Climate Scientists sound the alarm in “Code Red” IPCC Report and WMO Atlas of mortality and economic damage

Alongside the continuing disaster of North America’s heat, drought, and wildfires has come Hurricane Ida on the Gulf Coast, U.S. Northeast, even as far as Quebec.  Only 4% of broadcast media in the U.S. linked Hurricane Ida to climate change – preferring to report on the flooding, storm surge, resulting power losses, evacuations, oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico, death and destruction.  Yet with less media attention, scientists worldwide have published recent studies unequivocally linking such weather extremes with climate change and human activity. Notable examples over the summer : 1.  Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis, the first installment of the Sixth Assessment Report (AR6) by the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group I, 2. The WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970–2019) released by the World Meteorological Organization on  August 31, and 3. The WMO Air Quality and Climate Bulletin , launched on September 1.

The world’s scientists issue a Code Red warning in the IPCC 6th Assessment

At almost 4,000 pages, the full IPCC report, Climate Change 2021: the Physical Science Basis, is a comprehensive compilation and assessment of the latest research  by the world’s scientists. More readable and less technical: the  Summary for Policymakers , or the official Fact Sheet .  The U.N. press release announcement was accompanied by warnings of the “Code Red”   situation:  irreversible climate-related damage is already underway across the world, and immediate, strong and sustained reductions in emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are urgently needed. The report was summarized widely: for example, in “Global Climate Panel’s Report: No Part of the Planet Will be Spared”  (Inside Climate News, Aug. 9); by Carbon Brief here ;  or by The Guardian here .  

An  analysis of coverage by 17  international newspapers found that Canadian news outlets, with the exception of the Toronto Star, were particularly poor at explaining the IPCC report – as summarized in “When Dire Climate News Came, Canada’s Front Pages Crumpled “ in (The Tyee, Aug. 19).  However, outside of the mainstream media, here are some noteworthy examples of Canadian news coverage:

Climate scientist John Fyfe explains why new IPCC report shows ‘there’s no going back’” (The Narwhal, Aug. 12)

It’s Code Red  for the Climate. Will BC Do Anything about It?” (The Tyee, Aug. 10)

Two blogs by David Suzuki in Rabble.caClimate report shows world pushed to the brink by fossil fuels”  and “IPCC report could be a legal game-changer for climate“(Sept. 1)

“IPCC warns of climate breakdown, politicians warn of each other” (National Observer, Aug. 9)

“U.N. Climate Report scapegoats “human activity” rather than fossil-fuel capitalism”  (Breach Media), which states: “We should welcome the latest IPCC Report for its scientific insight. But we should also understand it as an ideological document that obscures the crucial systemic causes of climate change. For advice on what social forces could push forward climate solutions, readers will have to look beyond the thousands of pages generated by the IPCC.”

Extreme weather disasters caused US$ 3.64 trillion, 2 million deaths between 1970 and 2019

A second new international scientific report is The WMO Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate and Water Extremes (1970–2019), released on  August 31 by the World Meteorological Organization. It aggregates and analyses statistics on world disasters, with continent-level breakdowns. It reports that there were more than 11,000 disasters attributed to weather, climate and water-related hazards between 1970 and 2019, accounting for just over 2 million deaths and US$ 3.64 trillion in economic losses. This represents  50% of all recorded disasters, 45% of related deaths and 74% of related economic losses over the last 50 years. Food for thought for those who say that fighting climate change is too expensive!  

The WMO Atlas includes an extensive discussion of current and new statistical disaster databases, and how they can be used to reduce loss and damage.  It also includes a brief explanation of “attribution research”, which seeks to determine whether disasters are human-caused. ( A recent article in Inside Climate News is more informative on the issue of attribution science, highlighting the research of the World Weather Attribution network, which has already published its findings about the German flooding in July 2021).

Finally, on September 3, the WMO also published the first issue of its  Air Quality and Climate Bulletin ,  highlighting the main factors that influence air quality patterns in 2020 – including a section titled “The impact of Covid-19 on air quality.”   The Bulletin concludes that there is “an intimate connection between air quality and climate change. While human-caused emissions of air pollutants fell during the COVID-19 economic turndown, meteorological extremes fuelled by climate and environmental change triggered unprecedented sand and dust storms and wildfires that affected air quality…. This trend is continuing in 2021. Devastating wildfires in North America, Europe and Siberia have affected air quality for millions, and sand and dust storms have blanketed many regions and travelled across continents.” 

In another section, “Global mortality estimates for ambient and household air pollution”  the new Bulletin states that global mortality increased from 2.3 million in 1990 to 4.5 million in 2019 (92% due to particulate matter, 8% due to ozone). Regionally, present-day total mortality is greatest in the super-region of Southeast Asia, East Asia and Oceania, with 1.8 million total deaths.

Buildings and Infrastructure: the state of Canadian adaptation to climate change

The National Infrastructure and Buildings Climate Change Adaptation State of Play Report  was released on May 18, providing a gold mine of detail about  the current Canadian system of climate change adaptation, and how it  affects water infrastructure, transportation systems, telecommunications, and buildings (both private housing and commercial and  multi-unit buildings such as hospitals and penitentiaries).

fort_mcmurray-fireReflecting  the strong influence of insurance concerns in the report, it provides a  catalogue, with damage estimates and many photographs, of recent natural disasters, including the Calgary and Toronto floods in 2013, the Fort McMurray fire, as far back as the Eastern Canada ice storms of 1998.  The report identifies a wide range of barriers and problems to adaptation progress, but also provides case studies of innovative initiatives, and compiles a list of 62 “opportunities or next steps”  for those identified as the key actors – all levels of government,  private companies, professional associations, and citizens.  Recommendations  reflect an understanding of the need for more climate change training and professional education for engineers, consultants, and the insurance industry, and calls on private companies to emphasize and “Better integrate climate change considerations into organizational planning, decision-making and risk management processes.”

Appendices include an extensive bibliography; a table of national and provincial standards and regulations (e.g. for stormwater management); climate risks, and others.  The final appendix presents case studies of innovative initiatives, including  Toronto Hydro Electrical Distribution Infrastructure Case Study ; British Columbia Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure Provincial Highway Infrastructure Case Study; City of Castlegar Stormwater Infrastructure Case Study (B.C.); Municipality of the District of Shelburne Wastewater Treatment Plant Case Study ; Elm Drive: Low Impact Development Demonstration Site Case Study (Toronto); Fraser Health’s Climate Resilience and Adaptation Program (B.C.); Linking Climate with Water Infrastructure and Social Vulnerabilities Credit Valley Conservation (Ontario).

The report was prepared by Amec Foster Wheeler Environment & Infrastructure of Burlington, Ontario, in collaboration with the Credit Valley Conservation Authority of Mississauga, for the  Infrastructure and Buildings Working Group (IBWG) – a joint enterprise of  the Institute for Catastrophic Loss and Engineers Canada.  It will be one of many inputs to the Infrastructure and Buildings Working Group of Canada’s Climate Change Adaptation Platform  in their discussions of their work plan for the next four years.

Environmental Psychology: Motivating behaviour change and coping with the fear of climate change

A new environmental psychology study released in December concludes that the most effective programs to encourage climate-friendly behaviour such as reducing energy consumption are those in which financial incentives (rebates, or cheaper prices) are paired with appeals to personal identity and values.  The authors of  Social Mobilization: How to Encourage Action on Climate Change  review  four decades of  psychological research and find  strong empirical support for employing a number of strategies : providing tailored information, soliciting commitment (e.g. pledges), recruiting leaders from within social networks, giving feedback,  and using a variety of other social influence strategies .  This report highlights several successful large-scale programs as models – mostly by utility companies in the United States .  The study was financed and published by the Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions (PICS), University of Victoria.  A related, longer report by one of the authors, Reuven Sussman, was  published in October 2016 by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.  Behavior change programs: Status and impact  is here  (registration required, free).

Another recent study of found that the moral values of compassion and fairness influenced an individual’s willingness to take personal action to mitigate the effects of climate change.  The authors, from Cornell University, showed that participants who were younger, more liberal, and reported greater belief in climate change, also showed increased willingness to act on climate change.  Ingroup loyalty and authority were not supported as important predictor variables. However, the authors state  :   “Our finding that willingness to take action on climate change was related to moral values embraced by both liberals and conservatives suggests that it is too simplistic to use political ideology alone to predict support for climate change action. ”  The full article, “Which Moral Foundations Predict Willingness to Make Lifestyle Changes to Avert Climate Change in the USA?”  appeared in  PLOSOne in October 2016, and was summarized by the Huffington Post in “ Why some people take action on climate change – and others don’t” (November).

Environmental psychology is also turning attention to the growing mental health issues caused by climate change.  The  first-ever International Conference on Building Personal and Psychosocial Resilience for Climate Change was held on November 3-4, 2016 in Washington D.C.  .  Climate Progress reports on the conference  in  “How to stay sane in the face of climate change” ,   and quotes psychiatrist Lise van Susteren: “before people let their fear turn to hopelessness …  it’s critical to tell them that there are actionable things they can do, in their everyday life …. — measuring your own carbon footprint, putting solar panels on your own home, or paying for carbon offsets to counteract your own travel — can help a person take their fear and transfer that energy into positive action.  And that in turn can help mitigate the mental trauma of the reality of climate change.”   Climate Progress also quotes consultant Bob Doppelt, who told the conference  “Psychological traumas of more frequent storms, floods, and fires associated with climate change, as well as toxic stresses — long term heat waves and droughts, food shortages, involuntary migration, loss of community and breakdown of culture — are eroding personal protective systems, amplifying preexisting mental health problems and creating new mental health issues.” Doppelt has recently published Transformational Resilience: How Building Human Resilience to Climate Disruption Can Safeguard Society and Increase Wellbeing .

Coastal Cities at Risk from Climate Change: Vancouver, New York

According to an article published in Nature Climate Change online in mid-August, Vancouver ranks 11th amongst the world’s 136 large coastal cities at risk of flooding, as measured by annual average losses of people or “assets”. Most at risk: Guangzhou, Miami, New York, New Orleans, and Mumbai. The article is part of an ongoing OECD project to explore the policy implications of flood risks due to climate change and economic development. Future Flood Losses in Major Coastal Cities is available for purchase (with a brief free preview) at the Nature Climate Change website at: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate1979.html#access. Also see a summary at the OECD website at: http://www.oecd.org/env/resources/future-flood-losses-in-major-coastal-cities.htm

Vancouver adopted a Climate Change Adaptation Strategy in July 2012 to guide building and maintenance of streets, sewers, building infrastructure, parks and greenspaces. See http://vancouver.ca/green-vancouver/climate-change-adaptation-strategy.aspx for links to the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, plus implementation reports for 2011-2012, and 2012-2013.

In June 2013, New York unveiled a plan in response to Superstorm Sandy, which proposes more than 250 initiatives, costed at $19.5 billion – most of which would be spent to repair homes and streets damaged by Sandy, retrofit hospitals and nursing homes, elevate electrical infrastructure, improve ferry and subway systems and fix drinking water systems. See A Stronger, More Resilient New York, at: http://www.nyc.gov/html/sirr/html/report/report.shtml

The Business Case for Adaptation

A report published by WWF and the Carbon Disclosure Project of New York is directed to the business community, and argues that a 2020 “science-based” emissions reduction target can be reached profitably in steps of 3% per year reductions. The report strikes an urgent note, emphasizing the benefits of the “latent cost savings” of energy efficiency, and quantifying the costs of extreme weather and the necessity of pricing of carbon emissions. The 3% Solution: Driving Profits through Carbon Reduction is at: https://www.cdproject.net/CDPResults/3-percent-solution-report.pdf