Monday, September 15, 2008

Adapting to Climate Change: Can We Do It Again?

Dangerous climate change will not be prevented by reduced emissions. The damage is already done. For many vulnerable societies, the priority must be adaptation.
About 15 million years ago, dense African forests began drying up to be replaced by open savannah. Tree-dwelling primates eventually descended and found that the new environment suited walking.

Humanity has been adapting more or less successfully to climate changes ever since. After the last ice age ended between 10,000 and 12,000 years ago, agriculture and urban settlements developed and humans gradually colonized all but the most hostile environments. But our transformation of the environment is now coming back to haunt us. Man-made climate change is rapidly increasing temperatures and sea levels, altering rainfall patterns, and producing more violent storms.

“People and species have always adapted to changing climates,” say Kit Vaughan, a WWF advisor on climate change adaptation. “What is different is the speed and the scale of the change we are facing.”

The areas most at risk are small islands, dry areas in Africa, large river deltas in Asia, and polar regions. The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) identified 100 countries most vulnerable to climate change. The vast majority are poor countries, many crowded with people living on vulnerable floodplains or drought-prone badlands. Whether an individual, an economy, or a society can deal with the impacts of climate change depends on its adaptive capacity.

“Take Holland, it has a very strong economy, but is very low lying,” says Vaughan. “So it has high risks, but a very high adaptive capacity. They can build dikes and pumps. Bangladesh has an equally high level of risk, but a very small adaptive capacity.”

Adaptive capacity involves a complex combination of knowledge, institutions, technology, and money – ingredients that are scarce in poor countries. The IIED says these countries will need billions of dollars a year to adapt.

Without successful adaptation, however, the World Bank projects, the costs of climate change could be up to 100 billion dollars a year, pushing poor countries further into poverty. And the poorer they become, the less they can adapt. The IIED warns of “chronic famine or forced migration of tens of millions of people,” citing the example of Africa and Asia’s coastal areas and river deltas. (

Climate change could devastate Philippines: NASA scientist

MANILA (AFP) — Climate change could have a devastating impact on the Philippines, leading to widespread destruction of the country's flora and fauna and flooding the capital Manila, a NASA scientist warned here Friday.
The continued melting of Arctic ice caps, brought on by climate change, could cause sea levels to rise by seven metres (23 feet), said National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) physicist Josefino Comiso.
He said the country's fish stocks would be depleted and many species of plant and animal life would die because of the change in ocean temperatures caused by climate change.
Comiso said the slow melting of the ice caps should be more than "just an item of curiosity" for Filipinos.
"The Philippines is a country that is among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change," Comiso said.
"Slight changes in ocean temperature will lead to coral bleaching which will impact on the coral reefs on which the country's fishes feed."
Fish species are already starting to disappear from Philippine waters as delicate coral reefs, some of the biggest in the world, are destroyed in the archipelago, according to the international marine watchdog group Reef Check.
In a report last year the group said coral reefs were already suffering from severe bleaching.
Only five percent of the world's reefs -- which shelter and provide food for a vast number of marine species -- are still in pristine condition, according to Reef Check.
Comiso said the melting of the polar ice caps meant the sun's rays were no longer being reflected, but instead going into the Arctic waters and warming them up.
"Currents from the Arctic waters travel around the world to all the other oceans, including the waters surrounding the Philippines.
"Such warming would encourage the growth of algae in the world's oceans, which would gravely affect the world's food chain," he said.
He also noted that rising temperatures could reach a point where "various living creatures" would start to die in large numbers.
"Such temperatures would vary from species to species," he said.
"But the deaths of these creatures would gravely affect the food supply chain."
Comiso, a senior research scientist at a NASA centre that monitors the effects of global warming, made the warning after attending a conference of the Philippine Atmospheric Geophysical Astronomical Services Administration.
He said he was working on a project, to be funded by the Manila government weather station, to monitor the effects of global warming in the Philippines.
The project, which will be based in a state university outside Manila, will coordinate its research with NASA.
Comiso was part of the United States Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change which shared the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize with former US vice president Al Gore.