Costs of climate change much bigger than we think and much greater for women

The first thing that caught my eye was a report commissioned by Democratic Senator Maria Cantrell and Republican Senator Susan Collins. The report was released by the bipartisan Government Accountability Office and recommends that the U.S federal government develop a plan to manage climate change risks. The report estimates that costs from climate change could balloon to $35 billion dollars per year within the next 30 to 40 years. This is not hard to believe when you consider what Valerie Volcovici writes in Time Magazine,

As Congress weighs aid packages for U.S. victims of deadly hurricanes and wildfires that struck in 2017, with losses already estimated at more than $300 billion.

The graphic above shows the billion dollar events that the U.S. has experienced this year alone. Economic damages are not limited to domestic enterprises like the California wine industry Latin American scientists recently found that changing climate could significantly impact grain production and coffee crops in the region. Raise your hand if you drink coffee.

Picture of coffee beans taken at a plantation in El Boqueron, just northwest of San Salvador, on October 13, 2017. Coffee crops in Latin America, one of the most appreciated products in the region, could become victims of climate change. A study by Latin American scientists projected that the increase in temperature and changes in rainfall would affect between 73% and 88% of the land suitable for grain production in the region. / AFP PHOTO / Marvin RECINOS (Photo credit should read MARVIN RECINOS/AFP/Getty Images)

Former conservative Congressman Bob Inglis (R-SC) and college student Sam Ressin recently wrote in an editorial,

The challenge of climate change and the principles of conservatism are not mutually exclusive.

Congressman Inglis has often remarked that it is actually sound conservative principle to consider (not ignore) risks associated with climate change. The military and businesses evaluate all risks when considering their future operations rather than dismiss them.

Speaking of dismissive actions, the second thing that caught my eye this week was that Nicaragua officially signed on to the Paris Climate Agreement. This leaves only the United States and Syria on the outside looking in. Nicaragua originally did not sign not because of skepticism but because they did not feel the deal went far enough. I have written in Forbes on what the Paris Climate Agreement is and why it is so important.

These two stories probably did not make it to the average citizen because climate change coverage and discussion are woefully under-reported. The graph below is a Google Trend for the past year using the search “climate change.” Do you know what the peak is? The coverage and activity centered around the Trump Administration announcing that it was pulling the U.S. out of the Paris agreement. More consistent (rather than episodic or negative) coverage and discussion are required at all levels.

Dr. Marshall Shepherd, Dir., Atmospheric Sciences Program/GA Athletic Assoc. Distinguished Professor (Univ of Georgia), Host, Weather Channel’s Sunday Talk Show, Weather (Wx) Geeks, 2013 AMS President

New Scientist, Oct 2017 We all get poorer every time a climate disaster strikes

Long-term economic effects of global warming could be far greater than thought, making many countries poorer and hurting even those of us spared direct impacts

No cheap fix / MEGA

IT IS hard to keep up. First, Hurricane Harvey deluged Houston, then Irma left a trail of destruction through the Caribbean and Florida, followed by Maria. All the while, wildfires have been raging in California and elsewhere.

Things got even more extraordinary when Ophelia turned into a major hurricane further east in the Atlantic than any other storm on record has. As it hit Ireland, it blew smoke from wildfires in Portugal over the UK, turning the skies apocalyptic red.

And while these events dominated Western media, there is plenty going on elsewhere. In August, unprecedented flooding in India and Bangladesh affected 40 million people.

“The impacts of climate change are no longer subtle,” says Michael Mann of Penn State University. “The last month and a half has been an exclamation point.”

These disasters are causing much suffering and misery. They are also hurting countries’ economies, which has an indirect effect on everyone, even those outside the disaster paths.

Almost every nation agrees that we can’t afford not to limit further warming. That’s why they signed up to the Paris climate agreement. But just how bad will the effect on the global economy be, and how much should countries spend now to limit the economic fallout? Some recent studies suggest we are wildly underestimating the long-term damage– perhaps by a factor of 100.

“It is estimated that hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria could cost the US over $400 billion”

The headline figures are bad enough. It is estimated that hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria could cost the US alone over $400 billion.

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The female face of climate change

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There used to be a time when the lines connecting climate change and gender were non-existent or blurred. People hardly saw the interplay, and any mention of gender in the deluge of epidemic and disasters related to climate change was seen as a feeble attempt to foist gender on every discussion. With more research, social progress, and available data from different parts of the world, it has become clear that there is no separating climate change from gender inequality. It is a failing this discovery came late, yet it is not too late to act. A stunning statistic I stumbled upon during my studies on environmental justice and climate change impacts on humanity precipitated this piece. It reveals that women are 14 more times likely to die than men during a disaster. This is an alarming demography, if you consider that 68 per cent of all disasters are related to climate change. This supports the contention that climate change affects women in particular, when broken down into demographic factors.

Women comprise the majority of agricultural workers all over the world, and even more so in Nigeria where agriculture is mainstream, making them more vulnerable to diseases that result from extreme weather conditions, and in particular, those exacerbated by heat waves, extreme rainfall, and rising humidity. Accordingly, women are more exposed than men to mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, and chikungunya, which they come into contact with through the duties of water collection and food harvesting. The physical pressure a female body undergoes during pregnancy and childbirth is also vital to consider in this context: children are more likely to be at risk of low birth weight, pre-term deliveries and stillbirth during heat waves because the core body temperature of pregnant women is ordinarily higher than normal and they cannot thermo-regulate like every other person.

Water scarcity is a grave subject, and the impact of climate change on it is significant. Such scarcity means that women – for it is often, if not always, women – have to travel further distances to collect clean water for their homes, which has a considerable carry-on effect: a woman who spends hours daily travelling to collect water is unable to use that time in any other way, which prevents her from using her time more productively to get an education, gain a skill, or become involved in activities that could increase her social development. Essentially, like a game of musical chairs, this continues the cycle of poverty and inequality, two factors that enable or disempower the female gender’s involvement in society. The role of women in domestic work including taking care of children, elders, and the sick, reduces their mobility too, thereby increasing their vulnerability to sudden climate-related disaster. For instance, some women, due to cultural limitations, may need to seek the consent of a male adult to relocate from certain places to avoid impending or actual disasters. And from a pragmatic perspective, some forms of traditional clothing may inhibit women’s movement – both physically and from a moralistic standpoint. Women who have lost clothing in disasters may be less likely to access food and medical aid because they are unable to enter public areas.

This is compounded by the fact that women make up the majority of the world’s- and Nigeria’s -poor and are more dependent than men on natural resources for their livelihood, yet policies for land ownership and the social structure that determines access for women are poised against them. Moreover, studies show that women are often excluded from government-run climate change adaptation training for farmers and fishers, despite women constituting 45-80 per cent of this group. Thus, women, especially in rural areas, and the livelihood they eke out for themselves are threatened by climate change, because they lack the knowledge for adaptation and mitigation. Climate-related disasters are also responsible for high mortality and vulnerability levels of women. 83 per cent of single mothers were unable to return home after Hurricane Katrina for a full two years after the storm. In the 2004 Asian tsunami, women in many villages in Aceh, Indonesia, and in parts of India accounted for over 70 per cent of the dead. An estimated 87 percent of unmarried women and 100 per cent of married women lost their main source of income when Cyclone Nargis hit the Ayeyarwaddy Delta in Myanmar in 2008. Even in post-disaster refugee and Internally-Displaced Person (IDP) camps, women and girls are exposed to higher risks than men – especially during conflict – over scarce resources, and are also susceptible to greater likelihood of sexual abuse and domestic violence.

This is the female face of climate change, and it is not looking good, to say the least. On the bright side – our society neglects, sadly – women are effective actors in both mitigation and adaptation. They often have a strong body of knowledge and expertise that can be used to create and implement workable strategies suitable for their communities. This has been displayed in countries like Brazil, Mali, Bangladesh, and India, where women are constantly developing solutions to climate change disasters. It is axiomatic to recall that women leaders initiated the Paris Agreement adopted at the 21st Conference of Parties on Climate Change (COP 21). Christiana Figueres, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC Executive Secretary, during COP21, spent decades working towards an ambitious and equitable final text. New Executive Secretary, Patricia Espinosa, pushed it further at the Conference in Marrakesh. Ambassador Laurence Tubiana, French ambassador for international climate negotiations at COP 21, and Minister Hakima El Haite, Delegate Minister in Charge of Environment for Morocco also encouraged climate action from state and non-state actors, with a specific mandate to amplify the voices of women in the UNFCCC process. A study of 130 countries revealed that when women are in government positions, they are more likely to sign on to international treaties that are taking action against climate change.

Rather than seeing the domestic role of women in Nigeria as a black mark against their capabilities to do anything else, we must recognise its importance. Women are often expected to be the stewards of natural and household resources, which can often position them well to contribute to livelihood strategies. Ergo, women should also be at the table in making these important decisions, both locally and internationally. The voice of women should be heard as it is their wellbeing affected the most. Land, environmental and climate policies have to be revamped to be inclusive; granting women access to education, life skills, information, resources and disaster aversion knowledge to reduce their vulnerability. The government should take a serious approach towards empowering women to be climate ready, re-organise social structures for more inclusiveness of the female gender and also mainstream gender-responsive approaches in climate change strategies. By doing this, we would simultaneously improve chances of climate resilience and ensure gender equality while keeping in stride with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Caleb, a lawyer and environmental enthusiast, wrote from Lagos.

WHY THE IPCC’S NEW FOCUS ON MOUNTAIN CLIMATE CHANGE IS A BIG DEAL: Better science coordination will help mountain communities prepare for global warming. By , Pacific Standard Magazine, 25 Oct 2017Mountain researcher Chris Landry, former director of the Colorado Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, checks climate measuring instruments at a research station at 11,000 feet elevation in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

Mountain researcher Chris Landry, former director of the Colorado Center for Snow and Avalanche Studies, checks climate measuring instruments at a research station at 11,000 feet elevation in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado.

(Photo: Bob Berwyn)

Public safety officials were partly prepared when the biggest landslide ever recorded in Switzerland roared through a mountain village in late August, killing eight people. For years, geologists had been monitoring the impacts of global warming in the surrounding mountains, and, in late July, they issued a warning that a big chunk of the towering Piz Cengalo could break away and threaten the town of Bondo.

But nobody was ready for the size and scope of the slide, which started near the top of the 11,000-foot peak and traveled more than a mile and 8,000 vertical feet to the valley floor, killing eight climbers, destroying a major highway, and surrounding the town with piles of sludge and rubble more than 30 feet deep in places.

Scientists, who are still investigating the slide, say it began because an unusual amount of water loosened and lubricated the rocky debris, enabling it to move faster and farther than expected. And since there was no exceptional rainfall, they suspect that global warming simply melted veins of ice and soil that have been frozen in the mountain since the last ice age, 10,000 years ago.

The Swiss town in question was evacuated safely, thanks to the extensive monitoring, but global warming is expected to increase the size and frequency of such slides in mountains around the world, including many places that aren’t even aware of the danger and lack the resources for monitoring and early warning systems.

Mountain scientists hope that will change in the future, as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change starts to focus specifically on climate risks in mountain communities with a report to come in 2019, then included in the IPCC’s next global assessment report, due in 2022.

“We’re behind the eight-ball when it comes to protecting mountain communities from landslides, glacier avalanches, and outburst floods,” says University of British Columbia mountain scientist Michele Koppes. The IPCC process is laborious, but the end results can help direct resources where they are needed, she says. “All these things affect a lot of people. We need to spell out the human dimensions of climate change, and the new IPCC report will do that for mountain areas,” says Koppes, who has recently been studying one of the newest identified risks: tsunamis in coastal fjords triggered by thawing mountainsides that tumble into the sea.

A digger clears rocks and debris on the outskirts of the village of Bondo in the Swiss Alps following a landslide on August 25th, 2017.

A digger clears rocks and debris on the outskirts of the village of Bondo in the Swiss Alps following a landslide on August 25th, 2017.

(Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP/Getty Images)

For the IPCC report, an international team of scientists will evaluate the best available options for protecting mountain communities from global warming threats. It will also take a close look at risks to societies that depend on mountain snow and ice for water for drinking, agriculture, and power production. The team will further investigate connections between runoff from mountains and coastal ecosystems and sea-level rise.

What happens in the high country also affects millions of people who live far away from the peaks because so much of the world’s water originates in mountain areas. If snowfall declines in the Rocky Mountains, 40 million people who rely on the Colorado River will feel the changes, and the same holds true in Asia and South America, where hundreds of millions in lowland farming areas and cities depend on runoff from the Himalaya and Andes, respectively.

The aim is to identify “guiding principles for climate-change adaptation plans that pay attention to both human well-being and ecological resilience,” says UBC researcher Graham McDowell, who is studying how communities in the the Nepal Himalaya, Peruvian Andes, and Alaska Coast Mountains are responding to climate change.

“Policy decisions get made based on what’s reported by the IPCC, which is the benchmark from which a lot of climate policy is made. It will probably lead to enlarged discussion about mountain focused climate policy,” McDowell says.

A systematic approach using data from many different areas of science—botany, geology, sociology—has been generally lacking in the mountain research community, says Vienna-based researcher Harald Pauli, who heads GLORIA, a worldwide high-mountain monitoring program.

A concerted global effort to track climate change in the mountains could finally confirm whether mountains are—as suggested by some studies—warming twice as fast as the global average.

“If that is proven to be the case, it’s really significant,” Pauli says. “It’s analogous to amplified warming the Arctic, and it redoubles concerns about how sensitive the overall climate system is to greenhouse gases.”

When it comes to protecting communities and adapting to warming, the IPCC report will be an opportunity to learn about what approaches work in which types of ecosystems.

“A key insight from the human side is that we probably can’t find a silver bullet. There’s no single answer for every location. We need to identify the specific ways people and communities are vulnerable, and we need to be considerate of local context when we’re talking about solutions,” Pauli says. “And we need to realize this is important for all of us, even if we live in cities. What happens in the mountains doesn’t stay there. It affects the rest of the world as well.”

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