Image Credits: Michael D. @Unsplash.

Climate change leads to an increase in extreme weather events and now scientists are working on ways to predict and prepare for them. New research on megastorms provides tools for forecasting their direction and intensity, thus helping communities better prepare for when they hit.


Predicting how extreme weather events such as megastorms will travel and evolve could help save countless lives as it gives communities time to better prepare. With the likelihood of these events increasing due to climate change it is important that effective forecasting systems are developed.

Although it is hard to link single weather events to climate change, there is a scientific consensus that a warming world does make extreme weather events more likely. What is commonly referred to as “extreme event attribution” is the study of the relationship between climate change and weather patterns. When talking about climate change it is important to identify the difference between single weather events and long term trends that give concrete evidence of climate change.

“The association of climate change to single events is tricky” explains Enrico Scoccimarro, Senior Scientist at CMCC, whose main research activity is to investigate the relationship between tropical cyclones and the climate. When talking about extreme weather events, Scoccimarro highlights the importance of drawing conclusions from general trends over long periods of time, rather than identifying evidence for climate change in single weather events. In a recent paper co-authored by Scoccimarro, Heavy precipitation events over East Africa in a changing climatechanges in weather patterns are identified indicating a probable rise in extreme weather events and therefore providing valuable information for the region’s climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts.

What are the causes?

Research by Carbon Brief indicates that anthropogenic factors are behind the rise in extreme weather events. By looking at over 300 peer-reviewed papers that study how anthropogenic factors have raised the probability of wildfires, hurricanes, typhoons, flooding, and heatwaves occurring.

“Through the attribution studies that have been published so far, scientists found that human-caused climate change has altered the likelihood or severity of an extreme weather event in 78% of cases studied (69% made more severe or likely and 9% made less so)”, reads the Carbon Brief article. Findings that are corroborated by the National Climate Assessment, which also demonstrates that the amount of these events in the USA has increased in both number and strength.

In Japan, similar trends are also visible. Atsushi Goto, Tokyo Climate Center expert for climate change, explains that: “There’s no statistically significant long-term trend in terms of the total annual rainfall amount in Japan, but when we focus on extreme rainfall events, we see a significant long-term increase in the annual number of days with more than 200mm of rain, which we predict will continue steadily or increase more rapidly. The frequency of localized torrential rain events (over 50mm per hour) has also increased since 1975. On the other hand, the annual number of days with precipitation has decreased. This trend indicates the risk of drought will increase in the future, as well as that of landslides and floods. Furthermore, the number of extremely hot days, with a maximum temperature of 35 degrees Celsius is virtually certain to have increased, largely since the mid-1990s.”

Can they be predicted?

Seeing as extreme weather events are only likely to increase in the near future it is important to better prepare for them. This also includes developing a better understanding of when and how they will hit. Japan has recently had a rapid succession of typhoons, with typhoon Haishen striking the country shortly after Maysak. Forecasting systems played an essential role in determining the evacuation of 1.8 million people. “The Japan Metereogical Agency (JMA) provides typhoon forecasts for the next five days – this is the limitation of technology. In the case of Haishen, JMA issued a strong alert five-six days before”, explains Atsushi Goto.

Our results have important implications for nowcasting of severe weather in the Sahel and potentially in other MCS hotspot regions of the world.

UKCEH study

This 5-day warning system allowed for communities to prepare and evacuate; limiting the amount of damage caused. Ensuring a predictive capacity for all types of storms is therefore imperative.

These predictions are not just limited to the pacific region. In the Mediterranean, researchers at the CMCC produced two high-resolution forecasting models that were able to simulate the trajectory of Medicane Ianos, a cyclone that produced intense mesoscale vortices over the Mediterranean Sea and possessed a tropical-like structure even if remaining smaller in size. The forecasting system provided reliable and innovative solutions for coastal storm surge alerts with several days warning, confirming its potential as an effective tool for dealing with similar phenomena in the future.

New research by the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (UKCEH), published in the PNAS journal, focuses on predicting storms in the African Sahel region and has made groundbreaking developments that could be applicable elsewhere. The research concentrates on mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) which are a type of complex and largescale “megastorms” that can last for several hours or more but are not quite on the scale of extratropical cyclones. These megastorms affect large parts of the world and can wreak significant damage as it is considered impossible to predict their direction and intensity.

However, the UKCEH study has made significant links between land surface conditions and their impact on the direction and intensity of megastorms after they have formed. This will give scientists extra tools for predicting extreme weather events with more accuracy, thus enabling alert systems for communities across the Sahel region to give up to 6 hour’s notice of an impending storm.  

Lead author Dr Cornelia Klein of UKCEH explains: “It is well known that heat provides thunderstorms with great energy, but it was commonly thought that once they are moving, they were not affected by the state of the ground over which they traveled. However, we found that drier soils increased the intensity of an MCS mid-storm, affecting the amount of rainfall they release and also where they travel. Conversely, we found storms were often weakened over moister soils.”

“Our finding means that, for the first time, we can predict, from satellite-observed surface conditions, how these extremely large West African storms may behave when, for example, they approach a city. A more effective alert system will enable local people to take action to protect themselves as well as their homes, livestock and possessions, plus plan emergency responses.”

Image Credits: Photo @SteffenMalskaer, NSIDC, (University of Maine Climate Reanalyzer.

Extreme weather is becoming increasingly common. Most recently, a record breaking heatwave in Greenland has gone viral thanks to the image of sled dogs wading through water where there should be ice. However, relating single weather events to climate change is problematic and, although these instances can act as indicators of a trend and eye-openers for public opinion, it is important to distinguish between single weather events and climate change.


A photo taken in Greenland by Steffen Olsen from the Centre for Ocean and Ice at the Danish Meteorological Institute, depicts the surreal image of sled dogs crossing a wide expanse of melt water where there should be ice. A captivating image that appears to show the dogs walking on water, quickly becoming a banner for media coverage on climate change.

The photo was taken as researchers worked to recover their monitoring instruments and weather stations in North West Greenland. In the process they ran into a concentration of melt water that had accumulated because the ice, which in this area forms thickly each winter, has few cracks and therefore cannot drain through.

By now we have all already read about this story, as the viral image reached social media feeds and the front pages of major newspapers around the globe. Many have taken this as proof of climate change and an indication that global warming is a shocking and irrefutable reality. However, the reality is not that simple and there are two important considerations to be made.

Firstly, it is important to state that this is not an unprecedented event. Although unusual for this time of year, as a particularly strong heatwave hit Greenland last week, the formation of melt water above sea ice with low permeability is a regular occurrence, usually in late June or July.

In fact, Ruth Mottram, climate scientist at the Danish Meteorological Institute, claims that the role of global warming in this phenomenon is not a given as it can “still [be considered] a weather-driven extreme event, so it’s hard to pin it down to climate change alone”.

Equating the picture of melt water to proof of climate change is a simplification that can become problematic and opens climate change debate to easy critiques. For example, a side effect of the heatwave in Greenland has been lower than average temperatures in North America, whereby the cold air normally contained in that region is rushing into the mid-latitudes — like a fridge door left ajar.

This highlights the need to explain the relationship between weather driven events and climate change. Enrico Scoccimarro, Senior Scientist at CMCC, whose main research activity is to investigate the relationship between tropical cyclones and the climate, when interviewed explained that: “the association of climate change to single events is tricky”. As an expert in extreme weather events, Scoccimarro highlights the importance of arriving at conclusions by looking at general trends over long periods of time, rather than pointing at single weather events as proof of a broader truth, as this can often be misleading. An excellent example can be found in his research on tropical storms whereby: “In general we know that  […] there will be less tropical cyclones because of climate change […] this said when they do form, the availability of energy for the intensification of the process is greater […] therefore less cyclones but more intense ones.” Another clear example of how we must analyse the effects of climate change by looking at the bigger picture rather than focusing on single events.


Temperature difference from normal on Friday, as analyzed by the Global Forecast System model. (University of Maine Climate Reanalyzer).

When reporting on climate change, it is important to distinguish between weather and climate, indicators and proof, short term and long term; thus maintaining scientific rigour whilst at the same time making information accessible to the broader public. After all climate describes what the weather is like over a long period of time in a specific area.

That said, there is another important message contained in Steffen’s viral photograph: if we want to raise public awareness and therefore propel change at the grassroots level, then we need images and words that are able to move people, grab their attention and pull at their heartstrings. Although his photograph is not proof of climate change, it is an image that speaks a thousand words on the research being done in the area: weather satellites monitoring sea ice in the Arctic since 1979 indicate that current ice coverage is the lowest on record for mid-June. Furthermore, sea ice loss over the northern coast of Alaska has been “unprecedented” according to Rick Thoman, a climatologist based in Fairbanks. These are phenomenon that can be ascribed to climate change as they analyze the long term patterns of weather in the region. The simple image of dogs walking on water where there should be ice can help stimulate the viewers imagination on what would otherwise be, excuse the pun, “dry facts”.

If images can raise awareness in public opinion about the dire and undeniable situation that our environment faces due to anthropogenic climate change, then it is important that they be shared. At the same time it is also essential to put them in context and explain the true complexity of the climate crisis.

Image Credits: Luca Bravo @Unsplash.

Natural resources are neither free nor boundless. The time has come to challenge our conception of the relationship between the economy, society, and the environment and how we measure well-being and social progress. A new system takes the contributions of nature into account when analyzing economic development. It can be a game-changer for decision making processes.


Conservationists and environment officials hope new UN standards that also account for the value of natural capital can help governments slow the rapid decline of plant and animal species worldwide.

The UN has adopted a new system that takes the contributions of nature into account when analysing economic development. The new framework — the System of Environmental-Economic Accounting—Ecosystem Accounting (SEEA EA) — was adopted by the UN Statistical Commission and is a major step in leaving behind the supremacy of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as the universal indicator of wealth and prosperity, which has dominated economic reporting for over half a century.

More than just GDP

GDP is the most commonly used metric to rank the development and wealth of countries. GDP amounts to the total monetary value of all the services and finished goods produced inside a country over a given period of time and hence gives an indication of the country’s economic condition. However, this focuses on monetary value and ignores other valuable indicators such as happiness, human wellbeing and environmental conditions.  

Experts indicate that although GDP is extremely effective in accounting for the value of goods it fails to show the interdependency of nature and the economy and the impacts of said value on nature, which can be anything from the deterioration of water and air quality to the loss of forests.

Other indicators have been developed to account for these shortcomings. Some examples include the Human Development Index (HDI) – which is a combined statistic of education, life expectancy, and per-capita income – and the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) – which measures the prosperity of a country by addressing economic, ecological and social factors that are not included in GDP.

However, in the face of the continuing climate crisis the UN has proposed a new framework that focuses on the environment and how economic development can either contribute to or impinge on the surrounding environment.

Counting nature and the economy together and in the same framework “will allow us to see how our economic activities affect nature, and how the presence of nature affects us as individuals, societies and species,” says Elliot Harris, UN Chief Economist, also adding that by doing so, we can help influence change “to achieve prosperity without damaging or destroying nature in the process”. 

A view that has been supported by experts. In February 2021, Cambridge University economist Partha Dasgupta released a review on the economics of biodiversity, claiming there is need to ascribe economic value to ecosystems and the service that they provide through a recognition that economic activity is “embedded” in nature.

“We take for granted all that nature provides,” claims Brian O’Donnell, director of the Campaign for Nature, an organisation that works with scientists, indigenous people and conservation groups.

A new framework

The SEEA EA framework was adopted by the UN Statistical Commission and represents a key step in the direction of including natural capital such as forests, wetlands and other ecosystems in economic reporting and therefore influencing measures of wealth and development.

With the adoption by the U.N. Statistical Commission, the new accounting system is a recognition of a global push to protect the natural world and respond to the ongoing climate crisis.

UN Secretary-General António Guterres commented the adoption of the new economic and environmental framework: “This is a historic step forward towards transforming how we view and value nature. We will no longer be heedlessly allowing environmental destruction and degradation to be considered economic progress.”

Likewise, Inger Andersen, UNEP Executive Director claimed that: “This is a major step forward. The new framework can be a game changer in decision-making.  By highlighting the contribution of nature, we now have a tool that allows us to properly view and value nature. It can help us bring about a rapid and lasting shift toward sustainability for both people and the environment.” 

 

In simple terms, the U.N. accounting framework helps measure two key things in physical and monetary terms: the “stock” of nature, such as the extent of forest cover and wetlands, and its “flows” – the benefits derived from nature, including water purification and carbon sequestration.

By way of example, forests play a role in providing communities with clean water, serving as natural water filters with trees, plants and other characteristics, such as soil depth, that help absorb nutrient pollution like nitrogen and phosphorous before it can flow into streams, rivers and lakes. Factoring these contributions into their value will mean that they are given a much higher economic standing and therefore contribute to their conservation.

“Nature, and the contribution of these ecosystems to our prosperity and well-being, will finally be reflected in our balance sheets,” explains Harris.

Already in use

The United Nations reports that over 34 countries are already including “natural capital” in their measurements on an experimental basis, some of which have even brought environmental benefits into their decision-making in a more significant way. An example is New Zealand’s “well-being budget”, which has a specific goal to transition to a sustainable economy.

“What this does is actually start to define what we mean by natural capital more clearly,” says Mark Gough, chief executive of the Capitals Coalition.

According to a study published in the Nature Sustainability journal benefits of preserving nature, such as reducing carbon emissions, producing water and boosting resilience to extreme weather, actually exceed the value of exploiting it.

The study looks at the monetary worth of each site’s “ecosystem services”, such as carbon storage and flood protection, as well as likely dividends from converting it for the production of goods such as crops and timber.

In one example, if Nepal’s Shivapuri Nagarjun National Park were turned from forest into farmland it would create an $11-million annual deficit by cutting carbon storage 60% and water quality 88%, researchers estimate.

The SEEA EA is already in use and has been deployed in a variety of policies and decision making processes that support the global sustainability agenda. In Indonesia, carbon accounts have been used to assess the impacts of changes in peatland ecosystems and in South Africa, ecosystem extent and condition accounts for rivers have informed the National Water and Sanitation Master Plan.

The new framework is important not only for the value that it ascribes to nature but also in the questions that it raises for decision makers. It challenges our conception of the relationship between economy, society, and the environment and how we measure well-being and social progress.


Image Credits: Deepak Kumar @Unsplash, UNwomen.org.

Women are more exposed to the effects of climate change and at the same time less represented in climate negotiations and national environmental ministries. Working towards gender equality can also lead to more effective environmental decision making and action, accelerating global efforts to achieve development goals.


Not only is gender equality a fundamental human right but it is also a pillar of creating a sustainable global system. Enshrined in the UN’s SDG 5 – Gender Equality – is a recognition that investing in environmental sustainability goes hand in hand with achieving global goals related to gender equality and vice-versa.

Overall, climate change has a greater impact on those members of society that are the most vulnerable and poor. In particular, those that depend on natural resources for their daily survival are often exposed to the effects of natural hazards and extreme weather events which are increasing in frequency and intensity due to climate change.

This has profound repercussions on discourses concerning gender equality as women make up 70% of the world’s poor, fill the majority of the world’s informal work and are highly active in economic sectors that are vulnerable to climate change – such as agriculture.

gender-equality-womens-rights-in-review-key-facts-and-figures-en
Source: UNwomen.org

 
Although women are underrepresented in decision-making processes concerning environmental issues there are numerous studies that reveal how participation and leadership by women in environmental and conservation efforts can increase women’s political, economic, social and personal empowerment.

Furthermore, new research published in Nature Communications, and analysed by Carbon Brief, reveals that empowering women through improved healthcare, education, and representation in government has the potential to facilitate the way in which societies adapt to climate change.

When talking to Carbon Brief, Dr Astghik Mavisakalyan, a principal research fellow at Curtin University explains that there is a mutually beneficial relationship between gender equality and increased climate resilience. By making gains in one there is an improvement in the other which generates a “virtuous circle of sustainable and equitable development”.

Gender equality and climate change 

Although it is undeniable that the last few decades have seen progress in gender equality – more girls accessing adequate education, fewer girls being forced to marry early, more women in positions of leadership, and legal actions to consolidate gender equality – it is also clear that systemic crises, such as the ongoing pandemic and climate change, lay bare the extent of inequalities. 

The pandemic has exacerbated existing differences and threatens women and girls across a variety of issues – from health and the economy to security and social protection. In fact, the UN considers that the COVID-19 pandemic could reverse progress made on gender equality and women’s rights by exacerbating existing inequalities in the realms of health, the economy, security and social protection.

In a similar fashion, the impacts of climate change also threaten to set back women more than men. Women are more likely to be involved in the provision and production of food, fetching of water and sourcing of fuel for cooking. These activities become increasingly challenging in a changing climate where extreme weather events – such as droughts flooding and heatwaves – impact the world’s poor in a more pronounced fashion. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 70% of the world’s poor are women.

Across the globe, women experience more barriers to owning land and their access to positions of power in political and financial decision making spheres are curtailed, which – amongst other things – prevents them from taking more active roles in climate change adaptation and mitigation initiatives.

The repercussions of gender inequality on the environment are a global concern. “Women have the knowledge and understanding of what is needed to adapt to changing environmental conditions and to come up with practical solutions. But they are still a largely untapped resource,” states the IUCN in its Gender and Climate Change brief.

Women and climate diplomacy

Until around 2008 the UN climate change negotiations included no specific references to gender issues and it was only in 2010 that the UN General Assembly unanimously voted to create a single body tasked with accelerating progress in achieving gender equality and women’s empowerment.

This has led to a shift in the understanding of the profound links between gender equality and responding to climate change. Just by way of example, the Lima Work Programme on Gender – adopted at COP20 in 2014 – promotes gender balance and achieving gender-responsive climate policy, and at COP21 in Paris a gender-responsive outcome has set the standard for implementation of the accord.

Although parties to the UNFCCC have officially recognized the importance of involving women and men equally in climate negotiations and the development and implementation of national climate policies – by establishing a dedicated agenda item under the Convention addressing issues of gender and climate change and through inclusion in the overarching text in the Paris Agreement – there is still much progress to be made.

In terms of national environmental ministries led by women, the statistics are far from positive. In 2015, the IUCN’s Environment and Gender Information data estimated that only 12% of 881 national environmental ministries (e.g., those related to natural resources, water, forests, etc.) across 193 countries were led by women.

Although there has been progress over the last five years, whereby women now hold 15% of top jobs as ministers of environmental sectors and in 46 countries with forest-specific ministries, 18% are headed by women, and 11% of water or irrigation ministries are headed by women.

Gender equality leads to stronger climate action

Research indicates that, recognising the important contributions of women as decision makers, stakeholders, educators, carers and experts across sectors and at all levels can lead to successful, long-term solutions to climate change.

Setting in motion systems that allow women to put their capabilities to the service of climate goals can help create effective climate change adaptation and mitigation outcomesl. Not only have women demonstrated to be leading the way towards more equitable and sustainable solutions to climate change, but across sectors, women’s innovations and expertise have had transformational effects on lives and livelihoods, and increased climate resilience and overall well-being.

In West Africa, women have shown that their capability for developing and implementing solutions to increase sustainable livelihoods and reduce conflicts, whereas other examples reveal that women are more likely than men to use climate smart agriculture methods as a countermeasure to climate change.

Furthermore, research indicates that when women are part of decision-making processes on land management, the groups in question conserve more. “The big takeaway here is that when it comes to environmental conservation, the presence of women matters,” says lead author of the study Nathan Cook, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Institute of Behavioral Science.

These contributions must also extend into the scientific, business and political decision-making fields for there to be real gender equality and true environmental gains. Just as with conservation, past studies demonstrate that countries with more female members of parliament are more likely to pass environmental treaties and promote conservation. Still further, there is a significant amount of research that demonstrate the benefits of gender equality in science.

Overall gender inequality is believed to have a negative impact on the resilience and adaptive capacity of women, families and communities. At the same time, there is growing evidence that it also impacts climate change mitigation and adaptiation. Linking gender equality with environmental agendas can provide a significant boost to sustainable and equitable development.


Image Credits: Mike Swigunski @ Unsplash.

Urban centres hold the majority of the world’s population, yet these man-made environments are often devoid of green spaces. Adequately planned urban greening can not only improve living conditions for city dwellers but also help countries meet their broader climate goals.


Whereas in the 1960s approximately one-third of the world’s population lived in urban areas, today this share has risen to over 55% and continues to increase. As more and more people gravitate towards urban areas it is important to re-imagine how these environments are constructed so that they are better adapted to a changing climate, provide adequate living conditions and also contribute to climate change mitigation.

If properly planned, designed and developed, green spaces deliver multiple ecosystem services, making urban ecosystem more resilient to climate challenges and contributing to the transition to a low carbon and circular economy

Paola Mercogliano, CMCC researcher

“Green spaces play a crucial role in enhancing both adaptation and mitigation in urban areas, contributing to achieve the goals of EU Green Deal and fostering the transition towards a more sustainable future,” explains Paola Mercogliano CMCC researcher and head of the REMHI division.

The first step in implementing effective urban greening projects revolves around adequate planning and an understanding of our climate through scientific research that can predict climate trends and the likelihood of extreme weather events in specific localities. “If properly planned, designed and developed, green spaces deliver multiple ecosystem services, making urban ecosystem more resilient to climate challenges and contributing to the transition to a low carbon and circular economy,” continues Mercogliano.

Why go green?

As urban areas expand, they chew up green spaces and replace them with artificial surfaces. This has negative repercussions on both the local and global environment. In contrast, research indicates that urban green areas contribute to climate change adaptation by providing a wide range of ecosystem services and at the same time also mitigate climate change due to their carbon capturing and storing potential.

“There is solid evidence on how adaptation benefits from regulation services, with a reduction of near‐surface and surface temperatures through evapotranspiration and shadowing effects and an improvement in water quality (filtering and treatment) and quantity (peak flow and volume reduction). Green areas also contribute to climate change mitigation because of their ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere and to store it in vegetation,” explains Carmela Apreda, architect and member of the REMHI division’s team dedicated to working on urban adaption.

Yet the benefits of urban greening are not just limited to the environment and climate change mitigation goals. “Apart from adapting cities to climate change through increasing urban forest canopy cover and vegetation in general, research has also shown that people are mentally, physically, and socially healthier when they live in greener environments,” outlines Cecil Konijnendijk, Professor of Urban Forestry at the University of British Columbia, and director of the Nature Based Solutions Institute.

“Leading medical journals have been publishing studies about the contributions of urban nature to our health and wellbeing. People who live near green spaces are more physically active and healthier,” he continues.

As an expert in urban forestry Konijnendijk has developed a new guideline for urban forestry and urban greening: the 3-30-300 rule. “This rule focuses on the crucial contributions of urban forests and other urban nature to our health and wellbeing. It recognises that we have to consider many different aspects of the urban forest in order to be successful. It also addresses the need for urban forests to percolate into our living environments,” he explains on the IUCN website.

Not only do green areas such as parks have positive impacts on the physical and mental wellbeing of city dwellers, they are also attributed with boosting creativity, promoting social interactions and in some cases have even been linked with improving real estate value and lowering crime rates in adjacent neighbourhoods.

The Urban heat island

One of the most studied phenomenon related to the benefits of urban greening is their impact on city temperatures. The phenomenon whereby urban temperatures remain higher than their surrounding areas is known as the urban heat island effect which has become a growing concern for city dwellers and planners.

The urban heat island is caused by two main factors: heat emissions connected to human activities (such as using cars and air conditioning), and the heat retention of artificial surfaces like cement or asphalt, compared to natural ones like forests or fields.

“Adapting cities to climate change, e.g., through cooling is widely recognised as one of the most important benefits of urban forests. Studies have shown that cities with higher canopy cover are cooler,” explains Konijnendijk. 

Takehiko Mikami, Emeritus Professor at Tokyo Metropolitan University, has conducted extensive research on urban climatology and the impacts of green spaces on city temperatures. His research demonstrates how green spaces such as parks not only have lower surface and air temperatures than the built-up areas around them but also spread cool air to surrounding areas. This is known as the cool island effect.

“It is important to preserve or even increase green areas in big cities because cool air also seeps out into the surrounding neighbourhood, even when the areas are small,” highlights Mikami.

Ensuring city temperatures are lowered is extremely important for the health of city dwellers. In fact, numerous studies have demonstrated a correlation between death rates and the number of days in which maximum temperatures are above 30 degrees Celsius and nights in which minimum temperatures remain above 25 degrees.

The cooling benefits of urban greening can even be achieved with relatively small green areas and green corridors that use trees to connect parks. For this reason, adequate planning that takes into account the climatic conditions of cities and the likelihood of extreme weather events is fundamental.

Adequate planning for effective greening

 “For urban greening to be effective in both providing adaptation and mitigation benefits it is important to plan effectively,” explains Mercogliano. Adequate planning revolves around a clear definition of objectives, integration of greening in the urban/regional planning context, adoption of long-term and flexible perspectives and considering green spaces as a public investment in health, well-being and quality of life.

According to Mercogliano, “temporal resolution of regional climate models, represent the starting point to support urban planning decisions.” For example, the CMCC provides resolution climate data for recent past climate and future projections under different scenarios in the frame of several national and international projects (H2020 EUCP, CEF T Highlander).

Access to this information can help plan for disaster risk reduction from urban flooding, with climate simulations at 2 km that account for urban climate parameterizations.

“Another useful tool that can be used in urban planning is the development of a climate profile aimed at evaluating climate variability through synthetic indicators – moving from climate to hazard – that could be easily managed by local stakeholders,” explains Alfredo Reder, engineer and member of the REMHI division’s urban impacts of climate change team. These climate profiles have already been used in Italian cities such as Brescia and Prato and are the basis for the Sustainable Energy and Climate Action Plan.

To this end, the CMCC’s REMHI division has focused on both the advancement of existing knowledge concerning planning, design and management of green adaptation measures and the quantitative evaluation of the effectiveness of green adaptation measures using novel physically based models that are able to simulate urban flooding and Urban Heat Island (UHI) processes – along with possible interactions – at significant spatial scales.

“A multiscale approach is essential to link all the existing and planned green areas at multiple spatial scales – from the site to the neighbourhood, to the town, watershed and region – and developing a well-connected and multifunctional green network, which forms ventilation channels and facilitates the circulation of fresher and cleaner air from the surroundings into the city, also providing additional ecosystem services such as restored habitats for wildlife and reduced land fragmentation,” concludes Mercogliano.

Effective urban greening involves a lot more than grassy rooftops and urban orchards. When properly implemented and informed using a rigorous scientific approach it can provide a valuable tool for climate change adaptation and mitigation. Understanding where and what kinds of green areas to implement can make the difference between achieving transformational or merely aesthetic improvements. 

The International Foundation Big Data and Artificial Intelligence for Human Development (iFAB) in collaboration with CMCC and Leithà, launches the European Extreme Events Climate Index (E3CI), an innovative operational service for weather induced hazard assessment and management. E3CI has the potential to revolutionize the way insurers and financial markets evaluate extreme weather-related risks in Europe. A bold step in ensuring that scientific research has tangible impacts on the real world.


As extreme weather events increase in frequency, they inevitably put the lives and assets of people at ever greater risk. Between 1998 and 2017 alone, countries hit by extreme weather events reported direct economic losses valued at 2,908 billion USD, of which 2,245 billion USD were caused by climate-related disasters.

To safeguard livelihoods and provide support for businesses both insurers and insured parties require access to reliable data an

d information on the changing climate. 

To this end, the International Foundation Big Data and Artificial Intelligence for Human Development (IFAB) has joined forceswith the Euro-Mediterranean Center on Climate Change (CMCC), and Leithà to create an extreme weather index that can bring fundamental change to the way in which insurers do business.

On January 21st the  European Extreme Events Climate Index (E3CI) will be presented during a live-streaming webinar that brings together a broad range of experts in discussing the main features of the index. The objective is to showcase the index and at the same time encourage dialogue and feedback by experts. 

“The E3CI  is a great example of effective technology transfer and a great display of cross-sector collaboration that is the trademark of IFAB’s guiding mission,” comments Dr. Avesani, Chief Innovation Officer at Unipol and CEO of Leithà.

The potential to become a game-changer

As climate change continues to generate financial impacts individuals and businesses will require insurance policies tailored to these kinds of liabilities. The publication of a certified database that maps past extreme weather events can provide objective criteria with which to analyze the exposure of assets at risk. This will allow more effective insurance coverage, bringing benefits to both consumers and the insurance companies themselves.

“When insurance companies cover people with a policy they take on a risk which then they also need to cover for,” explains Avesani.

Traditionally this is done by Insurance companies purchasing reinsurance policies from third parties so as to limit their own total exposure.

However, this is not a liquid and transparent market. Indeed this is a market based on bilateral, over-the-counter transactions. The E3CI can help change this by generating indices that allow for the development of activities that could then be traded on financial markets.

“The true potential of the E3CI is that it can change the way financial and insurance markets operate, by providing indices against which weather-related hazards can be more accurately measured. The advantage of doing this is that if I go through the market I can make these liabilities tradeable and therefore increase transparency and raise competition which comes with advantages for both insurers and the insured,” outlines Avesani.

“Basically, the publication of E3CI is a first small step towards making weather-related liabilities tradeable on financial markets. It lays one of the building blocks for a market that hasn’t existed up to know and that was managed through bilateral transactions,” he concludes.

What is the E3CI

“The E3CI aims to define a synthetic index that provides information about the areas affected by different types of weather-induced hazards and the severity of such events,” explains CMCC scientist Guido Rianna.

From a methodological perspective, the E3CI draws on the North American Actuaries Climate Index (ACI) addressing five main hazards: cold and heat stresses, droughts, extreme precipitations and i winds. These indicators are identified and computed on a monthly basis so as to generate information on the occurrence and magnitude of weather-related hazards.

“The index provides an objective indicator of the frequency of extreme weather which can prove instrumental in the assessment and mitigation of financial consequences of risks and in the summarization and presentation of complex data,” explains CMCC scientist Paola Mercogliano

In fact, data will be made available for free in two different formats: firstly, in a visual format that contains maps and synthetic graphs in an online dashboard hosted by the IFAB website; and secondly, for expert users, raw data for specific months or Administrative Level Units can also be downloaded. 

This is an important first step in providing practical uses for the extensive research and data collection that has gone into developing the index. 

Scientific research with purpose

We want to promote research projects that have a large impact on the real world. We don’t want to stop at research but want to ensure that it becomes applied research. The E3CI is a perfect example of this. It will bring benefits to both insurers and insured parties who will be able to access more transparent prices,” explains Avesani.

IFAB’s mandate is to promote cooperation between public and private sectors in the field of innovative technologies. For this reason, it decided to fund the E3CI project, in an effort to ensure that research finds applications in the economic and business worlds and produces tangible benefits.

On January 21 the E3CI will be presented via live streaming (click here to register), in what is the first and significant step in its deployment into the real world. “Now it’s time to get to work in refining, amplifying, and connecting exposures to the index. We have put the E3CI out there, now let’s see where it goes,” concludes Avesani. 

A low carbon world is being shaped, and the private sector is in the spotlight. While the pandemic is teaching the importance of getting prepared to future risks, the big actors of the financial system are refining the criteria for the allocation of capital to get safe from the coming challenges. For businesses, keeping up with the change is not a matter of reputation anymore. Dealing with climate change is now about financial survival.

Image Credits: Joanne Francis @Unsplash.

It’s not only about ice melting and rising temperatures. It’s also about a region that is being transformed dramatically by climate change. The way the Arctic is evolving comes with consequences for the environment, biosphere, international relations, and geopolitical balance. Scientists indicate that the recent heatwave in Siberia would have been virtually impossible without anthropogenic climate change. But how are these conclusions drawn, and how accurate is it to make these claims?


The word “Arctic” is seldom associated with images of sweltering heat. Yet in recent months, popular perceptions have changed. Everyone has heard about the record-breaking heatwave burning through Siberia. The high temperatures are melting permafrost and air temperatures have hit up to 38ºC, breaking records in the remote town of Verkhoyansk that recorded the highest temperature ever in the Arctic. 

The Arctic is warming at twice the rate of the global average and at the end of June land surface temperatures reached a staggering 45ºC in a variety of spots according to European satellite data. Although land surface temperatures are not usually given the same importance as air temperatures, a UN panel of climate scientists indicates that they are rising vertiginously in the Arctic, with drastic consequences.

In a 2019 report by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change the effects of rising temperatures are clearly reported: “permafrost temperatures have increased to record high levels […] Widespread disappearance of Arctic near-surface permafrost is projected to occur this century as a result of warming (very high confidence), with important consequences for global climate.”

As permafrost thaws, it results in the release of greenhouse gases from the decomposition of organic material that had long been frozen and could release as much as 240 billion tonnes of carbon by 2100. 

Heatwave smouldering Siberia

During the opening 6 months of 2020, Siberia has experienced anomalously high temperatures even when compared to the last decade, including a record-breaking 38ºC in the town of Verkhoyansk on 20 June. The Russian Meteorological Service said that this measured temperature was the highest ever recorded beyond the Arctic circle, with the World Meteorological Organization carrying out its own research to verify this.

The recent heatwave in Siberia would have been “almost impossible” without rising emissions.

With dire consequences for wildfires, melting permafrost and the proliferation of pests. Overall, the 6 months from January to June 2020 were more than 5ºC warmer than average (1981–2010) over the study region.

Bringing a wide range of natural and human disasters that led President Putin to declare a state of emergency, as reported in the media including The GuardianReuters and The New York Times. Siberian forests have been experiencing wildfires because of the hot, dry conditions and led to the release of 56 Megatons of CO2 in June alone.

Siberia: a man-induced heatwave?

All this begs the question: what is causing these heatwaves and record breaking temperatures? According to scientists from the World Weather Attribution (WWA) project, that specialises in identifying the correlation between extreme weather events and climate change, the recent heatwave in Siberia would have been “almost impossible” without rising emissions. The report reveals that the January-to-June-2020 heatwave was 600 times more likely due to anthropogenic climate change. Furthermore, record-breaking June temperatures, including the one reported in Verkhoyansk were also made more probable. “Combining the values from the models and weather observations shows that for the large region the same six-months hot spell would have been at least 2ºC cooler had it occurred in 1900 instead of 2020. For Verkhoyansk, maximum June temperatures increased due to climate change by at least 1ºC compared to 1900”, the study reads. 

Dorotea Iovino, an oceanographer expert in numerical modelling at CMCC, puts these numbers into context: “The WWA initiative gives further evidence of extreme temperatures occurring more frequently around the world in a warming global climate. Human fingerprints are found on recent disasters such as the Australian bushfires and record rainfall during Hurricane Harvey. The Arctic is one of the most rapidly warming regions on Earth, in some regions, the temperature rise is four times higher than the global average. The Arctic heat has triggered the rapid decrease of sea ice, the thawing of carbon-rich permafrost and extreme wildfires. The WWA analysis finds with high confidence that in a world without climate change, such extreme six-month average temperatures across Siberia would only be expected around every 80,000 years. Even for the current climate, such a prolonged heatwave would still be unlikely and expected to recur less than once every 130 years, but, without rapid cuts and greenhouse gas emissions, they risk becoming frequent by the end of the century.”

From a scientific point of view it is always useful to compare different ways to define an event in order to assess how much the results depend on the exact definition.

 

How accurate are these finding?

“The large regional definition is relevant for most impacts whereas the temperature record at an individual place can help people understand their local changing climate”, outlines the WWA report. “From a scientific point of view it is always useful to compare different ways to define an event in order to assess how much the results depend on the exact definition.” In the case of the WWA report both extreme events (prolonged six-month heat and record daily temperature in June 2020 in Verkhoyansk) have been strongly influenced by anthropogenic climate change. “While we are very confident that the large-scale prolonged event would have been essentially impossible without climate change, our confidence for the daily record at the individual weather station is much lower”, the report continues.

However, Iovino is also careful to point out that: “This Siberian heat was also driven by a series of unusual meteorological events, including a blocking weather event. The WWA research looked into the synoptics of the Siberian events, but not yet the weather patterns that led to the event in detail or addressed if the frequency of those patterns is likely to increase. The potential influence of climate change on these weather patterns remains an open research question”, she explains.

Global consequences require global actions

In places such as Siberia, a hotter climate can have devastating effects, not just on the local wildlife and people who live there, but also on the world’s climate system as a whole, for example through thawing permafrost, reduced snow cover and melting ice.

The current Siberian heat has contributed to raising the world’s average temperature to the 2nd hottest on record for the period January to May. In response on 20 July, the EC European Commission and the European External Action Service came together to establish a  public consultation on the way forward for the European Union’s Arctic policy. This aims to open a discussion on the EU’s Arctic policy due to the new challenges that are emerging and how to tackle them, including the use of the European Green Deal

High Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell said: “The Arctic is a rapidly evolving frontier in international relations. Climate change is dramatically transforming the region, and increasing its geopolitical importance, with a number of players seeing new strategic and economic opportunities in the High North. We must ensure that the Arctic remains a zone of low tension and peaceful cooperation, where issues are solved through constructive dialogue. The European Union must be fully equipped to manage the new dynamics effectively, in line with our interests and values.”

Image Credits: Photo by Perry Grone @Unsplash, ODI.

A warming world, displacement, migrants, refugees. Not only do words have the power to change popular perceptions, but they also shape legal landscapes, influence policy measures, and determine the fates of the most vulnerable. A collection of voices, definitions, infographics, and numbers provides a snapshot of the complex and multifaced climate-migration nexus.


This article is part of: “The Climate-Migration Nexus”.
Click and read the full story

Following the bloodshed of WWII, the United Nations created an agency with the mandate to protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people: the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which is entrusted with quantifying and assisting displaced people on the basis of their requirements. However, when talking about people displaced by climate change there is still a sobering lack of information, that leads to confusing terminology and inadequate legal framework that fails to protect those most in need.

Although changing weather has always had an impact on the movement of people, it is also clear that climate change is playing an increasingly influential role in determining migratory flows, due to more frequent extreme weather events, rising sea levels and other climate hazards that lead to instability. At the end of 2019, there were over 70.9 million people forcibly displaced, of which 26 million were recognised as refugees. How many of these were due to environmental reasons? Although the answer is unclear, the UN forecasts that there could be anywhere between 25 million and 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050, revealing both the extent of the problem and the lack of clarity surrounding how to quantify climate-induced migrations.

The climate-migration nexus must be addressed so that an adequate legal framework can be put in place to safeguard the rights of displaced peoples. A key part of this process involves establishing the legal language with which to quantify and assist those in need. Central to this debate is the difference between environmental migrants and climate refugees.

 We’ve been trying to ring the alarm bells […] We know that it’s coming

Dina Ionesco, International Organization for Migration

When climate change causes migration

 “We’ve been trying to ring the alarm bells […] We know that it’s coming”, says Dina Ionesco, Head of the Migration, Environment and Climate Change (MECC) Division at the International Organization for Migration (IOM), who explains that climate change will come with a mass movement of people on an unprecedented scale.

The types of impacts caused by a warming world also have a large influence on the kind of migration they generate and the response they require. There is a big difference between slow onset factors – such as sea level rise and drought that takes place over months or years – and rapid onset ones – such as typhoons and hurricanes which occur with little warning and can take place over a number of days.

The report “Economic Losses, Poverty & Disasters”  shows that climate-related phenomena were responsible for 91% of all recorded disasters over the past 20 years, with floods and storms being the principal perpetrators. These disasters lead to a mixture of both rapid and slow onset migrations which require different legal frameworks to ensure that those affected are assisted.

However, it is very difficult to separate when the environment is the main cause of migrations, as opposed to a combination of factors that involve socioeconomic, political, demographic, cultural and personal reasons. The clearest example of climate change being the sole cause of migration is in that of small island states that are disappearing due to sea-level rise which has already submerged eight islands. However, this is the exception rather than the norm.

Infographics: climate change, migration and displacement (ODI – Overseas Development Institute)

Taking refuge in words

Multi-lateral institutions, policymakers and academics continue to grapple with the climate-migration nexus, which involves identifying how many people are migrating due to climate change and where these migrations are taking place. A lot of the confusion actually revolves around the legal language being used, including terms such as environmental migrants, refugees and displaced peoples.

Although these words are often used as synonyms, or cherry-picked to create compelling titles and sensationalist news stories, there is a clear difference between migration – which involves a certain amount of freedom of choice – and displacement – which implies no choice and is a forced movement. Furthermore, it is important to distinguish between internal and cross-border migrations as these are counted differently and require different approaches for providing assistance.

In relation to the climate-migration nexus, there are three important categories:

  • Environmental migrants which refers to “persons or groups of persons who, predominantly for reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move within their country or abroad.” (IOM, 2011: 33 in IOM, 2014:13).
  • Environmentally displaced person meaning “persons who are displaced within their country of habitual residence or who have crossed an international border and for whom environmental degradation, deterioration or destruction is a major cause of their displacement, although not necessarily the sole one” (IOM, 2011:34 in IOM, 2014:13).
  • Climate refugees which is commonly used to describe forced migration in the context of climate and environmental change. However, according to the UN, “this is not a legally valid term as the 1951 Refugee Convention does not recognize environmental factors as criteria to define a refugee”.

Notably, the term “climate refugee” is not recognised in international law as the word “refugee” describes people fleeing war or persecution and have crossed an international border. In contrast, environmental migration is believed to impact people mainly within national boundaries, rarely leading to cross-border migrations and hence being referred to as “persons displaced in the context of climate change” or “environmental migrants”.

Understanding these distinctions is crucial because it influences the way we talk about the climate-migration nexus, how we quantify it and the legal frameworks and policy initiatives that are established.

Migration is multicausal. Suppose that productivity of a subsistence farmer declines over the years, eventually because of climate-related reasons and the farmer has to migrate. Is this an environmental migrant or has he had to migrate due to financial reasons?

Cristina Cattaneo, RFF-CMCC European Institute on Economics and the Environment (EIEE)

Lack of a legal framework 

Due to the multicausal nature of climate change, it is difficult to account for its direct effect on migrations and leads to the climate-migration nexus often remaining murky and unclear. According to the Overseas Development Institute, “International processes, particularly those on migration and displacement, climate change and disaster risk reduction, increasingly refer to the links between climate change and human mobility. However, these links are not always grounded in evidence, and this increased attention has not led to the coordinated, significant policy or legislative change that is required”. 

Cristina Cattaneo, Head of the Climate Migration Unit at the RFF-CMCC European Institute on Economics and the Environment (EIEE), explains that “it isn’t easy to define environmental migrants. For example, suppose that productivity of a subsistence farmer declines over the years, eventually because of climate-related reasons and the farmer has to migrate. Is this an environmental migrant or has he had to migrate due to financial reasons? Migration is multicausal, many factors interplay in shaping the migration decision.”

Infographics: climate change, migration and displacement (ODI – Overseas Development Institute)

 
Climate migrants – people that move from a place to another because of climate change impacts – have remained hidden in statistics on migration and climate debates for a number of years.  “We want migration policy to take climate into consideration […] Climate change impacts peoples’ mobility around the world and that migration can be a sad, tragic story with forced migration and displacement due to climate change, but also migration is part of our lives and can be something positive and a strategy to live out of harm’s way and build a better life”, explains Ms. Ionesco. 

The IOM is vocal in its belief that the solution is not to use the word “refugees” when talking about environmental migrations and that policymakers should not establish a climate-specific legal status, parallel to the existing refugees’ status. This is because focusing the debate on ascribing refugee status “can lead to a narrow and biased debate and would provide only partial solutions to address the complexity of human mobility and climate change”. Furthermore, it would ignore key aspects that define human mobility in the context of climate change and environmental degradation.

If not refugees then what?

There has been growing recognition in recent years for the need to integrate migration into a global climate and environmental mechanisms, and for climate change mechanisms to incorporate human mobility aspects, in particular as an adaptation strategy that comes with both risks and benefits.

Climate science must continue to work in unison with multilateral institutions, development agencies, and international law so that this challenge is properly addressed. This will also include working on a multilateral strategy and legal framework that address the climate-migration nexus.

Undoubtedly, rising global temperatures will continue to bring this relationship into the foreground. Collecting data and studying the relationship between climate change and the – direct and indirect – impacts it has on human mobility is a key part of this process.