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Category — Extreme Weather

Canada puts oil exploitation before forests

Paul Brown


A plane drops a water bomb on a forest fire in Ontario, Canada. Image: Per via Wikimedia Commons

Having repudiated the Kyoto Protocol on reducing fossil fuel use, Canada is still exploiting tar sands for oil − despite accepting that climate change is destroying its forests.

Detailed evidence that Canada’s vast natural areas are undergoing major changes because of climate change is produced in a new report by Natural Resources Canada.

The government body describes problems with disappearing glaciers, sea level rise, melting permafrost and changing snow and rainfall patterns. One of the country’s most important natural resources, the forests that cover more than 50% of its land area, is under pressure because of pests, fire and drought.

There may, the reports says, be some pluses for Canada in climate change − at least in the short term − because some staple cereal crops will also be able to be grown further north because of warmer weather, assuming that the soil is suitable.

The report, Canada in a Changing Climate, concentrates on impacts and adaptation, but does not mention the causes, or the fact that Canada is now an international pariah in the environmental community because of its exploitation of tar sands for oil.

The country does attempt, for economic reasons, to be more energy efficient, but has repudiated the Kyoto Protocol and international efforts to curb fossil fuel use. The country had accepted a target of cutting emissions on 1990 levels by 5% by 2012, but the government backed out in 2011. [Read more →]

August 13, 2014   No Comments

Insurance leaders pack climate punch

Kieran Cooke


Under-insured: sandbags to try to stop flooding after extreme rainfall in the US. Image: Jocelyn Augustino/FEMA via Wikimedia Commons

The heavyweights of the global insurance industry, well aware of the risks posed to their finances by extreme weather events, have made a renewed commitment to use their financial clout and influence to tackle the climate impacts of a warming world

It might have the reputation of being rather a dull − some might even say boring – business, but there’s no doubting the insurance industry’s financial muscle.

The Geneva Association − a leading international insurance thinktank, whose members have total assets of nearly US$ 15 trillion − has been meeting in Toronto, Canada. And the focus has been very much on climate change.

The Association, issuing a climate risk statement calling for urgent action by governments and other bodies, said: “The prospect of extreme climate change and its potentially devastating economic and social consequences are of great concern to the insurance industry.”

Those putting their names to the document – 66 chief executives of the world’s leading insurers − commit themselves to a set of guiding principles on what they describe as the substantial role the insurance industry can play in tackling risks related to climate change. [Read more →]

May 26, 2014   No Comments

Climate worries insurers and military

 Alex Kirby


The US Navy helps with the clean-up in New York state after Superstorm Sandy in 2012. Image: US Navy via Wikimedia Commons

Powerful voices in finance and the armed forces raise concerns about the risks of increasingly extreme weather events causing billions of dollars of damage and potentially igniting humanitarian disasters and regional conflicts

The risks associated with climate change have got some very important people worried − the people who pick up the bills, and those who clear up the mess or try to prevent it happening.

The world’s biggest and oldest insurance market, Lloyd’s of London, has published a report that urges insurers to include climate risks in their models. It says: “Scientific research points conclusively to the existence of climate change driven by human activity.

“Nevertheless, significant uncertainty remains on the nature and extent of the changes to our climate and the specific impacts this will generate. Many of the effects will become apparent over the coming decades and anticipating them will require forward projections, not solely historical data.”

Quoting the Munich Re insurance group , the World Bank says damage and weather-related losses around the world have increased from an annual average of $50bn in the 1980s to nearly $200bn over the last decade. [Read more →]

May 15, 2014   No Comments

Worse cyclones will hit East Asia

Kieran Cooke


Tacloban in the Philippines, November 2013: East Asia stands to be worse hit by cyclones. Image: Trocaire from Ireland via Wikimedia Commons

Hundreds of thousands of people in the Philippines are trying to piece together their lives after the devastation caused late last year by tropical cyclone Haiyan. New research shows that while such cyclones are growing in strength they are increasingly tracking northwards to hit the coasts of China, Korea and Japan.

It will be of little comfort to people in the southern and central Philippines repeatedly hit by tropical cyclones over the years, but a new study indicates that storm patterns might be shifting northwards.

The study, by a team of scientists at Seoul National University and other South Korean scientific institutions, looks at tropical cyclone activity across the north-west Pacific between 1977 and 2010.

Researchers found that increasing sea surface temperatures likely due to climate change, together with changes in atmospheric circulation patterns, have led to a significant increase in the intensity of tropical cyclones hitting the east Asia region over the 30-year period.

“Noticeable increases of greenhouse gases over the globe could influence rising sea surface temperature and change large-scale atmospheric circulation in the western North Pacific, which could enhance the intensity of tropical cyclones hitting land over east Asia”, says Professor Chang-Hoi Ho, one of the study’s authors. [Read more →]

January 16, 2014   No Comments

Natural defenses can best protect coasts

Tim Radford


Jon Woodruff and Christine Brandon survey sediments after Superstorm Sandy. Image: Courtesy of UMass Amherst

Many shorelines around the world are at risk – not just from extreme weather, but from far more gradual threats. And often the best protection comes from nature.

It isn’t just the catastrophic storms and tropical cyclones that threaten disaster for the world’s coastal cities. Simple, insidious things like sea level rise, coastal subsidence and the loss of wetlands could bring the sea water coursing through city streets in the decades to come.

Jonathan Woodruff of the University of Massachusetts Amherst in the US and colleagues report in Nature that shorelines are increasingly at risk, and humans must adapt and learn to live with increasing hazard.

Many of the world’s great cities are on low-lying coastal plains, or on river estuaries, and are therefore anyway at risk as sea levels rise because of global warming.

But human action too – by damming rivers, by extracting ground water and by building massive structures on sedimentary soils – has accelerated coastal subsidence. Add to this the possibility of more intense tropical cyclones as sea surface temperatures rise, and coastal cities face a stormy future.

On 29 October 2012 Superstorm Sandy brought a surge of sea water into the streets, subway tunnels and basements of New York City and caused $65 billion worth of damage along the entire eastern seaboard of the US. It was an unprecedented event. But it may happen again. [Read more →]

December 5, 2013   No Comments

Salt Lake City will dry as temperatures rise

Tim Radford

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Southwestern states in the US are likely to become particularly arid as temperatures rise. Image: Al Jazeera English via Wikimedia Commons

As climate change increases temperatures, parts of the American Southwest are likely to become increasingly arid.

It’s just one aspect of the future for just one city among hundreds: researchers have calculated that, for every extra notch on the temperature scale, Salt Lake City in the state of Utah, USA, will face a serious drop in the annual flow of fresh stream and river water to its people.

The fall in flow could be anything from 1.8 to 6.5%. The measure of temperature used by the Americans is Fahrenheit, and 1°F is the equivalent of five ninths of 1°C. But average temperatures in the region have risen 2°F in the last century and are expected to go on climbing.

By mid-century, according to Tim Bardsley from the University of Colorado at Boulder,  some of the streams that feed the city will dry up several weeks earlier each summer and autumn. Climate scientists have predicted that the American Southwest could become steadily more arid as the planet warms through a build-up of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. But city planners need more than general warnings: they need a clear idea of what might happen in this or that environment.

“Because our research team included hydrologists, climate scientists and water utility experts, we could dig into the issues that mattered most to the operators responsible for making sure clean water flows through taps and sprinklers without interruption,” said Bardsley. [Read more →]

December 2, 2013   No Comments

Rising floods give UK insurers headaches

Kieran Cooke


2008 floods in Tillicoultry, Clackmannanshire, Scotland. Image: John Chroston via Wikimedia Commons

The UK insurance industry is struggling to cope with the increased risk of flooding events associated with climate change.

The insurance industry doesn’t like climate change. Global warming is introducing a whole new element into the business of quantifying risk – the basic function of the insurance business. One of the main challenges facing insurers is the increased occurrence of floods in many countries.

The UK is one of the world’s leading insurance centres:  a recent seminar at the University of Oxford in the UK examined flood patterns in Britain over recent years.

Not only is the incidence of flooding increasing – it is also becoming ever more unpredictable. “No business, particularly the insurance industry, likes volatility” says Matt Cullen, a floods specialist at the Association of British Insurers (ABI). “There’s no doubt there’s been a ramping up of flooding in the UK since the 1990s and this tends to spook the insurers. And the situation is only going to get worse with climate change.”

Assessing when and where flooding occurs is a highly complex business, says Professor Edmund Penning-Rowsell, of Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment. Flooding is episodic and can also be very localised, he says: a particular area might be flooded for two years in succession and then be dry for ten years – while another, previously dry area sees the waters rise and homes wrecked. [Read more →]

December 1, 2013   No Comments

Insurance shortfall for world’s poorest

Kieran Cooke


Less-developed societies lose most economically from natural catastrophes. Image: UN Photo/Fred Noy

People in the Philippines are struggling to rebuild their lives after the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan.  Insurance would help – but most don’t have any.

The Philippines is located at the centre of one of the world’s most severe storm regions. Scientists say that climate change is increasing the frequency and ferocity of such events.

Yet despite the growing risk to their homes and livelihoods, most of the’ 96m Filipinos have no insurance cover. According to insurance brokers in the Philippines, only 13% of the population have any life or accident insurance – and only a small proportion of the millions of farmers in the country have any crop insurance.

Munich Re is one of the world’s biggest re-insurance groups, covering risks of  insurance companies themselves. In 2012 it produced a map of the world’s most – and least – insured regions.

While the US, Canada, much of Europe, Japan and Australia have what’s referred to as high insurance penetration, there are vast swathes of the world, including much of sub-Saharan Africa, the Indian subcontinent, China and south-east Asia, which are classed as being either inadequately or only basically insured. [Read more →]

November 15, 2013   No Comments