The toll of Australia’s Black Summer of bushfires

Australia’s Summer of Crisis  was published by the Climate Council of Australia in March, describing the economic and climate change impacts of the bushfires of 2019/20. Although the bushfires were widespread, the report focuses on the two most severely affected areas of the country:  New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. It estimates that there was a 10-20 percent drop in international visitors, so that the tourism sector alone will lose at least $4.5 billion.  Bushfire-related insurance claims in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia and Victoria totalled an estimated value of $1.9 billion.  The report also estimates the unprecedented climate impacts – between 650 million and 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon dioxide spewed into the atmosphere ( Australia’s annual emissions are around 531 million tonnes). The report states that the hot dry conditions which fuelled the fires will only worsen, and calls urgently for an end to fossil fuel production and export, and a plan to reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions to net zero.

Health impacts

Unprecedented smoke‐related health burden associated with the 2019–20 bushfires in eastern Australia”, published in the Medical Journal of Australia (March 12) estimated that bushfire smoke was responsible for more deaths than the fires, and extraordinary health impacts. The researchers estimate there were  417 excess deaths, 1124 hospitalisations for cardiovascular problems and 2027 for respiratory problems, and 1305 presentations to emergency departments with asthma.  The article is summarized by The Guardian here  , which also reports that the authors have obtained funding for follow-up studies through the Centre for Air Pollution, Energy and Health Research (CAR), funded by Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council .  The CAR website offers fact sheets and research summaries about bushfire impacts.

 

“Business as usual” could lead to 13% loss in growth for the Canadian economy.

According to a study published in August by both the National Bureau of Economic Research and by  U.K.’s Cambridge University Institute for New Economic Thinking,      the overall the global economy could shrink by 7% unless the world’s nations meet the Paris Agreement targets for GHG emissions reductions. Long-Term Macroeconomic Effects of Climate Change: A Cross-Country Analysis” analyses data from 174 countries over the years 1960 to 2014 to model changes in output growth related to temperature and precipitation. The result: “Our counterfactual analysis suggests that a persistent increase in average global temperature by 0.04°C per year, in the absence of mitigation policies, reduces world real GDP per capita by 7.22 percent by 2100. On the other hand, abiding by the Paris Agreement, thereby limiting the temperature increase to 0.01°C per annum, reduces the loss substantially to 1.07 percent.”

The effects differ widely across countries. For Canada, the analysis finds that a “business as usual” scenario could result in a 13% loss in growth for the Canadian economy.     A summary for non-economists from the Climate News Network  quotes one of the authors of the study: “The idea that rich, temperate nations are economically immune to climate change, or could even double or triple their wealth as a result, just seems implausible.”

 

Climate apartheid and chaos – U.N. official warns that only the rich will escape poverty, disease and displacement

mumbai floods 2019It appears that Greta Thunberg is not the only person willing to speak truth to power. Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights for the United Nations, officially tabled a report at the U.N. on June 28.  Although the title, Climate Change and Poverty, sounds like another bureaucratic exercise, his language is urgent and blunt.

The full report is available from this link at the U.N. press release.   Some excerpts :

 

“Climate change threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health, and poverty reduction. …It could push more than 120 million more people into poverty by 2030 and will have the most severe impact in poor countries, regions, and the places poor people live and work….

We risk a ‘climate apartheid’ scenario where the wealthy pay to escape overheating, hunger, and conflict while the rest of the world is left to suffer… The risk of community discontent, of growing inequality, and of even greater levels of deprivation among some groups, will likely stimulate nationalist, xenophobic, racist and other responses. Maintaining a balanced approach to civil and political rights will be extremely complex…

…Staying the course will be disastrous for the global economy and pull vast numbers into poverty. Addressing climate change will require a fundamental shift in the global economy, decoupling improvements in economic well-being from fossil fuel emissions. It is imperative this is done in a way that provides necessary support, protects workers, and creates decent work.

Governments, and too many in the human rights community, have failed to seriously address climate change for decades. Somber speeches by government officials have not led to meaningful action and too many countries continue taking short-sighted steps in the wrong direction…..Although climate change has been on the human rights agenda for well over a decade, it remains a marginal concern for most actors. Yet it represents an emergency without precedent and requires bold and creative thinking from the human rights community, and a radically more robust, detailed, and coordinated approach.

… incremental managerialism and proceduralism ..are entirely disproportionate to the urgency and magnitude of the threat. Ticking boxes will not save humanity or the planet from impending disaster.”

Summaries from the media appear in: “To Prevent ‘Climate Apartheid Scenario’ Where Rich Escape and Poor Suffer, UN Report Issues Urgent Call for Global Economic Justice” in Common Dreams (June 25) and  “‘Climate apartheid’: UN expert says human rights may not survive” in The Guardian .

Canada is warming twice as fast as the rest of the world – what should we do?

 

Canada’s Changing Climate Report (CCCR), was released on April 2, documenting the  consensus of scientific experts from the federal government and academia, about how and why Canada’s climate has changed to date, with projections for the future.  The main message is tipped by the title of the government’s press release: “Canada’s climate is warming twice as fast as global average”.  Canada’s annual temperature over land has warmed on average 1.7 degrees Celsius between 1948 and 2016 (compared with the the IPCC assessment of average global warming between 0.8 C and 1.2 C). Worse, in the Arctic, temperatures have risen by 2.3C – about three times the global average. In some parts of the Northwest Territories, temperatures have risen by between 4 C and 5 C .

 

cccr graphicLike the careful scientific style of the IPCC Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5°C  (Oct. 2018), the Canadian report offers two different scenarios, based on low and high emissions futures. The general statement about the future, however,  states: “The effects of widespread warming are already evident in many parts of Canada and are projected to intensify in the near future. A warmer climate will affect the frequency and intensity of forest fires, the extent and duration of snow and ice cover, precipitation, permafrost temperatures, and other extremes of weather and climate, as well as freshwater availability, rising of sea level, and other properties of the oceans surrounding Canada.” “Scenarios with limited warming will only occur if Canada and the rest of the world reduce carbon emissions to near zero early in the second half of the century and reduce emissions of other greenhouse gases substantially.”

The report is available in English  and in French , with a 17-page Executive Summary in English   and in French .  This is the first in a series of National Assessment reports to be rolled out until 2021, including a National Issues report on climate change impacts and adaptation; a Regional Perspectives report about  impacts and adaptation in six regions, and a Health of Canadians in a Changing Climate report, assessing risks to health and to the health care system.

Are Canadians panicking? Sorry Greta, not yet anyway:  Summaries of the Changing Climate Report  include: “Canada says global carbon pollution must be reduced to ‘near zero’ to limit harsh impacts” in The National Observer ; “Environmentalists hope for action  in wake of ‘shocking and utterly unsurprising’ climate-change report”  (consisting mostly of embedded audio interviews);   CBC’s  “What you need to know about the new climate report” ; an Energy Mix summary by Mitchell Beer ; and Crawford Kilian in The Tyee, “New Climate change report should be a wake-up call”  which focuses on British Columbia.

Two Opinion Pieces may explain the lack of panic with which this report has been greeted : Thomas Walkom in the Toronto Star, “Canadian politicians are obsessed with the wrong crisis”  and  Neil Macdonald at CBC “Report on devastating Canadian climate change a far bigger issue than Jody Wilson-Raybould”  .

Reaction from the Council of Canadians Blog is constructive:  “Canada is warming faster than we thought. What can we do about it?”  –urging readers to take individual action, including support for a Canadian Green New Deal.  Such political action will be necessary, according to Julie Gelfand, Canada’s Commissioner of the Environment and Sustainable Development, who tabled her Spring 2019 audit reports in Parliament on April 2.  The environmental audits cover the topics of aquatic invasive species, the protection of fish and their habitat from mining effluent,  and subsidies to the fossil fuels sector.   In the accompanying “Perspective” statement as she leaves her position after five years, she reflects on lessons learned and concludes: “it’s the slow action on climate change that is disturbing. Many of my reports focused on climate change from various angles. We looked at federal support for sustainable municipal infrastructure, mitigating the impacts of severe weather, marine navigation in the Canadian Arctic, environmental monitoring of oil sands, oversight of federally regulated pipelines, funding clean energy technologies, fossil fuel subsidies, and progress on reducing greenhouse gases. For decades, successive federal governments have failed to reach their targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and the government is not ready to adapt to a changing climate. This must change.”

commissioner gelfand graphic

4th U.S. Climate Assessment provides new estimates of economic costs of climate change

The U.S. Global Change Research Program, a consortium of 13 federal government departments and agencies,  released volume 2 of the 4th National Climate Assessment  of Climate-change Impacts on the United States on November 23. This report is exceptional for the  unequivocal, comprehensive, and detailed information contained, and a new emphasis on the economic impacts of climate change, described as “broader and more systematic”, providing an advancement in the understanding of the financial costs and benefits of climate change impacts.  For example, the report estimates a worst-case scenario for 2090 where extreme heat results in “labor-related losses”  of  an estimated $155 billion annually;  also,  $141 billion from heat-related deaths, $118 billion from sea level rise and $32 billion from infrastructure damage by the end of the century. Other key themes: the negative impacts of climate change on trade, the disruption of supply chains for U.S. manufacturers,  likely loss of productivity for U.S. agriculture, unequal impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations, and the impact on Indigenous peoples.

In an article from the New York Times, climate expert Michael Oppenheimer  says, “This report will weaken the Trump administration’s legal case for undoing climate change regulations and it strengthens the hands of those who go to court to fight them.”   Small wonder the administration chose to release it on the eve of American Thanksgiving, when public attention would be distracted.

Volume 2, just released, is based on the scientific findings of the  4th National Climate Assessment, Volume 1,  which was released in 2017.  Volume 2 is over 1500 pages, and is composed of 16 national-level topic chapters, 10 regional chapters, and 2 response chapters. Each of the 29 individual chapters is downloadable from this link.  The Overview is here.   A Guide  briefly explains the modelling assumptions and sources of information used; more specific detail is in Appendix 3: Data tools and  scenario products   .

Media reaction and summaries include: “Climate Change Puts U.S. Economy and Lives at Risk, and Costs Are Rising, Federal Agencies Warn” in Inside Climate News  (Nov. 23);  “New National Climate Assessment Shows Climate Change is a Threat to our Economy, Infrastructure and Health” from the Union of Concerned Scientists (Nov. 23);  “U.S. economy faces hit, climate change report warns”  from the New York Times, reposted to Portside (Nov. 24) ; or “3 big takeaways from the major new US climate report”  in Vox (Nov. 24) .

4th climate assessment labour

From the 4th National Climate Assessment U.S. – Chapter 1 Overview