Climate Change Now and in the Future: Fast and Furious
The past week has seen a number of studies released looking at the current and future stability of global climate system. I sincerely hope they spur negotiators heading to COP 16 in Cancun, Mexico in December to put past differences behind them so we can get on with confronting with this massive challenge.
1) The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s released its Arctic Report Card: Update for 2010 (video) examining the impacts of Arctic warming on the atmosphere, sea ice, ocean, land, Greenland and ecosystems. The study’s key findings include that:
The Arctic climate is impacting mid-latitude weather, as seen in Winter 2009-2010
Summer sea ice conditions for the previous four years are well below levels in the 1980s and 1990s
Upper ocean temperatures are showing year-to-year variability without significant trends
Low winter snow accumulation + warm spring temperatures are leading to record low snow cover duration
Record setting high temperatures, ice melt, and glacier area loss
Rapid environmental change threatens to disrupt current natural cycles
Writing about the report card on the New York Times’ excellent Dot Earth blog, Andrew Revkin explains that:
… the frigid, untouchable Arctic etched in human history and lore is truly history, replaced by a region that is seeing long-term warming, reductions in sea ice and glaciers and shifts in ecosystems (not to mention intensifying economic activity).
And points to our role in the changes:
Researchers actively studying the trends almost uniformly conclude that, amid lots of year-to-year and decade-to-decade variability, the human-amplified greenhouse effect is playing a growing role.
2) A National Center for Atmospheric Research study examining the impact of climate change on global water supplies concluded that:
… warming temperatures associated with climate change will likely create increasingly dry conditions across much of the globe in the next 30 years, possibly reaching a scale in some regions by the end of the century that has rarely, if ever, been observed in modern times.
However, the study shows that the drought effects will be uneven:
… most of the western two-thirds of the United States will be significantly drier by the 2030s. Large parts of the nation may face an increasing risk of extreme drought during the century.
Other countries and continents that could face significant drying include:
- Much of Latin America, including large sections of Mexico and Brazil
- Regions bordering the Mediterranean Sea, which could become especially dry
- Large parts of Southwest Asia
- Most of Africa and Australia, with particularly dry conditions in regions of Africa
- Southeast Asia, including parts of China and neighboring countries
The study also finds that drought risk can be expected to decrease this century across much of Northern Europe, Russia, Canada, and Alaska, as well as some areas in the Southern Hemisphere. However, the globe’s land areas should be drier overall.
3) An analysis by insurer Swiss Re of the economic implications of climate change on the US Gulf Coast concluded that:
The Gulf Coast is vulnerable to growing environmental risks today with >$350 billion of cumulative expected losses by 2030
Economic losses will increase by 50-65 percent in the 2030 timeframe driven by
• economic growth and subsidence, as well as the impacts of climate change: Wind and storm surge damage from hurricanes drives significant losses in the Gulf Coast today. While the actual losses from extreme storms are uncertain in any given year, on average, the Gulf Coast faces annual losses of ~$14 billion today.
• Over the next 20 years, the Gulf Coast could face cumulative economic damages of some $350 billion: 7 percent of total capital investment for the Gulf Coast area and 3 percent of annual GDP will go towards reconstruction activities. In the 2030 timeframe, hurricane Katrina/Rita-type years of economic impact may become a once in every generation event as opposed to once every ~100 years today. The impact of severe hurricane in the near-term could also have a significant impact on any growth and reinvestment trajectory in the region.
4) Maplecroft, a global risk firm, has released its 2011 Climate Change Vulnerability Map ranking the “vulnerability of 170 countries to the impacts of climate change over the next 30 years”. A New Scientist article looking at the analysis identifies that:
… some of the world’s largest and fastest-growing economies, including India, as facing the greatest risks to their populations, ecosystems and business environments.
A New Scientist article looking at the analysis reports that:
… although Africa is often regarded as the most vulnerable continent… the teeming plains of Asia are at greater risk in the next 30 years. Ten of the 16 most vulnerable countries are in Asia.
In the words of the great Bob Dylan the times they are a-changin’…