a word but it means that forests are becoming more heat-loving over time because as the world warms up, the species that prefer cold are being kicked out or are dying off and the heat-loving species are moving up and taking their place,” said Professor Feeley.

“Everything is moving up the mountain, so the species near the tops of the mountains are running out of places to go and may soon face the risk of mountain-top extinction.”

Taxonomical logjam

The next step is to try to work out how climate operates on specific Andean plants: a challenge because many of them have yet to be identified and named. Only then can researchers work out the ecological consequences of their loss.

The irony is that forest ecosystems play a key role in moderating climate change.

“Tropical forests are one of the most important players in the world’s global carbon cycle. They slow down climate change by taking a lot of carbon out of the atmosphere and putting it into their growth,” Professor Feeley said.

“So the faster climate change happens, the faster we will lose our tropical forests, which means that climate change will happen even faster.” – Climate News Network

Worse storms in prospect as warmth rises

Once again, US government scientists warn that hurricane and flood hazard is amplified by a warming world. But worse storms are caused by big cities too.

LONDON, 19 November, 2018 – Worse storms are on the way, as many Americans know all too well. Hurricane Katrina was the costliest natural disaster ever to hit the US: it blew ashore over New Orleans in August 2005 to claim at least 1,833 lives and wreak economic damage worth, in today’s prices, $160bn.

And however bad it was, climate change made it worse. Because of global warming up to that point, up to 9% more rain fell over the city, some of it to sweep away the river defences and precipitate disastrous flooding.

A second study, also in Nature, warns: big cities make bad storms even worse. Urbanisation – all those roads, pavements, rooftops and so on – multiplies the risk of flooding on average 21-fold. The growth of Houston in Texas left a city at the mercy of Hurricane Harvey in 2017: the scale of flooding was without precedent.

The research is based on computer modelling of the impact of overall planetary warming – around 1°C in the past century – on local sea and coastal conditions.

Rising economic harm

Warmer atmospheres hold more water. With each 1°C rise, the capacity to absorb moisture increases by 7% , so in a warmer world storms will be wetter. With higher temperatures, storms are likely to be more ferocious. Researchers have repeatedly warned that because of these simple principles, as global temperatures rise, the US faces ever bigger economic losses each succeeding hurricane season.

Houston wasn’t prepared for what seemed like a once-in-a-thousand-years storm, but extreme rainstorms will become even more extreme and in Texas more Harvey-scale storms are on the way.

Water that falls on forest or wetland or coastal savannah is at least partly absorbed. Hard rain that hits tarmacadam and concrete could swiftly become a flash flood. So the latest study is a confirmation of much previous research.

“Efforts to build flood mitigation strategies must use an improved understanding of the multiple processes in place”

And although President Trump has condemned climate change science as a hoax devised by the Chinese, and announced a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement signed by 195 nations to limit global warming to if possible less than 2°C by 2100, the confirmation of greater climate change danger once again comes from a US government research base, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Christina Patricola, of the laboratory’s climate division, reports in Nature that she and a colleague chose 15 tropical cyclones that have occurred in the last decade in the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, and then built computer simulations of those storms while changing factors such as air and ocean temperatures, humidity, and the greenhouse gas concentrations that dictate overall planetary temperatures.

The two scientists looked at the effects of climate change so far, and the shape of storms to come. They found that warming hitherto has made rainfall between 5% and 10% more intense, but may not have so far made much difference to overall hurricane windspeeds.

Strengthening winds

But if the climate continues to warm – and it could warm by 3°C or more this century, as ever greater combustion of fossil fuels puts ever more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – peak wind speeds could increase by up to 25 knots or very nearly 50 kilometres per hour.

The scientists also found that future rainfall in such storms could increase by between 15% and 35%. And the same computer models that predict windier, wetter storms tomorrow accurately predicted the pattern of the storms that had already happened. “The fact that almost all of the 15 tropical cyclones responded in a similar way gives confidence to the results,” Dr Patricola said.

In a companion study, scientists from US universities looked at the other component of the Hurricane Harvey disaster in 2017: the changes in the city of Houston itself.

Between 25 and 30 August, Harvey dumped 1.3 metres of rain on the metropolis. Between 2000 and 2011, Houston had the largest urban growth and the fifth largest population growth in the entire US. That is, it became a bigger target, with a greater area of paving and sealed surfaces to channel the flowing water.

Slower and wetter

The changing contour of the city helped increase atmospheric drag, slowing the passage of the hurricane and delaying it for long enough to drop even more rain. And then the surface of asphalt and concrete made conditions worse.

So, the researchers concluded, the new building made the risk of catastrophic flooding somewhere between hardly at all and up to 90 times more likely, depending on which part of the city they were looking at. Altogether, the risk of more flooding on the scale of Harvey had increased 21-fold.

The message is that coastal cities must plan for the worst and keep planning. Hurricane winds and rainfall are going to intensify in the future. Cities will keep on growing as human numbers increase.

“Planning must take into account the compounded nature of these risks,” they conclude, “and efforts to build flood mitigation strategies must use an improved understanding of the multiple processes in place.” – Climate News Network

Once again, US government scientists warn that hurricane and flood hazard is amplified by a warming world. But worse storms are caused by big cities too.

LONDON, 19 November, 2018 – Worse storms are on the way, as many Americans know all too well. Hurricane Katrina was the costliest natural disaster ever to hit the US: it blew ashore over New Orleans in August 2005 to claim at least 1,833 lives and wreak economic damage worth, in today’s prices, $160bn.

And however bad it was, climate change made it worse. Because of global warming up to that point, up to 9% more rain fell over the city, some of it to sweep away the river defences and precipitate disastrous flooding.

A second study, also in Nature, warns: big cities make bad storms even worse. Urbanisation – all those roads, pavements, rooftops and so on – multiplies the risk of flooding on average 21-fold. The growth of Houston in Texas left a city at the mercy of Hurricane Harvey in 2017: the scale of flooding was without precedent.

The research is based on computer modelling of the impact of overall planetary warming – around 1°C in the past century – on local sea and coastal conditions.

Rising economic harm

Warmer atmospheres hold more water. With each 1°C rise, the capacity to absorb moisture increases by 7% , so in a warmer world storms will be wetter. With higher temperatures, storms are likely to be more ferocious. Researchers have repeatedly warned that because of these simple principles, as global temperatures rise, the US faces ever bigger economic losses each succeeding hurricane season.

Houston wasn’t prepared for what seemed like a once-in-a-thousand-years storm, but extreme rainstorms will become even more extreme and in Texas more Harvey-scale storms are on the way.

Water that falls on forest or wetland or coastal savannah is at least partly absorbed. Hard rain that hits tarmacadam and concrete could swiftly become a flash flood. So the latest study is a confirmation of much previous research.

“Efforts to build flood mitigation strategies must use an improved understanding of the multiple processes in place”

And although President Trump has condemned climate change science as a hoax devised by the Chinese, and announced a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement signed by 195 nations to limit global warming to if possible less than 2°C by 2100, the confirmation of greater climate change danger once again comes from a US government research base, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Christina Patricola, of the laboratory’s climate division, reports in Nature that she and a colleague chose 15 tropical cyclones that have occurred in the last decade in the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, and then built computer simulations of those storms while changing factors such as air and ocean temperatures, humidity, and the greenhouse gas concentrations that dictate overall planetary temperatures.

The two scientists looked at the effects of climate change so far, and the shape of storms to come. They found that warming hitherto has made rainfall between 5% and 10% more intense, but may not have so far made much difference to overall hurricane windspeeds.

Strengthening winds

But if the climate continues to warm – and it could warm by 3°C or more this century, as ever greater combustion of fossil fuels puts ever more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere – peak wind speeds could increase by up to 25 knots or very nearly 50 kilometres per hour.

The scientists also found that future rainfall in such storms could increase by between 15% and 35%. And the same computer models that predict windier, wetter storms tomorrow accurately predicted the pattern of the storms that had already happened. “The fact that almost all of the 15 tropical cyclones responded in a similar way gives confidence to the results,” Dr Patricola said.

In a companion study, scientists from US universities looked at the other component of the Hurricane Harvey disaster in 2017: the changes in the city of Houston itself.

Between 25 and 30 August, Harvey dumped 1.3 metres of rain on the metropolis. Between 2000 and 2011, Houston had the largest urban growth and the fifth largest population growth in the entire US. That is, it became a bigger target, with a greater area of paving and sealed surfaces to channel the flowing water.

Slower and wetter

The changing contour of the city helped increase atmospheric drag, slowing the passage of the hurricane and delaying it for long enough to drop even more rain. And then the surface of asphalt and concrete made conditions worse.

So, the researchers concluded, the new building made the risk of catastrophic flooding somewhere between hardly at all and up to 90 times more likely, depending on which part of the city they were looking at. Altogether, the risk of more flooding on the scale of Harvey had increased 21-fold.

The message is that coastal cities must plan for the worst and keep planning. Hurricane winds and rainfall are going to intensify in the future. Cities will keep on growing as human numbers increase.

“Planning must take into account the compounded nature of these risks,” they conclude, “and efforts to build flood mitigation strategies must use an improved understanding of the multiple processes in place.” – Climate News Network

Iraq’s climate stresses are set to worsen

After years of repression, invasion and conflict, Iraq’s climate stresses now threaten new miseries, including more intense heat and dwindling rainfall.

LONDON, 12 November, 2018 − Iraq’s climate stresses are worsening, raising the prospect of a hotter, drier future for a country which has already seen widespread devastation.

It’s been invaded and bombed, had a third of its territory taken over by terrorist groups, hundreds of thousands have been killed and much of its infrastructure has been destroyed.

Now Iraq and its 39 million people are facing the hazards of climate change; a prolonged drought and soaring temperatures earlier this year ruined crops. Swathes of land in what was, in ancient times, one of the richest agricultural regions on Earth are drying up and turning into desert.

“Iraq is one of the Middle East’s most climate-vulnerable countries”

A recent report by the Expert Working Group on Climate-related Security Risks – made up of academics including members of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) – paints a stark picture of what’s happening in Iraq.

“Climate change is currently manifesting itself in prolonged heat waves, erratic precipitation, higher than average temperatures and increased disaster intensity”, says the report.

Its authors say that over the past summer Iraq suffered from its worst water shortage crisis for 80 years. They say flows of water in many rivers have decreased by up to 40% over recent decades.

The outlook is grim; the study says that due to climate change, average rainfall across the country is likely to decrease by 9% by mid-century, though the intensity of storms is set to increase. Temperatures in Iraq, which regularly reach more than 40°C in the summer months, are set to rise further – by an average of 2°C by 2050.

Livelihoods at risk

“Iraq is one of the Middle East’s most climate-vulnerable countries”, says the Working Group.

“The combination of its hydrological limitations, increasing temperatures and extreme weather events puts pressure on basic resources and undermines livelihood security for Iraq’s population.”

Oil revenues account for more than 80% of Iraq’s gross domestic product (GDP), but a majority of the workforce is involved in agriculture and has been hit hard by the drought and worsening climate conditions.

One of the regions of the country that has suffered most from shifting weather patterns and drought is the marshlands of the south, near the city of Basra.

Unique community

The marshlands, where the mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers which flow through Iraq meet and divide into dozens of channels, formerly covered an area of more than 20,000 square kilometres and were once home to up to half a million people – widely referred to as Marsh Arabs – with a unique way of life.

In the early 1990s, Saddam Hussein, the country’s former ruler, dammed and drained the marshes after tribespeople in the area backed an uprising against his regime. After Saddam was toppled, locals tore down the dams and dykes and brought life back to the region.

Now, once again, the dense channels and waterways of southern Iraq are under threat.

Cross-border impacts

Reductions in rainfall and other climate-related events are only one part of what is a disaster unfolding in one of the most diverse and ecologically rich areas in the Middle East.

Misuse of upriver water resources by the Baghdad government and dams constructed across the Iraqi border, in Iran and Turkey, are severely reducing water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates.

As water levels have plummeted, salinity has increased dramatically, particularly in the south of the country, due to evaporation and saltwater intrusion from the Gulf. Often, because of salinity and pollution, there is little or no drinkable tap water in Basra, a city of more than 2 million.

During the drought last summer, thousands were hospitalised with water-borne diseases.

Corruption threat

Buffaloes, bird life and fish are dying. Reeds and other plant life are being destroyed.

Several people have been killed as protests have erupted over government ineptitude and the lack of basic infrastructure and jobs in what is Iraq’s most oil-rich province.

The Working Group’s report says generally poor governance is exacerbating an already precarious set of circumstances. Civil unrest and terrorism could further destabilise the country.

Widespread corruption is a serious problem. “This factor severely reduces the Iraqi government’s capacity to address security risks and stabilisation strategies, including those relating to climate change”, says the report. − Climate News Network

After years of repression, invasion and conflict, Iraq’s climate stresses now threaten new miseries, including more intense heat and dwindling rainfall.

LONDON, 12 November, 2018 − Iraq’s climate stresses are worsening, raising the prospect of a hotter, drier future for a country which has already seen widespread devastation.

It’s been invaded and bombed, had a third of its territory taken over by terrorist groups, hundreds of thousands have been killed and much of its infrastructure has been destroyed.

Now Iraq and its 39 million people are facing the hazards of climate change; a prolonged drought and soaring temperatures earlier this year ruined crops. Swathes of land in what was, in ancient times, one of the richest agricultural regions on Earth are drying up and turning into desert.

“Iraq is one of the Middle East’s most climate-vulnerable countries”

A recent report by the Expert Working Group on Climate-related Security Risks – made up of academics including members of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) – paints a stark picture of what’s happening in Iraq.

“Climate change is currently manifesting itself in prolonged heat waves, erratic precipitation, higher than average temperatures and increased disaster intensity”, says the report.

Its authors say that over the past summer Iraq suffered from its worst water shortage crisis for 80 years. They say flows of water in many rivers have decreased by up to 40% over recent decades.

The outlook is grim; the study says that due to climate change, average rainfall across the country is likely to decrease by 9% by mid-century, though the intensity of storms is set to increase. Temperatures in Iraq, which regularly reach more than 40°C in the summer months, are set to rise further – by an average of 2°C by 2050.

Livelihoods at risk

“Iraq is one of the Middle East’s most climate-vulnerable countries”, says the Working Group.

“The combination of its hydrological limitations, increasing temperatures and extreme weather events puts pressure on basic resources and undermines livelihood security for Iraq’s population.”

Oil revenues account for more than 80% of Iraq’s gross domestic product (GDP), but a majority of the workforce is involved in agriculture and has been hit hard by the drought and worsening climate conditions.

One of the regions of the country that has suffered most from shifting weather patterns and drought is the marshlands of the south, near the city of Basra.

Unique community

The marshlands, where the mighty Tigris and Euphrates rivers which flow through Iraq meet and divide into dozens of channels, formerly covered an area of more than 20,000 square kilometres and were once home to up to half a million people – widely referred to as Marsh Arabs – with a unique way of life.

In the early 1990s, Saddam Hussein, the country’s former ruler, dammed and drained the marshes after tribespeople in the area backed an uprising against his regime. After Saddam was toppled, locals tore down the dams and dykes and brought life back to the region.

Now, once again, the dense channels and waterways of southern Iraq are under threat.

Cross-border impacts

Reductions in rainfall and other climate-related events are only one part of what is a disaster unfolding in one of the most diverse and ecologically rich areas in the Middle East.

Misuse of upriver water resources by the Baghdad government and dams constructed across the Iraqi border, in Iran and Turkey, are severely reducing water levels in the Tigris and Euphrates.

As water levels have plummeted, salinity has increased dramatically, particularly in the south of the country, due to evaporation and saltwater intrusion from the Gulf. Often, because of salinity and pollution, there is little or no drinkable tap water in Basra, a city of more than 2 million.

During the drought last summer, thousands were hospitalised with water-borne diseases.

Corruption threat

Buffaloes, bird life and fish are dying. Reeds and other plant life are being destroyed.

Several people have been killed as protests have erupted over government ineptitude and the lack of basic infrastructure and jobs in what is Iraq’s most oil-rich province.

The Working Group’s report says generally poor governance is exacerbating an already precarious set of circumstances. Civil unrest and terrorism could further destabilise the country.

Widespread corruption is a serious problem. “This factor severely reduces the Iraqi government’s capacity to address security risks and stabilisation strategies, including those relating to climate change”, says the report. − Climate News Network