As global warming wreaks havoc on the planet’s climate, the effects will not be felt equally throughout, with some nations suffering bigger and more drastic changes than others. This is clear in a new “Climate Change and Environment Risk Atlas,” with a list of 193 countries ranked by those most vulnerable to climate change. And a new report by 80 that says south-east Australia has become “a global warming hot spot” and the threat to coral reefs is growing. Read more
What Country Faces the Worst Climate Change?
By Jeremy Hsu for InnovationNewsDaily (13 August 2012):
Rising seas threaten to drown island countries such as the Maldives and Kiribati in the era of global warming — a dire scenario that has forced leaders to plan for floating cities or consider moving their entire populations to neighboring countries. Most countries won’t need to take such drastic steps to simply survive, but many more will similarly experience the uglier side of climate change.
The countries potentially facing the worst fates may not necessarily experience the greatest climate change, but instead lack the resources to cushion their people against climate-related disasters such as hurricanes, floods, heat waves and droughts. That has historically made a huge difference in rates of death or displacement from such events — Hurricane Jeanne killed just three people in the U.S. in 2004, but resulted in the deaths of more than 1,500 people in Haiti and displaced about 200,000 Haitians.
“This of course is different than future likelihood to suffer, but I believe that those who suffered most in the past are probably most vulnerable to future disasters, because they are unable to prepare for, cope with, and recover from these kinds of disasters,” said J. Timmons Roberts, a professor of environmental studies and sociology at Brown University.
The most fortunate countries could fortify themselves against the worst of climate change and possibly take in climate change refugees from other parts of the world. Both historical data and climate model predictions have given some idea of what to expect.
Climate change hotspots
North America, Europe and Asia can generally expect more severe heat waves and droughts alongside more intense storms related to flooding, said Michael Wehner, a climate scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California. On the other hand, cold snaps could become less severe.
Other regions could see even more radical changes in their normal climates.
“Central America, the Caribbean and the Mediterranean are projected to experience what is now considered drought as a new normal condition,” Wehner told InnovationNewsDaily. “The impacts on agriculture could be severe, especially on impoverished nations.”
The melting Arctic is experiencing some of the greatest warming — often with devastating consequences for local wildlife and people — but climate change’s greatest impact may take place in more densely populated regions. Jason Samson, a former Ph.D. candidate at McGill University in Canada, highlighted the relationship between climate conditions and population density in a 2011 paper published in the journal Global Ecology and Biogeography.
Strongly negative impacts of climate change are predicted in Central America, central South America, the Arabian Peninsula, Southeast Asia and much of Africa,” wrote Samson and his colleagues.
That paper’s findings echo the vulnerable regions identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) — the Arctic, Africa, small islands (such as the Maldives and Kiribati), and the Asian and African megadeltas where huge cities filled with millions of people face rising seas, storm surges and flooding rivers.
Countries in the danger zone
So what countries face the greatest danger from climate change? Maplecroft, a British consultancy, has created a “Climate Change and Environment Risk Atlas,” a list of 193 countries ranked by those most vulnerable to climate change because of factors such as population density or state of development.
The 2012 edition of the risk atlas identified 30 countries as being at extreme risk. The top 10 most at risk include: Haiti, Bangladesh, Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe, Madagascar, Cambodia, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and the Philippines.
Some countries with lower risk ratings still have danger zones that face “extreme risk” from climate change. Maplecroft pointed to the southwest of Brazil and China’s coastal regions as examples, even though both countries rate as “medium risk” overall. Six of the world’s fastest-growing cities also received “extreme risk” ratings: Calcutta in India, Manila in the Philippines, Jakarta in Indonesia, Dhaka and Chittagong in Bangladesh, and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia.
The countries in the best position to adapt to climate change’s challenges mostly include those in Northern Europe, such as Finland, Ireland, Sweden and Norway, CNN reported. Iceland topped the list, but the United States also had a relatively low risk rating.
Living with climate change
The climate risk assessments emphasized the wealth difference between the most and least vulnerable countries. That has proven historically true as well, Roberts said. He and a colleague, Bradley Parks, looked at 4,040 climate-related disasters from 1980 to 2003 in their book “A Climate of Injustice” (MIT Press, 2006).
“The rates [of people killed or made homeless], when adjusted for population, were 100 times higher in some African and Pacific islands than in the USA,” Roberts explained.
But even developed countries such as the U.S. face risks when it comes to climate-related disasters — regardless of whatever future climate change may bring. Wehner suggested that climate change during his lifetime would be “manageable” as far as living in the U.S., but added that his grandchildren would face tougher choices.
Roberts, who lives in Rhode Island on top of a hill near Narragansett Bay, took an even more cautious approach about buying beachfront property even in the U.S.
“While I would love to look out over the water, I would think twice before buying land or property, and especially before putting my family right at sea level, in a place that may suffer storm surge,” Roberts said.
Aussie marine life hit by climate change
Tropical fish head for cooler seas, underwater forests wiped out, says report by 80 scientists
By Jonathan Pearlman for The Straits Times (24 August 2012):
Marine life is under a growing threat from climate change in the waters around Australia. Tropical fish have been heading south for the cooler seas around Tasmania and the ocean’s tall underwater forests have been virtually wiped out.
The details come in a new report by 80 Australian scientists that says south-east Australia has become “a global warming hot spot” and the threat to coral reefs is growing.
Climate change has made the ocean more acidic and bleached corals, it says, and seaweeds, phytoplankton, zooplankton and fish have moved south. The migration has also been caused by warming waters and a strengthening of the currents off the east coast of Australia since the 1950s.
“There is now striking evidence of extensive southward movements of tropical species in south-east Australia, declines in abundance of many temperate species, and the first signs of the effect of ocean acidification on marine species with shells,” said the report released last week.
The report, by a group of scientists led by Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, provides a snapshot based on the leading scientific papers from the past three years.
It found sea surface temperatures had increased by 1 deg C over the last century. The east coast of Tasmania and parts of Western Australia had the highest rises.
“The rate of temperature rise in Australian waters has accelerated since the mid-20th century,” the report said. “Sea levels are rising around Australia, with fastest rates currently in northern Australia.”
Professor David Booth, a marine ecologist at the University of Technology, Sydney, said tropical fish have been moving towards Tasmania for 30 or 40 years but sped up in the past 10 years.
“In this case, the rapidity of the change is probably fairly unprecedented,” he said, noting that it is putting fisheries at risk.
In a further worrying sign, sea forests around Tasmania, made up of giant kelp, have shrunk by 95 per cent and were officially listed as endangered by the federal government last week. The forests, which rise as high as 25m off the ocean seabed, provide a crucial habitat for a range of species, including the black lip abalone and southern rock lobster.
Environment Minister Tony Burke said: “Giant kelp forests are being progressively lost due to a warming of the sea surface temperature caused by climate change, invasive species and changing land use and coastal activities that contribute to increased sedimentation and run-off and biodiversity loss.”
Along the Great Barrier Reef, damage has become so severe that scientists have proposed “last resort” measures such as protecting it with shade cloths.
A paper published this week in the journal Nature Climate Change said the pace of global warming is unparalleled in 300 million years. One of its authors, Professor Ove Hoegh-Guldberg from the University of Queensland, said the shade cloths anchored with ropes float on the water surface to protect the corals from sunlight.
“We are recommending looking at these technologies because at the current rate of warming, we may need to use them in 20 or 30 years,” he told The Straits Times.”We should test them now and see which ones work. Shading is not a strategy that can be used across hundreds of kilometres of the reef. But it might – at a local level – be able to influence how many corals die.”
Scientists have been increasingly worried about the long-term threat of climate change and rising water temperatures to the Great Barrier Reef – an iconic stretch of about 2,600km of coral formations and marine life off Australia’s east coast that attracts about two million visitors each year.
Prof Hoegh-Guldberg warned that the shade cloths may be useful for protecting small patches of coral but it will not “save the Great Barrier Reef” as a whole.