Thursday, June 18, 2009

White House Releases Report On Climate Change

Findings address current and projected impacts across the United States

Posted June 17, 2009

By Sid Perkins, Science News

WASHINGTON — Climate change is already having detrimental effects in the United States, and those effects are probably going to get worse, a new federal study suggests.

More than 3,860 kilometers (2,400 miles) of major roadway along the Gulf Coast could be inundated by sea level rise by the end of this century, a new report suggests.

More than 3,860 kilometers (2,400 miles) of major roadway along the Gulf Coast could be inundated by sea level rise by the end of this century, a new report suggests.

The U.S. Global Change Research Program released the report, titled “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States,” June 16 during a White House-hosted press conference.

John P. Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said the report includes the most up-to-date scientific findings on the impacts of climate change. “It is clear that climate change is happening now,” he said.

The nation’s average annual temperature has risen about 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit (0.83 degrees Celsius) over the past 50 years, said Thomas Karl, director of the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, N.C., and lead author of the report. During that time, extreme episodes of rainfall also increased; the amount of water falling in the heaviest 1 percent of downpours in 2007 was almost 20 percent more than it was in 1958.

Climate models hint that this trend will continue, with the heaviest downpours late this century containing about 40 percent more precipitation than they do now. Those heavier downpours will lead to more flooding and waterborne diseases and will increasingly disrupt transportation, the report notes.

Transportation could especially suffer in low-lying coastal areas vulnerable to increasing sea level, the report suggests. Along the Gulf Coast alone, more than 3,860 kilometers (2,400 miles) of major roadways will be permanently inundated if sea level rises about 1.2 meters (4 feet), as some studies estimate, Holdren said.

No part of the country will be spared, authors of the report say. In the Northwest, shrinking snowpacks will reduce summertime stream flow, straining water resources. In Alaska, summers will be hotter and drier, and as a result the number of wildfires and insect infestations will increase. In the Southeast, hurricanes and sea level rise will conspire to boost damages from storm surges. A large number of ecosystems, from trout-filled streams of the Northwest to coral reefs off the Florida coasts, will suffer, as will the tourism and recreation that they support, the report suggests.

“This report stresses that climate change has immediate and local impacts,” said Jane Lubchenco, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “It literally affects people in their backyards.”

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Climate Refugees: Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement

By Thomas Schueneman

A report released last week from Care International, the United Nations University, and Columbia University entitled In Search of Shelter: Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement (pdf)

The report states impacts of climate change are already causing migration and displacement among the most vulnerable human populations in the developing world and on low-lying island nations.

It isn't possible yet to assess the exact number of people that will be displaced by climate change, but the report asserts that by mid-century the scale of the migration will be greater than anything seen before in human history. With consequences for security and political stability reaching across the globe.

The global scale of the challenge therefore requires a global response to avert tragedy for billions of people, the report says.

Key findings (from the report's executive summary):

Climate change is already contributing to displacement and migration. Although economic and political factors are the dominant drivers of displacement and migration today, climate change is already having a detectable effect.

The breakdown of ecosystem-dependent livelihoods is likely to remain the premier driver of long-term migration during the
next two to three decades. Climate change will exacerbate this situation unless vulnerable populations, especially the poorest,
are assisted in building climate-resilient livelihoods.

Disasters continue to be a major driver of shorter-term displacement and migration. As climate change increases the frequency and intensity of natural hazards such as cyclones, floods, and droughts, the number of temporarily displaced people will rise. This will be especially true in countries that fail to invest now in disaster risk reduction and where the
official response to disasters is limited.

Seasonal migration already plays an important part in many families’ struggle to deal with environmental change. This is likely to become even more common, as is the practice of migrating from place to place in search of ecosystems that can still support rural livelihoods.

Glacier melt will affect major agricultural systems in Asia. As the storage capacity of glaciers declines, short-term flood risks increase. This will be followed by decreasing water flows in the medium- and long-term. Both consequences of glacier melt would threaten food production in some of the world’s most densely populated regions.

Sea level rise will worsen saline intrusions, inundation, storm surges, erosion, and other coastal hazards. The threat is particularly grave vis-à-vis island communities. There is strong evidence that the impacts of climate change will devastate subsistence and commercial agriculture on many small islands.

In the densely populated Ganges, Mekong, and Nile River deltas, a sea level rise of 1 meter could affect 23.5 million people and reduce the land currently under intensive agriculture by at least 1.5 million hectares. A sea level rise of 2 meters would impact an additional 10.8 million people and render at least 969 thousand more hectares of agricultural land unproductive.

Many people won’t be able to flee far enough to adequately avoid the negative impacts of climate change—unless they receive support. Migration requires resources (including financial, social, and political capital) that the most vulnerable populations frequently don’t have. Case studies indicate that poorer environmental migrants can find their destinations as precarious as the places they left behind.