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Media reaction: Hurricane Harvey and climate change

30 August, 2017
Robert McSweeney and Simon Evans

Hurricane Wilma, boat.jpg

Hurricane Wilma | Photo credit: Maxstrz/Flickr.com (CC BY 2.0)

The impacts of Hurricane Harvey continue to be felt in the southern US. The events have sparked early debate over the links between the hurricane and climate change. Commentary from scientists suggests that warming is likely to have intensified its impact. Nevertheless, many other factors are likely to have played a role. These include Houston’s population explosion, continued building in flood-prone areas and subsidence due to groundwater over-extraction, media reports suggest.

Above-average sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico provided more energy and more moisture for the developing hurricane, they say, while sea level rise ensured a larger storm surge at the coast and prevented floodwater from draining more quickly. Nevertheless, many other factors are likely to have played a role. These include Houston’s population explosion, continued building in flood-prone areas and subsidence due to groundwater over-extraction, media reports suggest.

What has happened?

At 10pm on Friday 25 August, the category 4 Hurricane Harvey made landfall near Corpus Christi on the southern coast of Texas. It had developed over the previous week, according to an Associated Press timeline, after being officially named on 17 August. During that time, it subsided, before rapidly strengthening, gathering energy from the above-average warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico.

Harvey is the first category 4 hurricane to hit the mainland US since Charley in 2004, reports the Washington Post, and the first to make landfall in Texas since Carla in 1961. Harvey later slowed and then hovered over Houston – the fourth largest city in the US – dumping “unprecedented” rainfall of as much as 40 inches (100cm) by Monday morning. Meanwhile a storm surge of more than six feet (1.8m) was recorded at some coastal sites on Friday, reports the Washington Post – and as much as 13 feet had been expected in shallow estuaries.

The governor of Texas had already declared a state of emergency in anticipation of flooding, with mandatory evacuations in some areas. More than 3,000 national and state guard troops were deployed to aid the response effort, the Washington Post reports, a figure later raised to 12,000, notes the New York Times. Tragically, this has not been enough to prevent loss of life: the LA Times reports at least nine people dead, as of Monday evening. The rain has caused Houston’s worst-ever flooding, one meteorologist told the Houston Chronicle.

Some 30,000 people have sought refuge in temporary shelters, Reuters reports. So far, more than 300,000 homes have been left without power, reports the Times. The Federal Emergency Management Administration expects some 450,000 to seek disaster assistance, Reuters adds. In a series of maps, the New York Times has tracked Harvey’s path of destruction, showing the major infrastructure that has been hit and the places where flooding has been recorded.

Harvey is already being listed as one of the ten costliest storms in US history, the Financial Times says, with the energy and insurance industries expecting heavy losses. Insurer payouts could reach $10bn to $20bn, the paper says, citing a JP Morgan Chase “best guess”. Thousands of homeowners lack adequate insurance cover, meaning these totals underestimate the true costs. The final costs of the ongoing damage remain highly uncertain, with one insurance analyst telling Bloomberg it could pass $100bn. This can be compared to Hurricane Katrina, the most expensive to hit the US, which cost about $118bn in 2005. Hurricane Sandy cost $75bn.

Meanwhile, Harvey, now downgraded to a tropical storm, continues to wreak havoc. In its latest advisory, issued early on Tuesday morning, the US National Hurricane Center (NHC) says “catastrophic and life-threatening flooding” is affecting “large portions of southeastern Texas and southwestern Louisiana”. It says these areas face a further 7 to 13 inches (18-33cm) of rain. President Trump was due to visit Texas on Tuesday, Reuters reports.

What role does climate change play?

Alongside the swath of news coverage on Hurricane Harvey and the devastation it has caused, much of the reporting has delved into the question of where climate change fits in. Most articles highlight that the impact of climate change on hurricanes has many different strands. As the points out, “the relationship between hurricanes and climate change is not simple. Some aspects are known with growing certainty. Others, not so much.” To help unpick the details, journalists have been quizzing climate scientists, quoting them widely in recent days. Some scientists have also penned guest articles.

Because of year-to-year weather fluctuations, it is not possible to say that climate change “caused” an extreme event such as Hurricane Harvey, Prof Kerry Emanuel, professor of atmospheric science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, tells the Washington Post: “My feeling is, when there’s a hurricane, there’s an occasion to talk about the subject…But attributing a particular event to anything, whether it’s climate change or anything else, is a badly posed question, really.”

Instead, scientists look at how different aspects of climate change can affect the likelihood or strength of a hurricane, or the amount of rainfall it brings when it arrives. The principal link between climate change and more intense storms comes down to the amount of heat in the atmosphere. In a warmer world, more moisture evaporates from the Earth’s oceans and the atmosphere can hold more water vapour. The relationship is exponential, Prof Ben Kirtman, an atmospheric scientist at the University of Miami, tells National Public Radio in the US: “For a small change in temperature, you get a huge amount of evaporation.” This means that when storms occur, they can dump more rainfall on a region. And the amount of rainfall that Hurricane Harvey brought to parts of Texas was unprecedented, Eric Fisher, chief meteorologist at WBZ-TV in Boston, tells the Washington Post: “It’s fair to say it will produce more rain than we have ever seen before in the US from a tropical system and over the fourth-largest city in the country.”

Speaking to the Atlantic, Dr Kevin Trenberth, distinguished senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in the US, says the extra heat in the atmosphere has the potential to make storms like Harvey more costly and more powerful: “The human contribution can be up to 30% or so of the total rainfall coming out of the storm…It may have been a strong storm, and it may have caused a lot of problems anyway – but [human-caused climate change] amplifies the damage considerably.” Some quickfire calculations by Emanuel suggest that climate change made the huge downpours in Texas more likely. Seth Borenstein reports Emanuel’s quotes for the Associated Press: “The drenching received by Rockport, Texas, used to be maybe a once-in-1,800-years event for that city, but with warmer air holding more water and changes in storm steering currents since 2010, it is now a once-every-300-years event.”

And as a reminder, Climate Denial Crock of the Week on Saturday posted a short video made last year of Emanuel discussing on climate change and strengthening hurricanes. (The Washington Post has a helpful explanation of the meaning of once-in-500 year events: “A 500-year flood isn’t necessarily something that happens once every five hundred years. Rather, a 500-year flood is an event that has a 1 in 500 chance of occurring in any given year.”) Climate change has also boosted sea levels, writes Prof Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University, in a piece for the Guardian: “That means the storm surge was half a foot [15cm] higher than it would have been just decades ago, meaning far more flooding and destruction.”

Hurricane Harvey opinion - Michael Mann in the Guardian
Hurricane Harvey commentary – Michael Mann in the Guardian, 28/08/2017.

And the seas are not only higher, they’re also warmer. Sea surface temperatures in the region have risen about 0.5C over the past few decades, notes Mann: “Not only are the surface waters of the Gulf of Mexico unusually warm right now, but there is a deep layer of warm water that Harvey was able to feed upon when it intensified at near record pace as it neared the coast. Human-caused warming is penetrating down into the ocean. It’s creating deeper layers of warm water in the Gulf and elsewhere.” More heat means more fuel for hurricanes like Harvey, Trenberth tells the Atlantic: “Although these storms occur naturally, the storm is apt to be more intense, maybe a bit bigger, longer-lasting, and with much heavier rainfalls [because of that ocean heat].”

Scientists have high confidence that ocean warming will also means stronger hurricane wind speeds, Dr James Done, a research fellow at NCAR, tells Think Progress: “In recent decades, we have seen an increase in the proportion of hurricanes that reach category 4 or 5. It looks like this trend will continue. So, for every hurricane that comes along it will be more likely to be a category 4 or 5 than in past decades.” But it’s worth noting that the impact of climate change is not just about warming, writes Dr Friederike Otto, a senior researcher at the Environmental Change Institute at the University of Oxford, in a guest article for Climate Home: “In a changing climate, two effects come together: not only does the atmosphere warm up (thermodynamic effect) but the atmospheric circulation, which determine where, when, and how weather systems develop, can change as well (dynamic effect).”

Changes to the weather patterns can increase the thermodynamic effect, or counteract it, Otto says, which makes attributing extreme events more complicated: “Hence, while it is very likely that climate changes played a role in the intensity of the rainfall, it is far from straightforward in practice to quantify this role.”

Hurricane Harvey commentary - Climate Home

Hurricane Harvey commentary – Climate Home, 28/08/2017.

“Climate science has repeatedly shown that global warming is increasing the odds of extreme precipitation and storm surge flooding,” Prof Noah Diffenbaugh, professor of earth systems science at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment, writes in the New York Times, but “we can’t yet draw definitive conclusions about the influence of climate change on Hurricane Harvey.” That said, it is “well established that global warming is already influencing many kinds of extremes, both in the US and around the world”, Diffenbaugh notes, “and it is critical to acknowledge this reality as we prepare for the future”. Getting that definitive answer to how climate change affected Hurricane Harvey “needs to be answered by carefully estimating the likelihood of such hurricanes developing in a warming world as well as how much rain they bring,” writes Otto. This “requires a dedicated study”, Otto adds, but “it is a question scientists now can answer”.

What about other factors?

Of course, the amount of damage caused by storms and flooding can also be made worse by building homes, offices and infrastructure in harm’s way on floodplains. As Grist notes: “People keep building in flood-prone places like Houston”. Propublica has a series of articles on why Houston has become more vulnerable to flooding, with explosive growth as well as climate change to blame. Last year, it published a joint feature with the Texas Tribune, introduced with the prescient words: “Climate change will bring more frequent and fierce rainstorms to cities like Houston. But unchecked development remains a priority in the famously un-zoned city, creating short-term economic gains for some while increasing flood risks for everyone.”

Population growth also plays a role in the impact of extreme weather events, says Dr Andrew King, a climate extremes research fellow at the University of Melbourne, in a piece for the Conversation. Houston is the second-fastest growing city in the US, and the fourth most populous overall, he writes:“As the region’s population grows, more and more of southern Texas is being paved with impermeable surfaces. This means that when there is extreme rainfall the water takes longer to drain away, prolonging and intensifying the floods.”

The rising population also changes flood risk in some unexpected ways. Parts of Houston are subsiding rapidly as a result of people extracting too much groundwater, reports the Houston Chronicle. It recounts the staggering rate of recent change: “Spring Branch, where Interstate 10 and Beltway 8 meet, has dropped 4 feet since 1975. Jersey Village, along Route 290 and to the west of Beltway 8, is almost 2 feet lower than it was in 1996. And Greater Greenspoint, where Interstate 45 intersects with Beltway 8, has given up about 2 feet in the last decade alone, according to USGS data.”

And flooding is not just a scientific problem, it is also one of policy. Politico has a piece on how the US government was warned 20 years ago, in a National Wildlife Federation report, that its flood insurance programme was encouraging homes to be built, and rebuilt, in flood-prone areas of the country. More than half of US homes that have been flooded multiple times are in Houston, Politico notes. Two decades on, the author of the report told Politico that a flood event on the scale of Hurricane Harvey “was inevitable”. Business Insider is among those reporting that President Trump revoked flood risk regulations 10 days before Hurricane Harvey. The Obama-era rules would have required the federal government to account for climate risk and sea level rise when building new infrastructure, or rebuilding after disasters.

What are the opinion columns saying?

Many of the opinion pieces responding to Hurricane Harvey take a strong line on climate links. It’s time to “shed some of the fussy over-precision about the relationship between climate change and weather,” writes David Leonhardt in the New York Times: “Yes, I know the sober warning that’s issued whenever an extreme weather disaster occurs: No individual storm can be definitively blamed on climate change. It’s true, too. Some version of Harvey probably would have happened without climate change, and we’ll never know the hypothetical truth.”

Meteorologist and writer Eric Holthaus is even more unequivocal. “There’s an uncomfortable point that, so far, everyone is skating around,” he writes a piece for Politico: “Now is the time to say it as loudly as possible: Harvey is what climate change looks like. More specifically, Harvey is what climate change looks like in a world that has decided, over and over, that it doesn’t want to take climate change seriously.” Similarly Ryan Cooper in This Week says: “Hurricane Harvey is America’s climate future”. He writes: “This destruction is a window into the future of climate change. This is what happens when humanity fails to either meaningfully restrict greenhouse gas emissions or prepare for the damage that is certainly coming.”

Taking a similar line, Eugene Robinson writes in the Washington Post: “Pay attention to what happened to Houston. It is rare to be given such a vivid look at our collective future.” He writes: “Global warming did not conjure the rains that flooded the nation’s fourth-largest city, but it likely did make them more torrential. The spectacle of rescue boats plying the streets of a major metropolis is something we surely will see again. The question is how often.”

It is true that scientists don’t know if climate change is making hurricanes more likely, notes David Roberts in Vox. Yet articles on what can be said about Hurricane Harvey and climate change “are all saying too little”, he argues. The question of whether climate change “caused” recent events is “malformed”. Instead, warming has increased the severity of storms, he says.

Hurricane Harvey commentary - Vox
Hurricane Harvey commentary – Vox, 29/08/2017.

In Time, Justin Worland picks up this theme, saying “scientists [now] have a better answer” on the attribution of extreme events. The science of attribution – covered in a recent in-depth Carbon Brief article – evaluates how climate change has affected the odds of a given event. In a separate piece for Grist, Holthaus notes that record-breaking rainfall brought by Hurricane Harvey is more likely in a warmer climate: “There’s a clear climate connection when it comes to higher rainfall. All thunderstorms, including hurricanes, can produce more rain in a warmer atmosphere, which boosts the rate of evaporation and the water-holding capacity of clouds.” Indeed, intense downpours measuring at least 10 inches (25cm) have already doubled in frequency over the past three decades, the Associated Press notes.

Flooding elsewhere

Amidst the wall-to-wall coverage of events in Texas, it’s worth remembering another, arguably more catastrophic flooding crisis, taking place halfway around the world in South Asia. Some 41 million people across India, Nepal and Bangladesh are being affected by monsoon flooding, reported the Hindustan Times on Friday. Tens of thousands of homes, schools and hospitals have been destroyed, the paper says. The situation is worsening, with CNN reporting earlier last week that just 24 million people were affected.

The latest information from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs catalogues the numbers of people displaced, homes destroyed and people killed by the floods. As of Friday, the death toll due to flooding in recent weeks had risen above 1,200, reports Reuters, describing it as the “worst monsoon floods in years”. Rains have brought India’s financial centre, Mumbai, to a virtual standstill on Tuesday, reports the Gulf Times. However, both authorities and citizens in Bangladesh have been reluctant to attribute the crisis to climate change, according to an article at New Security Beat.

 

[This article originally appeared on carbonbrief.org]

ArticleClimate Diplomacy
Source
Topic
Climate Change
Early Warning & Risk Analysis

Region
North America

Topics

Adaptation & Resilience

All countries will need to adapt to some of the environmental, social and economic impacts of climate change that are already unavoidable. Food security, livelihoods, water resource availability and public health are some affected areas. People living in poverty are more vulnerable, having a lower capacity to adapt. Thus, it is essential to promote resilience building. The adaptation and resilience aspects need to be mainstreamed into planning by policy makers and the private sector as well as integrated into development strategies.

Biodiversity & Livelihoods

Nature protection is most sustainable if it essentially contributes to the long-term stability of human needs. Today many regions around the world are confronted with increasing destruction of the natural foundations of life. The consequences of wide-ranging resource destruction are no longer regionally limited, but rather represent a global threat. Those affected are mainly rural populations, who find the sources of their income and the foundations of their way of life swept away. The depletion and destruction of natural resources goes hand in hand with decreasing agricultural yields and increasing poverty, which in turn forces the affected populations to deplete the remaining resources.

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Capacity Building

On the one hand, conflicts are caused by structural factors, such as economic and social inequality or environmental destruction. On the other hand, conflicts are fuelled by a lack of democratic structures, deficient mechanisms of non-violent conflict settlement, inadequate rule of law, the destruction of social and cultural identity and the disregard of human rights. Against this backdrop, development policies have been dedicated to a broad concept of security, which comprises political, economic, ecological and social stability. As a consequence, development cooperation agencies and actors have developed a broad spectrum of approaches for conflict prevention and transformation as well as for sustainable use of natural resources.

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Civil Society

Civil society is the first victim of environmental pollution, under-development and conflicts. Economically disadvantaged and politically marginalized population groups are particularly affected by violent conflicts as well as increasing resource degradation. Simultaneously, civil society is a fundamental pillar for implementing sustainable development. It contributes in many ways to strengthening conflict prevention and plays a significant role in the peaceful and democratic development of states. It must be supported to strengthen civil rights, adherence to human rights in general and democratic participation.

Climate Change

Climate change resulting from the emission of greenhouse gases represents one of the vital challenges for international environmental policy. Flooding, droughts, shifting of climate zones and increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather events will have serious economic and social consequences for entire regions. The climate problem is also directly linked to the question of future energy generation.

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Climate Diplomacy

To address the challenges posed by climate change, a new profile of climate diplomacy is evolving. This utilises a full range of policies, including development cooperation, conflict prevention efforts, and humanitarian assistance, in addition to more traditional measures of climate change adaptation and mitigation. Moving from a risk analysis of climate-related threats to well-timed preventive action requires a greater commitment to integrating climate change concerns into development, foreign, and security policies. Examples include strengthening diplomatic networks, building new alliances with partners, and raising awareness – not only of potentially negative climate change impacts, but also of opportunities to embark on a sustainable transformation of our societies.

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Co-Benefits

Climate action entails an array of economic, social, political and environmental co-benefits. It provides an opportunity for economic growth and new jobs. Many investments can take into account climate considerations without becoming more costly. Further important co-benefits include: improved energy security, less local air and water pollution, health benefits as well as ecosystem and biodiversity protection.

Conflict Transformation

In order to overcome the structural causes of violent conflicts and thus bring about an improvement in the framework conditions for peaceful and fair development, it is essential to have long term and broadly planned peace development and peace advancement. Various governmental and non-governmental, national and international actors and groups are involved in these processes.

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Development

Climate change and development are inextricably linked. Climate change endangers the development agenda and has the potential to reverse development goals. Furthermore, successful mitigation of climate change heavily depends on development choices around the world. Therefore, development strategies need to be climate-compatible to provide long-term success, and there are viable policy options that support this compatibility. Many mitigation and adaptation activities can present development opportunities to developing countries and avoid the lock-in to environmentally damaging technologies.

Early Warning & Risk Analysis

The reasons for the development and escalation of conflicts and the incidence of risks are multifaceted and complex. Simultaneously, the assessment of the specific causes in the form of risk and conflict analyses can contribute to a better understanding of these processes and make it possible to provide warning of negative developments, or ideally help prevent them. In the context of natural resource use, risks and conflicts have gained increasing attention in the past years. The debate on possible future water wars is merely one example.

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Energy

The well-being of individuals, communities and nations depends on the availability of energy resources. The gap between energy supply and demand appears to be growing, making the world vulnerable to serious economic shocks. At the same time, the burning of fossil fuels causing climate change is one of the vital challenges of international environmental policy. So far, only rudimentary approaches exist for shaping climate and energy security in a sustainable way. The components of a strategy that can contribute to reducing vulnerabilities related to climate change and energy policy include a greater role for renewable energies, the improvement of energy efficiency and a stronger decentralisation of energy supply.

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Environment & Migration

The economic, social and environmental consequences of climate change aggravate the breakdown of eco-system-dependent livelihoods and are likely to become dominant drivers of long-term migration. Natural disasters already cause massive shorter-term displacement and the number of temporarily displaced people is likely to further increase with climate change. For vulnerable populations in vulnerable regions, such as the Sahel zone or the Ganges delta, migration often becomes the sole survival strategy. In order to address climate-related displacement and migration successfully, knowledge of effective adaptation and an improved understanding of how environmental change affects human mobility is essential. 

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Finance

Climate finance, from all sources, plays a key role in supporting and enabling adaptation and mitigation action as well as climate and energy innovation. The Paris Agreement ensured that the Green Climate Fund and the Global Environment Facility are at the core of climate finance architecture as entities entrusted with the operation of the Financial Mechanism of the UNFCCC. Increasing climate finance from all relevant public and private sources is crucial. Furthermore, much needs to be done to redirect finance flows to sustainable paths, e.g. reducing fossil fuel subsidies, introducing maritime and air transportation taxes. The conditions for green investment in developing countries should also be improved.

Forests

Forests are disappearing at an alarming rate. Competition for forest resources triggers, exacerbates, or finances numerous crises and conflicts in tropical developing countries. Illegal logging and timber trade foster instability and sometimes violent conflict by strengthening illegal and armed groups, increasing corruption and exacerbating use and claim conflicts among local communities, the state and the business sector. Forests are a vital resource to poor people but they can also become areas of conflict. Sustainable management of forest resources is therefore key to preventing violent conflict over and within forests.

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Gender

Gender plays an important role as a category of conflict for many reasons. The interlinkages between gender, environment and conflicts are complex and much research is still needed. Existing insights suggest that conflicts may worsen gender inequalities that existed before the outbreak of violence. The unequal distribution of land property rights in many parts of the world serves as an example. Moreover, women (and children) are among those most affected by both violent conflict and natural disasters. At the same time, women carry much of the burden of trying to implement rehabilitation measures after crisis events.

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Land & Food

Increasing water scarcity, desertification and crop failures due to extreme weather events are becoming more and more of a threat to global food production. While the world’s population continues to grow rapidly, food production is unable to keep pace. Due to the global food crisis in 2008, the number of hungry people reached the symbolic one billion threshold for the first time – corresponding to about 16 percent of world population. Food insecurity may be a consequence or cause of conflicts. Violent conflicts often lead to the destruction of agricultural infrastructure and means of production, as well as to the displacement of local communities.

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Minerals & Mining

In the past, the discovery and tapping of valuable or strategic resources like valuable minerals, oil and natural gas, particularly in developing and emerging countries, has often led to large scale environmental contamination and negative development. The "resource curse" of some countries shows that the wealth from resource yields is frequently unfairly distributed; instead of serving development it advanced the formation of corrupt elites and in some cases even led to conflicts and civil wars. Measures in various sectors and at all levels are important in order to use the potential of these natural resources in a manner that is sustainable and prevents conflicts.

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Private Sector

The spread of violent conflict not only affects people but also companies located in such regions. Destruction of investments and infrastructure, collapse of markets and trade partnerships, flight and expulsion of employees are phenomena of conflicts and environment-induced crises that directly affect companies in unstable regions. Almost all branches of the economy thus have a clear interest in a stable and peaceful environment for their activities. Conversely, the business sector plays an important role in the interaction of economic growth, social development and a healthy environment, all of which can advance peace and sustainable development. 

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Security

Environmental issues have a significant security dimension. Access to, and overuse of, natural resources often play a key role in civil wars or other forms of internal domestic conflict. This is compounded by climate change and environmental degradation. Climate change is now widely recognised as a non-traditional, risk-multiplying threat that will have increasing security impacts. Key risks with possible implications for human and national security include water scarcity, food crises, natural disasters, and displacement. More preventive diplomacy and advocacy is needed to address the strategic implications of climate and environmental change.

Sustainable Transformation

Sustainable Transformation allows societies to profit from a growing, environmentally sustainable and socially inclusive economy – especially in emerging and developing countries. This requires a higher up-front investment, but the benefits of a sustainable transformation in the medium and long term are significant. For instance, energy cost savings and reducing the impact of price volatility offer major incentives for deploying renewable energies and promoting energy efficiency. Such benefits exist in all key sectors of the economy.

Technology & Innovation

Innovations and technologies are already readily available and affordable but their global diffusion and uptake remains a challenge. Innovation and technology are crucial to achieving ambitious climate change mitigation and adaptation targets. However, research and development often do not receive appropriate public support. Developing countries can leapfrog high-carbon industrialisation phases by adopting, deploying and improving existing innovations and technologies. For this, it is essential to minimise financial, administrative and political barriers.

Water

The availability of freshwater resources in sufficient quantity and quality is essential for the preservation of human health and sound ecosystems. The use of water resources is also vital, however, for economic development: whether for agriculture, industrial production or for electricity generation. The world's freshwater resources are distributed very unevenly in terms of geography and seasons. In addition, water shortage is becoming more prevalent in several regions due to population growth, economic development, urbanisation and increasing environmental pollution. Thus, water resources can hold potential for conflicts between parties who have different interests and needs.

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Regions

Asia

The environment in Asia is already under tremendous pressure as a result of the unsustainable use of land, forests, water and even air in many regions. Climate change will only exacerbate these challenges. Rising sea levels will likely endanger densely populated areas, changes in the monsoon patterns can strongly impact agriculture, melting glaciers will increase long-term water scarcity, and extreme weather events such as heavy rainfall and cyclones can pose further hazards.

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Central America & Caribbean

Natural disasters and water scarcity are key challenges for most of Central America and the Caribbean. These challenges will become even more pronounced as the climate changes. Weak resource and disaster risk management and land disputes pose additional security challenges for large parts of the region. Several countries of Central America and the Caribbean have limited adaptive capacities as they face political instability caused by high social inequality, crime, corruption, and intra-state conflicts.

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Europe

As one of the most developed and most densely populated regions in the world, Europe makes heavy use of its resources, resulting in difficult trade-offs and negative consequences for the environment and ecosystems. Land is used for settlements, agriculture and dense infrastructure, creating problems of soil degradation. Water resources are stressed due to unsustainable agricultural practices. Despite nature protection policies, Europe continues to lose biodiversity at an alarming pace. Some of these trends are exacerbated by climate change, which is expected, for instance, to lead to shifts in water availability.

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Global Issues

Resource scarcities, environmental pollution and climate change are not limited by national borders, but often have a transboundary or even global impact. These issues interact with political stability, governance structures and economic performance, and can trigger or worsen disputes and violent conflicts. Exacerbating some of these trends, climate change is likely to lead to the degradation of freshwater resources, declines in food production, increases in storm and flood disasters and environmentally induced migration. All these developments pose potential for conflict.

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Middle East & North Africa

The geopolitical position of the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), its fossil fuel resources, high population growth and the political changes spurred by the Arab Spring all make the region one of the most dynamic in the world. Nevertheless, it is also one of the most arid and environmentally stressed. Dwindling water resources, limited arable and grazing land, high pollution from household and industrial waste, remnants of conflicts and increasing desertification are key environmental challenges.

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North America

Climate change has various impacts on the three North American countries of Canada, Mexico and the US. Canada and the US have well-developed adaptive capacities and foster the strengthening of capacities in other regions as well. With high per capita emissions, these two countries also bear a greater responsibility for a changing climate. Mexico has a sound national strategy for climate change adaptation, yet fewer capacities than Canada and the US. The poorer and rural populations of Mexico are especially vulnerable to climate change, due to an increased sensitivity and a lower adaptive capacity.

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Oceania & Pacific

In Oceania, population growth and economic development trends put a strain on oceanic and island ecosystems. Freshwater scarcity, overexploitation of fisheries, loss of land biodiversity, forests and trees, invasive species, soil degradation, increasing levels of settlement, poor management of solid and hazardous waste and disproportionate use of coastal areas are some of the problems. Climate change exacerbates most of these trends, while also raising questions about the future sovereignty of some island states.

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South America

South America has diverse and unique ecosystems and is very rich in biodiversity. Weak natural resource management, land disputes and extreme weather events bring about significant challenges for the region. While South America accounts for relatively few CO2 emissions, the changing climate will alter its ecosystems and greater climate variability will lead to more hurricanes, landslides, and droughts.

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Sub-Saharan Africa

In many African states, environmental security issues rank high on the political agenda. Throughout the continent, countries suffer from water scarcity, food insecurity and energy poverty. These chronic and worsening resource scarcities have severe livelihood implications and are exacerbated by political conflicts over access to and control over these resources. Climate change may seriously threaten political and economic stability in Africa. It may also put a severe strain on the capacities of states and societies to co-ordinate activities, to communicate and to organize.

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