Climate News Scan – 28 August 2012
- A new flood vulnerability index ranks Shanghai as the most vulnerable
- Ignorance of climate change may be a rational choice
- 2012 could break the record for number of acres burned nationally
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Research Theme I: The low carbon emissions economy
Voluntary corporate social responsibility guidelines to be updated
August 16, 2012. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) reporting is growing fast, emerging from its pioneering phase to become standard practice for many organizations. However, the criteria used to measure a company’s economic, environmental and social performance are changing. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) recently announced that its Sustainability Reporting Guidelines, widely used by businesses and other organizations around the world, will be updated to better harmonize its emissions reporting requirements with other internationally accepted standards and to strengthen anti-corruption measures. Similar to financial reporting standards, the GRI’s guidelines provide businesses with a reliable, globally accepted framework for reporting on sustainability. Long-term performance and sustainability reporting are essential components to providing greater organizational transparency, which goes a long way towards building relationships with stakeholders, consumers and communities.
Since introducing the Greenhouse Gas Reduction (Cap and Trade) Act in 2008, the Government of British Columbia (BC) has established a number of emissions reporting guidelines for both the private and public sectors. Unlike the broader GRI guidelines, however, BC’s reporting requirements pertain only to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Currently, all private sector facilities emitting 10,000 tonnes or more of carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent annually are required to produce GHG reports. Public sector entities must measure and report all GHG emissions from buildings, fleets, equipment, paper and travel in order to maintain net-zero emissions, or carbon neutrality. Local governments produce an additional Community Energy and Emissions Inventory to obtain an estimate of energy consumption and GHG emissions from transportation, buildings and solid waste for each municipality and regional district in the province. BC’s reporting regulations are designed to build a provincial emissions inventory and track emissions trends as the province strives to meet its goal of reducing GHG emissions by at least 33 percent below 2007 levels by 2020.
Research Theme II: Sustainable communities
A new flood vulnerability index ranks Shanghai as the most vulnerable
August 21, 2012. A recent study published in Natural Hazards offers a new methodology for calculating a city’s flood vulnerability. Traditional approaches to measure flood vulnerability have used the “100 year flood” measure – the level of floodwater expected to be equaled or exceeded every 100 years on average. The authors of the study have gone a step further in developing an index that also considers social and economic factors. Their index includes criteria as diverse as the city’s level of economic activity, peoples’ awareness of flood risks, and the number of disabled people in the population. They applied the index to nine cities around the world built on river deltas, including Calcutta, Rotterdam, and Dhaka. The findings show that Shanghai is the most vulnerable to flooding, with a large share of the population living in flood-prone areas along the coast and the city lacking in terms of flood shelters. The authors argue that this index is a useful tool for helping city governments around the world better understand their vulnerability to flooding, and can help them create better resiliency strategies.
In BC, flood hazards and climate adaptation have been topical of late. The City of Vancouver released its comprehensive climate adaptation strategy a few weeks ago, including plans to complete a coastal flood risk assessment. The City of Victoria released a similar assessment on August 20 that suggests increased frequency of heat waves in the summer as this century progresses along with more storms and winter flooding. The District of Elkford was the first jurisdiction in the province to integrate adaptation criteria – such as mitigating flood risks – into its Official Community Plan. Communities beyond BC, like Norfolk, Virginia, have issued a series of flood maps to highlight the parts of their community at risk from floods. Problems with flooding have reached a point in Toronto where the city is now offering incentives to homeowners living in flood-prone regions to retrofit their drainage systems with backflow water valves. Both of these approaches are resiliency strategies that can help reduce a community’s flood vulnerability.
Research Theme III: Resilient ecosystems
New thinking on how species respond to climate change
August 17, 2012. Research from UC Berkley is shaking up the fundamental model of how species are likely to respond to future climate change. A study that began in 2003 retraced the steps of researchers in the early 1900s, comparing the current ranges of bird species to those of nearly 100 years ago. The authors found that average warming in most study areas was between one and three degrees, although a few regions actually became colder during the same period. For as many as 25 percent of the species that migrated to different regions, changes in temperature alone did not explain such moves. “Only when we included precipitation as an explanatory variable did our models adequately explain the movement patterns”, say the researchers. While warmer temperatures tended to push birds into cooler regions upslope, increased precipitation (more common at higher elevations) caused them to migrate downslope. The UC Berkley researchers also noted that half of the bird species in the study did not migrate to new areas. This is a worrying trend that may indicate a lack of adaptation skills in those species. “Moving is a sign of adaptation, which is good from a conservation standpoint”, explain the authors of the study.
The North American Bird Conservation Initiative recently released a report on the state of bird populations in Canada, finding that species in BC have declined by 10%, and by upwards of 35% along the Pacific Coast where industry and forestry are most concentrated. The report draws attention to the fact that the loss of mature forests, due to both forestry practices and the mountain pine beetle outbreak, is having the most severe impact on species in the province. Birds in BC are also acutely affected by direct anthropogenic factors such as urbanization and resource extraction, while at the same time losing habitat due to local temperature increases.
Research Theme IV: Social mobilization
Ignorance of climate change may be a rational choice
August 21, 2012. The media and science communicators are often quick to suggest that ignorance is the reason why the public is so polarized on the issue of climate change. However, research published in the journal Nature suggests that ignorance does not fully describe this polarization, but rather argues that in many cases, a rational decision to ignore the science is the cause. The research, which highlights the desire of individuals to fit in with their peers, suggests that to go against the perceptions of one’s social groups on climate change could ‘drive a wedge’ into communities. It is commonly understood that individual action to tackle climate change does very little to curb the threat of the global challenge. Consequently, in cases where taking a position against climate change would isolate individuals from their community or ‘cultural group’, the rational choice (from the individual’s perspective) may be to ignore the scientific findings, and instead retain alignment with one’s peer group.
Overcoming this challenge will require communicating science in a way that shifts the collective views of a peer group, so that individuals wanting to understand and address the scientific consensus do not become isolated. One way to do so is to provide avenues for individuals to maintain linkages with their existing social networks by ‘mainstreaming’ the scientific consensus, thus removing polarization. In BC, the provincial government has made it easier for peer groups to change their position on climate change by presenting a strong and credible public message that climate change is real and will have significant consequences. Another way to achieve the above goal is to gather the support of community ‘thought leaders’, who are critical in shifting the beliefs of a polarized public. These key members of the community include faith leaders, and in BC, many of them have come together to develop a Declaration on Climate Change. This is significant because, as identified in a previous issue of the News Scan, religion and climate change don’t always get along.
Research Theme V: Carbon management in BC forests
2012 could break the record for number of acres burned nationally
August 23, 2012. New federal data in the United States shows that, with close to seven million acres already burned this summer and many weeks remaining in the wildfire season, 2012 is on track to be the worst wildfire year on record. While this is far from a positive achievement, it is important to acknowledge the record and to manage for it. The amount of land burned in the first eight months of this year has already exceeded that for the same period of the current record year in 2006, and the second place period in 2007. And if that wasn’t enough, forest officials predict an unusually long fire season this year due to the drought currently sweeping the lower states. This provides important context for another recent study titled ‘Climate change and disruptions to global fire activity’, which sees a direct correlation between increased temperatures and increased fire events.
The National Interagency Fire Centre predicts that for the northwest of the country, “Late summer and early fall are not expected to be particularly hot or dry over the majority of the Northwest Area. Therefore, significant fire potential in areas that have been largely below normal through summer is expected to remain generally below normal through September. After September, large fire occurrence is infrequent over the area”. While this is good news in the short term, the long term forecast is harsher. According to a report by the Insurance Bureau of Canada, the number of major forest fires in BC will likely increase by over 50 percent in the next 40 years. As was identified in a previous issue of the Scan, major blazes increase the amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere by forests. This, in turn, could accelerate climate change, compounding existing risks. This kind of feedback loop demonstrates why climate change is such a grave threat to forests.
Also in the news
Download pdf version: Week 151 PICS News Scan 28 August 2012
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